Thursday, June 5, 2014

Some Inflammatory Words
Often, I treat patients with medical conditions that relate to inflammationIf you see “-itis” in a diagnosis, it means inflammation is a player.  Examples include arthritis, tendonitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, bronchitis, colitis, hepatitis, cystitis, gastritis, and appendicitis. 

Like many things in life, inflammation is neither “bad” nor “good” in itself.  It is a basic part of the normal healing process, helping us deal in the short-term with most infections and wounds. 

Chronic inflammation, however, sets the stage for challenging health problems.  It comes about in response to consistent exposure to dietary or environmental triggers, malignant tumors, or chronic infections, as well as the dysfunctional immune response seen in autoimmune disease.

Chronic high inflammation is a major factor in these diseases:
  • Osteoarthritis and rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Cardiovascular (high cholesterol, high blood pressure)
  • Neurological (depression) and neuro-degenerative (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disorder)
  • Pulmonary (asthma, allergies)
  • Metabolic (diabetes/obesity, low thyroid hormone)
  • Neoplastic (cancer)
It’s common for someone with a painful, inflammatory condition to reach for a bottle of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).  These include aspirin and ibuprofen.  However, NSAIDS can have unpleasant side effects such as nausea or diarrhea as well as toxic, life-threatening ones, especially if used long-term.  At any time and without warning symptoms, fatal stomach and intestinal reactions can occur during their use.  Elderly people are more at risk. 
If your inflammatory condition has led to use of a corticosteroid, for example, cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone, there are even more things to worry about.  Orally-taken corticosteroids are most likely to cause significant side effects.  This could be increased pressure in the eyes (glaucoma), fluid retention that causes lower legs to swell, high blood pressure, mood swings, weight gain, cloudy vision (cataracts), high blood sugar that can trigger or worsen diabetes, increased risk of infections and slower wound healing, thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) and fractures, thin skin that bruises easily, and suppressed adrenal gland hormone production.  In other words, you pay a price for the “easy” fix! 

Thankfully, acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas can definitely help decrease inflammation, and without nasty side effects.

You can also empower yourself by implementing some important, evidence-based strategies.  At the same time, they also address some common root causes of inflammation:
1) Manage stress:
  • Practice “belly” breathing.   Basically, you stick your stomach out when you inhale and pull it in when you exhale.  It signals your body to relax. 
  • Practice mindfulness as you breathe and go about your day.  If you stay in the present, your body is more likely to relax. 
  • Practice qigong, a gentle yet profound therapy that combines breath, movement and visualization.  Qigong switches the nervous system from the stress-related “fight or flight” mode to the restorative healing mode of the parasympathetic branch.  I recommend Lee Holden’s DVDs, for example, Qigong for Stress, Qigong for Deep Sleep or Qigong for Upper Back and Neck Pain.   Go to to access these. 
  • Make more connections with friends. 
  • Free yourself from feelings of powerlessness.
  • Learn to accept your emotions, including fear, sadness, despair and anger, but address ongoing feelings of helplessness.
  • Find someone with whom you can process your emotions, for example, a peer counselor or a psychotherapist.
  • Resolve past traumas via therapy.
  • Make choices, for example, in relationships, to help avoid undue stress. 
  • Seek happiness.  A fascinating study shows that it can lead to anti-inflammatory changes in your DNA, but only when that happiness comes from a pursuit of a “noble” purpose (for example, volunteering or participating in community projects) versus a hedonistic pursuit (for example, eating a great meal or buying a new car).  
2) Get at least six hours of sleep each night.
3) Exercise.  This could be a 30-minute walk, six times a week.  Less than 20 minutes of physical activity per day contributes to inflammation.
4) Create clean environments.
  • Stay away from cigarette smoke.  If you are addicted, use acupuncture to help stop. 
  • Avoid products that contain industrial and domestic chemicals.  These include pesticides, insecticides, chemical cleaning products, skin contact with aluminum, parabens and phthalates in cosmetic products, and foods and liquids that have been in contact with hot plastics (e.g., microwave plastic bowls, plastic mugs).  Air dry-cleaned clothing. 
  • Work with others to stop atmospheric pollution.  Meanwhile, you may benefit from a good room air filter. 
5) Look at your relationship with alcohol.  The experts say that an occasional glass and no more than 10 ounces per day of red wine are OK if you want to decrease inflammation.  Anything beyond that, as well as hard liquor, raises inflammatory levels.
6) Maintain a healthy weight.  Being overweight, especially with too much abdominal fat, feeds inflammation.
7) Choose foods and prepare them in ways that actively fight inflammation.  By far, the most important way to control inflammation via diet is to minimize unhealthy dietary fats.    Steer clear of refined carbohydrate and high-glycemic-index foods.  More on diet later in an upcoming article
Finally, give yourself credit whenever you make a move toward better health by choosing any of these habits.

Janet Lee Cook
Licensed Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Prescriptions