Prevent Inflammation, Disease, Pain without Drugs
You get a splinter in your finger, and you notice that the area where the splinter is lodged gets red, swollen and starts to throb with pain. Or you get a headache — you feel your head “pounding” and can’t think straight from the pain. Or maybe you suffer from arthritis and hate waking up with stiff, aching joints in the morning.
In all of these examples, inflammation is at work, and it’s responsible for the swelling and pain.
Inflammation is also at work in cardiovascular disease, when the blood vessels may get clogged with fats, calcium and other debris, causing them to narrow and restrict blood flow; inflammation is at work in cancers where sections of tissue are becoming injured and diseased. Indeed, inflammation is at work in a great number of chronic illnesses.
From all that, it would be easy to conclude that inflammation is a bad thing for our bodies.
But in truth, inflammation is a good thing: it’s the body’s way of repairing cells that have been damaged, so that they won’t be destroyed. When necessary, as in the case of the infected splinter site, inflammation causes fluid and white blood cells to quickly arrive at the location, surround and isolate the splinter, and kill off bacteria.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is our body’s way of letting us know that a part of that body needs help. If you continually just pop pain pills, you are only masking the underlying problem that’s causing the inflammatory response and the pain, and you are not helping your body get rid of the problem that is causing the pain.
The fact is, when you take medication for pain, whether it’s over-the-counter aspirin, Motrin or Aleve, or prescription Celebrex, you are interfering with the body’s ability to repair itself.
We are by no means saying that it is wrong to ever take pain medication; but aside from possible serious side effects that long-term frequent use of these medicines can produce, it’s important to understand that it is more constructive to find ways to prevent chronic — that is, long-term — inflammation, and manage its resulting pain that way: by eliminating the pain, instead of managing it with drugs.
Doctors explain that there are two types of inflammation: primary and secondary, or chronic.
Primary inflammation has no symptoms and occurs round-the-clock; it removes waste from our cells and repairs cellular wear and tear from daily activity: walking, digesting the foods we eat, or even just breathing. When our bodies are working right, we don’t feel this primary inflammation taking place.
The problem occurs when the primary inflammation pathway is unable to get its job done, due to excessive burdens in the system, such as those caused by cigarette smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, or environmental pollution. At that point, the secondary inflammation pathway goes to work.
Secondary inflammation, more commonly called chronic inflammation, protects damaged areas in the body from fast deterioration, by causing tissues in affected areas to change and adapt to changes occurring at the site. Chronic inflammation may cause pain, swelling and even loss of function; these are all signs that there is a problem in that part of the body.
If a person doesn’t then take measures to address the underlying causes of the problem, the system may be compromised and it can result in chronic conditions such as coronary artery disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, allergies and others.
While taking anti-inflammatory medications may improve a person’s quality of life (such as in some autoimmune conditions where pain is often present), people should not take a casual approach to taking drugs, being that the medicines are in effect suppressing the body’s ability to repair and detoxify itself.
Further, the medications themselves now have to be removed from the body — which will divert body processes toward that toxin removal, instead of letting the body focus on repairing what was wrong with it, in the first place.
When a person is placed on prescription anti-inflammatory medication, their doctor will have them take periodic liver function blood tests. That’s because the same drugs that are preventing inflammation, and therefore reducing symptoms, are also preventing the liver from being able to detoxify itself. Liver cells can then become damaged and produce liver toxicity.
So, What Is the Solution?
If you are someone who suffers from chronic pain or has been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or any other chronic illness, you may benefit from seeing a health professional who takes an integrative approach to medicine. This doctor may order lab tests, get information about your diet, your lifestyle habits and other environmental influences that could uncover the reason or reasons for your health problem. After all, a body doesn’t just become sick for no reason.
Our bodies are unbelievably complex and resilient; but we need to “meet them half way” — continually do things that will promote good health, and not disease. The healthiest way to eliminate inflammation, then, is not by taking medications, but by eliminating the body’s need to be in a chronic state of inflammation.
Lifestyle Habits that Will Promote Good Health and Discourage Chronic Inflammation
There are “no brainer” and less-common solutions to keeping chronic inflammation down, while promoting overall good health. These are some of the big ones:
- Maintain a healthy weight (getting your body mass index, BMI, a formula of your weight divided by height, will give you a general idea of whether or not your weight is at a healthy level
- Avoid smoking cigarettes or being exposed to secondhand smoke. Cigarette smoke has thousands of toxic chemicals and is linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer
- Don’t abuse alcohol: drink no more than 2 daily drinks for a man, 1 for a woman; that does not mean you can drink all 14 or 7 alcoholic drinks in one day, which constitutes binge-drinking and puts an undue burden on your liver, heart and other organs; a little alcohol may help protect against inflammation, but if you abuse it, it will irritate your system and produce inflammation
- Get a good night’s sleep every night — not just on weekends! Most people need 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, which are necessary for the body to repair the wear and tear from the day’s demands (children need more than 8 hours). While caffeine may help you “fake it,” your body is keeping score: just one night of short sleep is enough to weaken the immune system, until you get caught up. Don’t shortchange yourself on revitalizing, important sleep
- Being physically active: unless your work involves physical activity, health authorities advise adults and children to get exercise as close to daily as possible. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get about two and a half hours a week (30 minutes a day on 5 days) of moderate exercise like brisk walking, or one hour and 15 minutes a week (15 minutes a day on 5 days) of intense physical activity. If you haven’t exercised in a while, you should consult with your doctor before starting an exercise regime, and you’ll want to start out slowly, such as taking a daily 10-minute walk
- Manage stress: whether it’s reading a novel, spending some time in nature, whatever helps you feel relaxed and recharged, take time to do it often
- Avoid too much salt or sodium in your diet (excess sodium in the body promotes inflammation)
- Limit or avoid processed foods with chemical additives; the only way to know what’s in a food is to read the ingredients’ label, or to make it yourself
- Avoid trans fats: this is one additive no one should consume. It goes by the name of “hydrogenated oil” and it’s in most store-bought cookies, cakes, pastries, margarines and some canned soups. Regular consumption of trans fats is strongly linked to cardiovascular disease and excess weight
- Limit refined sugars and/or starches in your diet. Put another way, you want to eat a balanced diet of whole foods that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and other natural foods such as beans, nuts and seeds. Be sure to include some fish with heart-healthy “Omega” fats (salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines and others. In the United States, buy Pacific or Alaskan fish when available, which has lower mercury levels than Atlantic fish)
- Get to know and love spices: People in China and India have been using spices to prevent and cure diseases for millennia. Now, American scientists have taken a keen interest in the wide-ranging, powerful benefits of consuming spices, whether they’re fresh or powdered, and added to dishes and desserts, or even taken in supplements. Chief on the list are garlic, turmeric, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, cocoa and many others. Allicin, the active ingredient in garlic, is without compare as a potent antioxidant that helps keep the body’s cells healthy and clean; thus, it does more than its share to prevent many illnesses, including cancers. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; thousands of studies have been done on it in recent times, and it’s credited with improving the health of practically every organ in the body. It helps to fight everything from breast cancer to allergies to Alzheimer’s disease. As for ginger, it, too, has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, promotes good digestion (70 percent of our immunity is in our guts), and fights stomach upset and nausea. Another excellent spice to get in the habit of eating often, to get or stay healthy.
If you pay attention to the above recommendations, you will not only control chronic inflammation, pain and other discomfort — you will reduce the possibility of getting diseases and conditions common in our modern times, including cardiovascular diseases, many types of cancer, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and allergies.
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.