Wed 14 November 2012
Would it surprise you to know that inflammation and chronic pain accompany most conditions and illnesses? Probably not. But what can you do about it (apart from taking anti-inflammatory drugs, that is)?
This article will answer these questions:
While everybody notices if a part of their body aches, inflammation is not always easy to detect. Yet it can be very common, slowly and quietly attacking healthy tissue in the brain, arteries and joints, indeed, every part of the body, leading to a large number of different illnesses and diseases.
In fact, many chronic diseases are basically inflammatory conditions. These include arthritis (inflammation of the joints), eczema (inflammation of the skin), asthma (inflammation of the lungs) and coronary artery disease (inflammation of the arteries).
Nobody likes having inflammation and pain but they are actually natural defence mechanisms and we would be in serious trouble if those mechanisms didn't work properly.
For those of you who like technical details, here is how it works or...
The body uses inflammatory messengers called leukotrienes and prostaglandins to control major aspects of the immune system's response.
This is how these messengers work:
The problem arises when there are too many of these messengers - our immune system overreacts with devastating consequences.
The question is: Can we block the production of these inflammatory messengers so that we're making enough to defend ourselves against disease and infection, yet not making too many?
We need to understand first how these inflammatory messengers - leukotrines and prostaglandins - come into being.
They are synthesized from an omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid (AA). Obviously, we need a certain amount of AA to support the immune system. But when we have too much AA, we produce too many inflammatory messengers.
In order for AA to turn into prostaglandins, it has to go through a chemical process. This is where some of anti-inflammatory drugs on the market come in. For example, aspirin blocks crucial enzymes involved in this process, called COX-1 and COX-2. In other words, drugs like aspirin cut pain and inflammation off by preventing those inflammatory messengers from being produced.
But they are not without side-effects. As we all know, when taken for long periods of time, they can cause numerous gastro-intestinal complications, from minor stomach upset to potentially life-threatening complications such as stomach bleeding, heart attack and stroke.
Also these drugs don't only block the formation of inflammatory messengers, they also prevent the formation of beneficial messengers, causing devastating cardiovascular problems.
I can hear you asking: Is there a natural alternative to these drugs? Yes, indeed there is. But first, let's consider:
There's no doubt that the disproportionate intake of saturated fats in our diet plays an important role in the epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases like heart disease, arthritis and asthma.
All animal fat, found in meat and dairy products, contains a lot of preformed AA that gets converted directly into a huge amount of inflammatory messengers.
Another problem with saturated fats is that they reduce the beneficial
effects of omega-3 fatty acids in quenching inflammation.
Also our diet is too rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which also get converted into prostaglandins and increase inflammation.
The right ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet should be between 2:1 and 3:1, but today is more between 6:1 and 20:1.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found mainly in vegetable oils and margarines, which are added to all sorts of processed foods. These oils are very prone to going rancid or oxidizing because they've been stripped of the natural anti-oxidants that normally accompany plant foods.
Also these oils can be hydrogenated to form margarines. These trans-fats disrupt normal cell membrane structure and are even worse that saturated fats in causing inflammation throughout the body.
One thing is for sure, not all fats are bad. In fact, the polyunsaturated fats of the omega-3 family are essential to good health and vital in reducing inflammation.
These oils are founds primarily in fatty fish, but they're also present in flax, hemp, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
Many studies have proven the anti-inflammatory effects of fish and fish oils - Read my article on Fish Oil Benefits.
But to benefit fully from them, you need to cut down on meat and dairy products, and/or change where possible to genuinely low-fat products.
Phytochemicals present in foods have been known to act as COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors almost as successfully as drugs, but without the side-effects.
This list could include many more foods, but these are some of the more powerful ones that anybody can include in their diet.
Ideal for any inflammation and pain, even when you have a sore throat.
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
2 cm of fresh ginger root, grated
1/4 cup of water
1 cup of non-dairy milk (like soya, almond or coconut)
1 teaspoon Manuka honey
1 teaspoon good quality raw honey
Putt the turmeric and ginger in a small saucepan with the water and boil until the liquid has reduced almost completely (about 10-15 mins).
Add most of the milk to the pan but keep some behind, as you want to add it at the end to cool down the liquid. You don't want to add honey to very hot milk as the nutrients would be lost.
Strain the liquid through a sieve and press on the paste to squeeze out all the liquid. Add the cold milk and the honey and stir until dissolved. Sip slowly.
4 to 8 celery stalks
1 cup diced cabbage
2 cloves of garlic
The following to taste:
cayenne pepper, chives, turmeric, basil, ginger, rosemary, sage and/or thyme, and black pepper
Put all the ingredients in a pot, add water to cover and bring to the boil. Cook until the vegetables are tender.
The beauty of these cookies is that they're not too sweet, as they contain only natural sugars, but they're extremely satisfying. And you can eat them with a clear conscience, knowing that they're full of anti-inflammatory ingredients.
70 g. Brazil nuts
125 g. raw almonds
40 g. coconut flakes
90 g. dried prunes
50 g. dried apricots
40 g. mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkins, sesame, flax)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
A few drops of apple juice if you need more liquid
Whiz the nuts in a food processor for a few seconds, then add all the other ingredients and whiz until the mixture comes together, adding a little extra apple juice to help bind the cookies together if necessary.
Divide the mixture into equal pieces, as small or as big as you like, and shape into balls. Flatten to a thickness of 5 mm and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Bake for 15 mins or until just firm and golden brown in a medium oven (180 C), then cool on a wire rack. They can keep for several days in an air-tight container.
If you would like to know about what supplements can help in fighting inflammation and chronic pain, have a look at the next page for some helpful advice...