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Chronic inflammation – what you need to know

There is a good bit of debate on the best course of treatment for people dealing with inflammation and inflammatory disorders.

From temporary sports injuries to chronic autoimmune conditions, inflammation causes misery for hundreds of millions of people around the world, every day.

Inflammation is the body’s response to fighting infections, bacteria, injuries and toxins. When the body recognises damage to its cells, it releases certain chemicals that activate the immune system.

The immune system then sends antibodies, proteins and extra blood flow to the affected area, creating an acute inflammatory response that cause symptoms of pain, redness, swelling and fever. This can last from a few hours to a few days.

When the response continues however, the body remains in a heightened state and over time, chronic inflammation can have a damaging effect on the body’s tissues and organs.  That’s why important to get chronic inflammation under control, both to relieve symptoms of pain and discomfort and to protect the body from long term health effects.

Western medicine’s response to inflammation is typically to treat chronic

inflammatory disorders with pharmaceutical drugs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) from over-the-counter remedies such as ibuprofen to prescription-only medications for more serious pain are commonly prescribed by medical professionals to relieve pain, inflammation and fever caused by inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. While proven to be effective as a pain reliever they can increase the risk of developing nausea, an upset stomach, or an ulcer, with some patients requiring an additional medicine to protect their stomach from the damaging effects of the NSAID.

The last two decades has seen the introduction of high-technology medication known as biologics to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. With Humira® (adalimumab) ranking as the world’s number one selling drug worth $18.427 billion in sales in 2017, pharmaceutical companies have identified a lucrative market amongst sufferers of chronic inflammatory conditions. However, given biologics’ actions to suppress the immune system, they come with a black box warning: the chance of getting a serious infection, lymphoma or other cancers, sometimes fatal, may increase.

Alternative schools of thought suggest inflammation can be treated with natural solutions through diet, exercise, mindset and by limiting exposure to allergens and environmental triggers.

Significant research has been invested in understanding the role of diet in inflammatory conditions.

Animal studies show that high sugar diets lead to obesity, diabetes and low-grade inflammation while studies in humans confirms the connection between added sugar and higher inflammatory markers. Research also shows the link between eating excess refined carbohydrates (such as white bread) and increased inflammatory markers in the blood. 

Can eliminating these triggers from your diet, alongside chemicals, preservatives and other additives found in manufactured foods, help reduce chronic inflammation?

Some health practitioners believe it can make a difference – if considered part of an holistic plan designed comprising treatments that might include including an exercise and stretching program, herbal, homeopathic and natural remedies, acupuncture, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, and psychotherapy to explore pain management techniques.

So, what IS the right course of treatment for someone with a chronic inflammatory condition?

While no one can give you a definitive answer, not even science, people suffering from chronic inflammation must educate themselves thoroughly about their condition to give themselves the best opportunity to make informed decisions about their treatment. They must be fully aware of any side effects of their chosen course of treatment, particularly if any carry black box warnings, and be in a position to decide for themselves whether the potential benefits of their treatment outweigh any potential side effects.

Drug development is in itself somewhat of a paradox.

Take the example of meadowsweet, the pretty, creamy coloured is a perennial herb of the Rosaceae family native to the British Isles. In the early 19th century chemists extracted salicylic acid from meadowsweet leaves and while identified as an effective pain reliever it was too harsh on the stomach for use. Years later in 1897, the chemical was adapted with less side effects to the stomach to create acetylsalicylic acid, which was first sold by Bayer in 1900 as Aspirin, marking the advent of modern day NSAIDs. However, while aspirin was created on the basis of natural compounds extracted from the meadowsweet plant, it left out the compounds found in the whole plant that protect the body from agents that are hard on the stomach.

Meadowsweet however is regularly used by herbalists to treat the side effects that aspirin creates, including upset stomach, heartburn and peptic ulcer disease. With its known analgesic effect and being mild on stomachs, it is also used to relieve painful muscles and joint conditions such as gout, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Meanwhile, everyone, regardless of whether they suffer an inflammatory condition or not, can benefit from improving their diet and cutting out processed, mass manufactured foods that are full of fat, chemicals and preservatives that are linked to diabetes, cancer, heart disease and elevated inflammatory markers.

As everyone suffers individually and may respond uniquely to treatment it is important to speak to your qualified health practitioner to learn more about the best course of treatment for you.

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