Inflammation – Definition and Explanation
Inflammation is, in essence, the body’s first-line response to injury. Think of it as your body’s emergency flare—inflammation is a way for your body to protect itself from further injury and to recruit recovery materials to an injury sight. Swelling widens the pathways to speed the process up and causes short-term discomfort to limit the body’s movement, allowing for faster, more effective healing. In this sense, inflammation in the short term is very useful, and it promotes the overall health of the body in the long term.
Many symptoms of inflammation play a role in the recovery process. The most obvious symptom of inflammation is pain. Again, this is by design as it will limit the subject from causing further damage to the injured area. Other symptoms include local swelling and heat, redness, and impaired movement. Swelling, pain, and restricted movement are, in essence, a natural way for the body to protect itself from further damage. Redness and swelling improve and increase blood flow to the injured area, improving delivery of critical nutrients and materials to facilitate the recovery process. Localized heat is a result of increased blood flow.
Inflammation – Why It’s an Issue
The acute inflammatory cascade is a natural, healthy reaction to injury; it’s a primary catalyst in the body’s recovery process and mechanisms and can help prevent you from hurting yourself even more. The short-term aspects of inflammation make it seem more friend than foe, right? While there is a lot of truth to that conclusion, the pendulum does swing the other way . . . and it swings back hard. While there are major benefits to inflammation in the short term (acute), the long term (chronic) impacts of inflammation are far less helpful and more destructive. As the top medical researchers across the globe investigate, the primary causal and corollary dynamics with regard to almost every chronic disease afflicting humans today, almost every single one has a common factor: inflammation. In other words, chronic disease and chronic inflammation are inextricably linked.
Why is this so? In addition to pain and restricted movement, one issue that can be caused by excessive and/or chronic inflammation is the reaction of your body’s own immune system. Inflammation is triggered, governed, aggravated, and mitigated by a series of enzymatic reactions—more specifically, signaling enzymes. Your body contains more than 50,000 enzymes, and without them, life as we know it would not be able to exist. Enzymes are the “rock stars” of the body as they are the primary catalysts/drivers for just about all biochemical actions and reactions in the body. When excessive/chronic inflammation is detected by the immune system, it can cause the body’s own defenses to begin attacking what is mistaken for an intruder; in reality, the immune system is attacking a damaged joint or tissue, causing issues such as arthritis, chronic allergies, and even more serious maladies.
Another issue is excessive wear and tear on the joints. A specific example of how this can happen is calcification. While calcium is essential for the strength of your bones, your body will often use it as a patch, including cases involving a damaged joint. Your joints are made of cartilage and synovial fluid to reduce friction; when calcium is used as a patch, the grinding and increased friction of calcium on soft tissue causes impaired movement and further joint damage.
Inflammation – What We Can Do About It
In the category of joint and structural tissue support, there are actually two issues to address—the initial damage to the joint/tissue and the inflammation caused as a result. It’s important to recognize that although the two faculties are related, addressing one problem will not necessarily fix the other. Patients/clients will often think that by taking glucosamine/chondroitin or related products, they will address joint pain; while these products could help support the body’s efforts to facilitate the recovery/healing process, they won’t do much to help with joint pain caused by inflammation.
As I mentioned before, signaling enzymes control a vast variety of mechanisms and reactions in the body. A specific class of these, known as proteolytic enzymes, act as regulators and modulators of the inflammatory response. Proteolytic (literally “protein-digesting/destroying”) enzymes promote a variety of support faculties, including anti-inflammatory, digestive, vascular, and immune support and supporting the reduction of edema. In the inflammation support faculty, proteolytic enzymes must be taken on an empty stomach—that means at least 30 minutes before eating or at least 2 hours after.
You might be asking, “How does a ‘protein-destroying/digesting’ enzyme help support a healthy response to inflammation?” One way they do this is by increasing the “appetite” of macrophages. These immune cells help clean out the toxins, pathogens, senescent cells, and other undesirable elements that need to be discarded to keep the body healthy and functioning properly. Another enzymatic support mechanism is via the reduction of mucous membrane swelling and blood viscosity, improving circulation and healthy nutrient delivery, and helping the blood/macrophages to more efficiently remove waste and toxins from the injured tissues/systems of the body. On a related note, proteolytic enzymes can also assist the body in digesting plasma proteins near the injury, breaking them down into smaller fragments, allowing them to more efficiently move through the body, and helping to reduce inflammation associated with pain and swelling.
Herbal Inflammation Support
While extremely useful, proteolytic enzymes can be even more effective if taken in conjunction with herbal inflammation support formulas. Curcumin/turmeric is one of my favorites. Just to clarify, turmeric necessarily yields curcumin, and all curcumin is derived from turmeric. The difference in terminology/nomenclature is this: If a product is named/indexed as Curcumin, it is typically going to have a higher potency of an active ingredient/compound (most typically curcuminoids). In any event, curcumin/turmeric supports a healthy inflammatory response by modulating pro-inflammatory cyclooxygenase, prostaglandin, and leukotriene metabolism.
Boswellia serrata is another herb that has been noted to help support healthy prostaglandin levels and metabolism and is known to provide support via antioxidant/free-radical neutralization immune function. Boswellia and Curcumin have a synergistic relationship and can also help to support healthy liver function.
Ultimately, neutralization of free radicals and supporting systemic alkalinity plays a huge role in supporting a healthy systemic response to inflammation. The overwhelming majority of patients are not getting adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, and this missing part of the diet plays a huge role in chronic inflammation.
Essential Fatty Acids/Omega-3
There’s a ton of information floating around about EFAs (essential fatty acids) such as Omega-3. But do you know where the “Essential” in “Essential Fatty Acids” comes from? Much like essential amino acids, EFAs cannot be made in the body, but they’re a requirement if the body is to function properly. Therefore, since you can’t make them, you have to consume them.
Further complicating the issue, not all Omegas are created equal. Among Omega-3 variants, the fish-derived variety is typically the best option. EPA and DHA, the most active components of Omega-3, are in their ready-to-use, most bioavailable form in fish oil. But even people with fish in their diet can be deficient, particularly if they’re consuming farm-raised fish. If a fish is farm-raised, it is not forced to swim upstream. It is this exertion within a fish’s body that causes the development of the critical Omega-3 components EPA (which is critical for healthy triglyceride balance, healthy eyes, heart, skin, and systemic function) and DHA (which is critical to cognitive health). Even if Omega-3 is detected in a fish’s fatty lipids, it is highly unlikely that your body will be able to make much use of it.
A “good” Omega-3 formula is easy to distinguish from a bad one if you know what to look for. A good rule of thumb is that the EPA/DHA sum should amount to at least 50% of the total Omega-3 yield in the fish oil. For example, if an Omega-3 formula has 1,000 mg of Omega-3, at least 500 mg of that should be EPA and/or DHA. If it is less, you are looking at an inferior formula.
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