Chronic Inflammation – A Naturopathic approach

body and mind inflammation - silent epidemic
8 December, 2017

Chronic Inflammation – the driver of disease – and the Naturopathic approach to addressing this

Most of us associate “inflammation” with some sort of pain, swelling, heat, redness or loss of function in the body, joints or skin after we fall down or injure ourselves. The inflammation in this case is clear and obvious – it can be felt. It hurts and can be seen with its’ associated swelling and redness.

However, the inflammation I’m referring to, is usually more silent and subtle in its nature. It is a “bubbling under the surface” kind of inflammation – and drives most, if not all disease states.

There is an growing acceptance that chronic low grade inflammation (or silent inflammation) is actually the warning signal or messenger, for us to take notice of.  Not wanting to sound melodramatic, but there is too much evidence in the literature that chronic inflammation signals that something bigger is on the way.

There is a growing body of research linking cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, auto-immune disease, and depression (yes depression) as being primarily inflammation driven. These diseases eventuate not from one cause – but from a combination of factors, which lead to an overloaded inflammatory state and dysregulated immune and endocrine (hormonal) system.  

Signs of silent or chronic inflammation?

The vague signs of inflammation we may recognise in our body are: aches and pains in our muscles and joints, having a bigger waist to hip circumference ratio (excess abdominal weight is inflammatory by nature), frequent headaches, bleeding gums or periodontal disease, mental health/mood imbalances, brain fog, skin rashes, arthritis or any condition ending its’ name in “itis”. Also any diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease, depression or a specific auto-immune diagnosis such as a thyroid condition (low or high), Chrones, Scleroderma, Lupus, Psoriasis etc means that there was a chronic inflammatory state underlying previous to the diagnosis.

Unfortunately, we then take on an approach that addresses only the symptomatic relief of these sensations and diseases. We take aspirin, anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids and anti-depressants – all aiming to get rid of this discomfort. In an emergency sure, these may be a god send.  But when we rely on these band-aids ongoing without being curious about the upstream cause, therein lies the problem. We don’t ask WHY did I get ‘said’ disease.  And hence, the underlying inflammation is still present in the body, particularly if we go about our life in the same way once we suppress these symptoms. This phenomenon is one of the reasons why once we have one particular diagnosis, often we end up with another one soon after, then another.  The original underlying causes have not been addressed.   

Why do you have these symptoms?  A Naturopathic approach to disease prevention & treatment.

By taking away the symptoms without asking “why” the inflammation is present, is a big problem. In essence, you are shooting the messenger. Pharmaceutical medicines ideally should be a short term solution but shouldn’t be the end of the treatment or enquiry. Ideally they are a bridge to cool off the symptoms or inflammation while you are figuring out and addressing the cause of the symptom or disease.

Inflammation is a sign that your body is struggling with something.  Pulling too many valuable inner resources to protect, rather than build, calm and restore.

The common causes of inflammation are:

  • An allergen (pollen, certain foods, chemicals, mould)
  • An infection (bacterial, viral or parasite)
  • Environmental toxins (chemicals & moulds found in water damaged buildings, mercury fillings, normal household chemicals)
  • A certain food chemical or combination of (gluten, dairy, sugar, oxalates, histamines, salicylates)
  • Emotional or social stressors
  • Nutritional deficiencies or excesses

Pathology testing to consider for signs of silent inflammation

Three tests that are useful & pretty standard to test the amount of inflammation present in the body are hs-CRP, ESR and Homocysteine. This is a good starting point to assess your base line and I ask most of my clients to get these tests.

Other useful tests and signs of inflammation are:

  • Very high Ferritin
  • Low WBC
  • Low platelets
  • Levels of auto-antibodies
  • High Immunoglobulins (the foot soldiers of the immune system)

Now what?

We need to be honest with ourselves and explore what the likely “root cause or causes” of our specific inflammation or symptom.  This isn’t everyones cup of tea, to explore and investigate themselves in this way.  However, you have read this far then I’m guessing it might be your cup of tea. Usually it is a combination of factors that contribute to chronic inflammation and it will be important to address as many of these causes as possible to ease the total inflammatory load off the body.  

In many people a change to their nutrition, diet and general lifestyle can be an enormous positive change.  They feel better within weeks (or even less) AND get a reduction in inflammation pathology markers. But in some people finding the cause is more challenging, and more specific functional medicine testing needs to be done to assess what their individual vulnerabilities or overloads are.  This may be specific genetic testing, infectious disease testing, methylation pathway testing, heavy metals, food sensitivities, nutrient testing and parasites or gut microbiome assessment through a stool test.

With myself, many years ago if I hadn’t been curious to understand my own upstream causes of my pain & ill health, I most likely would have been a casualty of taking strong pain killers daily, sleeping tablets and probably anti-depressants…plus a whole lot of accompanying main stream labels to go with all my meds.

A lot of self reflection and research allowed me to understand that the underlying causes of my own chronic inflammation & pain was the perfect storm of a food intolerances combined with a very leaky gut; a neck injury -which opened up my blood brain barrier – which is NOT a good thing; mould exposure in my environment caused by a water intrusion; plus a lot of not so cute bugs I picked up probably from travelling into far flung interesting countries. All that combined with having not so fortunate genetics and slow detoxification/elimination pathways – left me more vulnerable to these certain foods and specific environmental factors.

In summary, symptoms of chronic inflammation and disease cannot be cured nor prevented with only one factor or intervention – and in particular, not with one pharmaceutical medicine.  But with an approach that fits with the Naturopathic model of health care.  That is, addressing the underlying causes or imbalances of the ‘disease name’.  Sort out the underlying issues, then you don’t have a disease.   

 

Category: Inflammation, mental health, gut-brain-immune, 

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