Monday, June 29, 2020

Addressing Chronic Inflammation

by Dr. Leena Athparia, ND, AAWC

Inflammation is a normal immune process in the body in response to infections, toxins or trauma. The word itself originates from Latin meaning to "set on fire".  Common symptoms of acute inflammation manifest as redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of function. A common example would be when you hurt your finger on the stove or get a sliver. While acute inflammation is a natural response to promote healing, chronic inflammation may be more subtle to notice and can go on for months or years, contributing to degenerative diseases such as: ulcerative colitis, arthritis and chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, skin diseases, gingivitis, diabetes and many other health conditions.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, wellness is based on the understanding of your constitution (prakruti) and balance of the 5 elements, 3 doshas, the digestive fire (agni), the health of the 7 tissues (dhatus) and proper elimination (malas). If any of these aspects are not aligned, this leads to disease. Inflammation is often a manifestation of excess pitta dosha, otherwise seen as "too much fire" or heat in the body or mind for prolonger periods of time. If this is not brought into balance, inflammatory process sets in leading to illness. Summer is also a time where the weather is hot and may provoke imbalance with individuals prone to Pitta conditions.

Identifying Inflammation

Chronic or advanced inflammation may show up as pain, stiffness, fatigue, redness or just feeling 'off'. However, often inflammation can go unnoticed for years before it shows as symptoms in the body. Speak with your ND to find out some of the tests available to identify inflammation:

Tests for inflammation:

  • Food sensitivity
  • CRP, ESR, Ferritin, CBC
  • Vit D, uric acid
  • Ayurvedic tongue & pulse diagnosis

Factors that increase risk of inflammation:
Your constitution, genetics, diet and lifestyle play a role as to whether or not you are more susceptible to inflammatory conditions. Understanding and identifying these risk factors can help you take steps in managing inflammation. Some of the common factors that promote inflammation are:
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet (such as refined foods, sugar, alcohol)
  • Obesity
  • Aging
  • Recurrent injury
  • Chronic viral or bacterial illness

Tips to Reduce Inflammation

The goal of naturopathic and Ayurvedic treatment is to identify the causes of inflammation and restore balance. There are certain aspects that increase inflammation and certain things that reduce inflammation. For example, let's say you are eating a fairly 'balanced' diet most of the time, but do eat some fried food occasionally and some wheat that you may have a sensitivity to. On top of it, you are dealing with a stressful deadline at work for the week. These factors, combined, may be enough to trigger an inflammatory response which you may or may not notice. For example, you may notice more fatigue or stiff, puffy joints. Below are some tips to help you address inflammation:

Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

  • Avoid: Deep fried and trans fats. Limit refined foods and sugars as these can aggravate blood sugar imbalances, leading to inflammation. Consider testing for food intolerances. This will help you identify which foods your immune system may be fighting (such as wheat, dairy, eggs and even certain nuts, grains fruits or vegetables. 
  • Include: From an Ayurvedic perspective, a Pitta-balancing diet is often helpful for reducing inflammation. This often includes a variety of leafy greens and vegetables, herbs & spices such as turmeric and ginger and healthy omegas such as ghee, fish oil and olive oil. Speak to your practitioner to understand what foods are balancing for you. Read more on top anti-inflammatory foods here.

Supplement with Natural Anti-inflammatories

There are numerous supplements that have anti-inflammatory properties. However, every herb works in a different way in the body and so it is always important to understand your constitution and your state of health to customise the best treatment approach.  For example, turmeric is a well-know herb that is widely studied for reducing inflammation. However, turmeric is not advised to take as a supplement alongside blood thinning medications or before surgery as it may thin the blood. Fish oils also have a similar effect. I will highlight a few of the lesser known anti-inflammatory herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine.

  • Boswelia Serrata (Frankincense): This is a resin extract from a tree which has been studied to improve outcomes of Ulcerative Colitis and Arthritis, amongst other inflammatory diseases. The best form to take it is in a capsule or powder with a standardized about of boswellic acid,  the active ingredient. This is often found in arthritis or pain supplements paired with turmeric as they work well together (1).
  • Commiphora mukul (Guggul): This is also a resin extract that is most well-know for it's cholesterol reducing effect. However in Ayurvedic medicine, it has traditionally been used to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, obesity, atherosclerosis and thyroid conditions (2). From an Ayurvedic perspective, this herb is often give to individuals with a kapha imbalance or who have high 'ama' (accumulating toxins). 

Inflammation is a broad term and needs a customised approach for long-lasting treatment. Conventional medications such as aspirin or corticosteroids can suppress the inflammatory response in the body temporarily but doesn't address the root cause of the issue. You may not be able to see or feel it, but chronic inflammation that is left untreated can slowly damage your body. For long-lasting health, identifying the causes of inflammation increase the possibility of treating imbalances before they become more complex, establishes diseases. Summer is a season where Pitta is at it's peak and for many, this can mean flare-ups. Speak with your naturopathic doctor to learn more about ways to assess your level of inflammation and treatments tailored for your constitution.

(1) Siddiqui, M.Z. (2011). Boswellia Serrata, A Potential Antiinflammatory Agent: An Overview.  
(2)Surendran, Saritha. (2018). Commiphora mukul: An Overview. Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology. 

Dr. Leena Athparia is a naturopathic doctor at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus in chronic disease and health promotion with Ayurveda. She has a keen interest in Ayurvedic nutrition and lifestyle. If you would like to work with Dr. Athpariaplease call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.