Inflammation Overload! By Gemma Davies, AdvDipNat, DipBotMed

Inflammation Overload! By Gemma Davies, AdvDipNat, DipBotMed

It’s been estimated that approximately one in three Australians have chronic inflammatory conditions.1

With established links to so many common health concerns, inflammation is a topic we all need to know about. So how and why does it occur in the body and what can we do to reduce the pain, discomfort and symptoms inflammation causes?

Inflammation is actually an important biological mechanism that attracts special immune cells to sweep away and remove dead and damaged cells. If our immune system is functioning well, inflammatory responses help us stay healthy. For example, inflammation causes throat irritation and a runny nose to initiate the coughing and sneezing required to clear a cold or flu virus and causes swelling and heat at an injury site to assist tissue repair. However, if the required cell removal is incomplete and the cycle continues, inflammation can begin. As Professor Kate Schroder from the University of Queensland explains, ‘During injury or infection, our body’s immune system protects us by launching inflammation. But uncontrolled inflammation can drive undesirable health conditions.2

Inflammation is always set off by a trigger, the most obvious being a virus or bacteria, or a physical injury like a cut, burn or blow. We now know that many other factors act as triggers, including an unhealthy diet, smoking, environmental pollutants and even stress.2

Ultimately, we’re susceptible to inflammatory overload simply by… living in the world!

Thankfully, we can take proactive steps to minimise uncontrolled inflammation and reduce some of the health havoc it causes to our health. These include:

  1. Eating a healthy, nourishing diet: as writer and food activist Michael Pollan advised: ‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants’.3 A proven anti-inflammatory diet includes plenty of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, olive oil, nuts and seeds, legumes, wholegrains and fatty fish. The great news is that coffee is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, so there’s no need to give up your daily cuppa!4
  2. Adopting a low-tox lifestyle: be conscious of the chemicals you use in your body and around the home, choosing ‘clean’ beauty and cleaning products (or even making your own). Consider using air and water filters both at home and at work and if you smoke or vape, seek help to quit!
  3. Actively reducing stress: meditation, time management techniques, counselling, psychological support and yoga are all proven ways.
  4. Consider supplementation: certain anti-inflammatory compounds are hard to obtain from foods, so supplementation may be an additional proactive step to help minimise inflammation. Such compounds include curcumin, palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) and pro-resolving mediators.

There is also very strong evidence that compounds from specific plants and foods work especially well to reduce inflammation overload. The research spotlight has shone brightly on curcumin in recent years; a powerful anti-inflammatory compound found naturally in the roots of the turmeric plant.

 Curcumin has been proven to reduce inflammation in three main ways, by:

  • lowering key enzymes that cause inflammation;
  • preventing blood platelets from clumping together;
  • acting as a powerful antioxidant, helping to clear free radicals and ‘mop up’ dead and damaged cells, which in turn reduces the inflammatory process.5

Whilst the anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin are impressive, standard curcumin from food sources is poorly bioavailable meaning that a combination of poor solubility, low gut absorption, high rate of metabolism and rapid clearance from the body make it difficult for us to absorb and use. Take care to choose a highly bioavailable form of curcumin when considering supplementation.6-8

The anti-inflammatory effects of a well-absorbed curcumin can be further optimised by taking it in combination with other natural compounds, such as:

  • Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA): which is a lipid found in soybean, has been shown to effectively reduce pain (especially nerve pain) and anxiety caused by it, by interrupting the pain cycle and exerting an endocannaboid-like action.9-20
  • Pro-resolving mediators (PRMs): which can be found in natural fish oils and play an important role in the anti-inflammatory pathway and in supporting brain and heart health.21-35

Although inflammation is a concern for all of us, it’s good to know that by combining wise diet and lifestyle choices with the best that nature and science have to offer, we can make a real difference to our health.

*References available on request.