America is the “Inflammation Nation.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, 7 of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States are attributed to chronic low-level inflammation. Last week in our blog, we discussed diet changes to help reduce inflammation. This week we will go into the biology of the issue, and discuss how pharmaceuticals may be doing more harm than good.
A Quick, Not-Too-Boring Biology Lesson
Let’s take this back to grade school biology for a minute (it's all right, you may leave the interesting outfits, gripping braces grin and awkward peers behind). As many of you know, inflammation is a natural biological process of healing in the body which is necessary for survival. When tissues are damaged by foreign bacterium or viruses, toxins, heat, trauma or other causes, damaged cells release substances that activate a swelling response to isolate the afflicted area, and also trigger a chain reaction of reparative “mediators” to the scene to heal the injury. We recognize this process by overt physical symptoms such as redness, pain, warmth, swelling and loss of function.
While fluctuations in the inflammatory process are clearly necessary to maintain a stable homeostatic existence, many individuals are afflicted by “silent” inflammation, or a chronic low-level response that doesn’t present with any of the classic symptoms. Rather, persistent low-level inflammation caused by diet and lifestyle, quietly deteriorates the heart, brain and immune system manifesting in chronic disease.
NSAID: Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug
In an allopathic framework, many people take medications in order to combat the uncomfortable symptoms of inflammation. In a study done in 2010 by the American Gastroenterological Association, it was found that over 30 million people take over-the-counter nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) each day for relief from pain, headaches and arthritis.
These “household” drug names are all too familiar to most of us including Advil, Motrin, Alieve, Bayer, Excedrin, and Ibuprofen. NSAIDS are also found lingering in many of the common cold and flu medications that you’re friendly pharmacy technician rings up for you with a smile, as you stand there with tissues stuffed up your nose.
NSAIDs work by altering the inflammation response to decrease pain and swelling. Though previously thought to be “benign” medications, new studies have revealed that these meds may be perpetuating the destructive cycle of dysfunctional biological response. Consider the following:
- Everyone who takes NSAIDS is at some risk for developing a stomach problem. What's more, 80% of people who have a serious stomach problem as a result of taking an NSAID have no warning symptoms.
- Recent studies indicate that NSAIDS (except for low-dose aspirin) may increase the chance of heart attack or stroke.
- According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, NSAID complications lead to 7,500 bleeding ulcers, 103,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths annually, costing more than $2 billion in medical expenses.
- Current documented side effects for ibuprofen include (but are not limited to): Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; trouble breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); bloody or black, tarry stools; change in the amount of urine produced; chest pain; confusion; dark urine; depression; fainting; fast or irregular heartbeat; fever, chills, or persistent sore throat; mental or mood changes; numbness of an arm or leg; one-sided weakness; red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin; ringing in the ears; seizures; severe headache or dizziness; severe or persistent stomach pain or nausea; severe vomiting; shortness of breath; stiff neck; sudden or unexplained weight gain; swelling of hands, legs, or feet; unusual bruising or bleeding; unusual joint or muscle pain; unusual tiredness or weakness; speech changes; vomit that looks like coffee grounds; yellowing of the skin or eyes.
NSTEAD of NSAID: Natural Anti-Inflammatories
Diet and lifestyle will serve to radically alter chronic inflammation responses and offer the freedom to a full life. But these types of behavior and habit alterations take patience and time. While gulping down fizzy sodas and crunching away at low-fat refined cereals, we have done a lot of damage to agitate the tissues of the body-- down to the very cell. Thus, along the intricate pathway of reparative and sustainative change, we often need some additional, concentrated healing support.
There are several vital natural substances that actually have strong anti-inflammatory properties. As UCLA Professor of Medicine and Neurology, G. Cole explained to Newsweek Magazine in a Special Summer Issue in 2005 (pages 26-28):
"While anti-inflammatory drugs usually block a single target molecule and reduce its activity dramatically, natural anti-inflammatories gently tweak a broader range of inflammatory compounds. You'll get greater safety and efficacy reducing five inflammatory mediators by 30 percent than by reducing one by 100 percent."
10 Natural Inflammation-Fighting Supplements To Try:
3. Green tea
5. Flax Oil
8. Walnut Oil
9. Goji Berries
These substances, while not offering the perceived immediate relief of over-the-counter NSAIDS, have been shown in extensive clinical research to have phenomenal effects in relieving unpleasant inflammatory symptoms, halting the inflammatory process and allowing space for the body to begin a restoration to long-term health.
Thousands of clinical research trials have shown them to reduce pain significantly. In one study conducted by the Health Research and Studies Center, individuals with tendonitis experienced performance improvement levels of 93% after just eight-weeks of treatment with astaxanthin. In a separate study by the University of Pittsburgh, nearly two thirds of those with chronic neck and back pain were able to stop taking NSAIDS after 10 weeks of using fish oils. Ultimately, these natural gifts help to bring your body back to the balanced state in which it functions optimally- not artificially tampering with symptoms while creating more serious problems. Don't wait to find the wholesome long-term relief you have been hoping for!
*This article is not meant to be used as a source of medical advice. Please consult and work closely your healthcare practitioner before making any changes to your current medication/health plan. Read dosing instructions on supplements closely for best effect.
American Gastroenterological Association. “Patient Center: NSAIDS.” April 2010. http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/diet-medications/nonsteriodal-anti-inflammatory-drugs-nsaids
“Analgesic headache.” British Medical Journal. February 25,1995: 478-480.
“The Anti-Inflammatory Nutrient.” Nutrex, Hawaii. June 2011 http://www.nutrex-hawaii.com/news/details/21
Underwood, Anne and Cole, G. “The Secret Killer” Newsweek Magazine. August 2005: 26-28.
"Ibuprofen: Side Effects." Drugs.com. http://www.drugs.com/sfx/ibuprofen-side-effects.html
Photo: Chronic Inflammed Cells by Nottingham School