This is the second post in a series on inflammation. Start with the first post.
People often ask what they can take that is safe and natural to reduce inflammation. Most know that pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories all have undesirable side effects. From wrecking your gut lining to causing heart attacks – none of these meds are free from collateral damage.
When these drugs are used long term, they do not resolve inflammation, at best they mask it. In fact, chronic use of these medications actually makes more inflammation in the long run! So, wanting safe alternatives sure does make sense.
You may have heard that things like fish oil (omega 3 fatty acids) and turmeric (curcumin) are good to take for inflammation. It’s true that these are two excellent natural anti-inflammatories. However, there are caveats to consider:
- They need to be in the right delivery form and at the right dose.
- They work well for certain types of inflammation but there are situations in which they will actually make inflammation worse.
- A natural supplement, just like medications, will only mask the problem if you do not identify and deal with the source of your inflammation.
Unraveling the source
It’s important to identify the reasons why your inflammation exists in the first place, and then take steps to fix it. In Functional Medicine, we have a “laundry list” of inflammatory triggers we investigate. We want to find out which ones are key players for you. If you lower your triggers then it will be much easier to get your inflammation down.
Here are the most common inflammatory triggers on the laundry list:
- Stress, stress, and more stress! Stress chemistry is highly inflammatory to your body and brain.
- Food intolerances and dysbiosis rile up gut inflammation. Your gut lining is permeable, so gut inflammation affects your whole body and brain.
- Blood sugar dysregulation, belly fat, insulin resistance all create inflammation.
- Low oxygen, more common than you may realize, happens if you have anemia, apnea, or these other causes.
- Injuries should cause short-term inflammation but sometimes this backfires and becomes chronic.
- Crappy foods are actually inflammatory! This includes sugar and any type of fried food.
- Infections, big and small, create inflammation. This includes temporary colds, flus, and sinus infections. It also includes chronic infections like Epstein Barr, Herpes, hepatitis C, and Lyme.
With chronic inflammation, it is always best to go through this checklist. It may feel overwhelming, but if these things are inflaming you, wouldn’t you rather resolve them than use a band-aid approach? I dive deeper into fixing the first four triggers in this series.
The safe and natural things
There is a myriad of herbs and supplements that put out various types of inflammation. You can use these at the same time as digging out the root causes. However, it’s not appropriate to pile on turmeric or fish oil for all types of inflammation.
It turns out there are different types of inflammation, and now we can identify which type you have, and use the right things to calm it down. We don’t want to stop or suppress your immune system. We want to shift the inflammation pendulum back to balance. Let’s get more of an understanding of the different types, and the next post will dig deeper in.
Get to know your T helper cells
Our understanding of immunology has exploded in recent years, and part of this is what we now know about T helper cells. These cells are part of your adaptive immune system. They start out as undifferentiated “naive” T cells (called CD4 cells), and they can mature into four subsets, pictured here:
Th 1 cells
These deal with tiny pathogens inside your cells. You want a robust Th1 response to deal with any invading microbes that come in and try to take up residence.
Th 2 cells
These deal with larger pathogens outside your cells, like parasitic worms. They also handle allergies, asthma (think mast cells and histamine) and inflammation in what we call “hollow” spaces: lungs, nose, sinus cavities, GI tract, vagina, and bladder.
Th 17 cells
These are all about autoimmune response, and the tissue destruction that goes with it. They also handle fungal and bacterial infections that are outside of your cells.
T-reg cells calm down the inflammation caused by a Th17 response, ideally when it needs calming down.
The project at hand
Balancing your immune system means influencing these constantly changing T helper cells. Balance means the right kind of T helper cells mature, dominate, do their job, and then relax.
The problem is when they miss the signals to relax, and you become stuck in a dominant T helper cell subtype response. This happens with Th 1, Th 2 and Th 17. And, it’s also entirely possible to have this chronic dominance in one part of your body, for example, a Th 2 dominance in your lungs, creating chronic asthma or bronchitis.