If it’s an ‘itis’, it’s inflammation. And we’ve all had an “itis,” right?
They’re literally and figuratively a pain, but the reason behind them isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, inflammation is just your body’s attempt to heal itself. Take a sore throat (or pharyngitis) for example. You have a virus in your body that’s affecting your throat. Your immune system concentrates itself at the scene of the crime and swells and heats up in order to kill and battle the pathogens. Once your immune system has done its job and the pathogens have been dealt with, the swelling goes down and your throat doesn’t hurt anymore. Basically when a part of your body gets inflamed, it’s just a sign your immune system is being its good ol’ badass self.
But inflammation can also be a sign of a serious problem, especially when it’s chronic. You’re probably familiar with the more common types we talked about before: the transient and innocuous kind that can usually be seen with the naked eye. What we are rarely aware of, however, is silent inflammation. Silent inflammation is especially dangerous because unlike typical inflammations that occur outside the body and are easy to see, silent inflammation occurs inside the body, and often goes undetected. It’s an internal swelling that is often an effect of a more serious disease or condition (a fairly common example would be hepatitis, or liver inflammation). Either way it’s a big problem, but a problem with solutions. Whether your inflammation is just an annoying distraction, or something that’s keeping you from doing what we do best (living!), the potential solutions and their benefits are worth exploring.
So for our purposes here, let’s keep it light. Let’s say you just have a little joint inflammation (or arthritis). Nothing serious, but it keeps tugging on the back of your mind and distracting you from your day. At this point there are three main “plans” you can choose to use.
NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen. When you’re pained by inflammation, it’s easy, almost too easy, to simply take one of these bad boys. It’s a quick fix and then you can get on with things. But while those are likely to give you quick relief from symptoms, they fail to get to the root of the problem. They have also been known to cause extremely serious side effects in certain cases. High blood pressure, heart attacks, kidney and liver damage, ulcers, gastric bleeds, and heartburn are all possible outcomes. In some cases, people can also have allergic reactions to NSAIDS. In light of those risks, it seems almost ridiculous that one would even think about using them. Especially when there are much more natural and reliable ways to cope with inflammation and its effects.
That’s where Plan B comes into play: Acupuncture. Even the buttoned-down, staid “Establishment” recognizes that these teeny tiny needles and their corresponding 3,000 year old Medical Theory are extremely effective in combatting and controlling the inflammation cascade. Acupuncture is efficacious in treating inflammation that permeates the whole body (systemic inflammation), as well as more localized types, such as tendonitis or arthritis.
By stimulating acupuncture points, the flow of the body’s internal energy is significantly and positively altered. It interrupts certain pain recepter cascades, altering how our bodies perceive and respond to pain and promoting long-term healing.
It causes cortisol, a natural steroid hormone, to be released into the body, which works to reduce inflammation. Many people with serious inflammation have to get cortisol shots where it is unnaturally injected into their bodies. Of course this may be necessary in certain circumstances, but, if possible, it is much more beneficial and safe to stimulate the chemicals that your body already possesses and get them to work in your favor, rather than adding more.
Acupuncture is more than needles. A big part of what we do is simple, and something you food. Doesn’t sound like much of a plan, does it? Trust me, I do this for a living. Eating certain foods will not only help heal the body of inflammation, but can prevent it from even happening. The foods that help with inflammation are abundant and easy to access. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish (especially salmon, tuna, and sardines) help strengthen your immune system and help combat inflammation. Leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, and kale are loaded with vitamin E which similarly strengthens your immune system. Tomatoes, onions, and garlic are all very helpful, and have effects similar to NSAIDS. Berries, which are full of antioxidants play a big role in reducing inflammation. Whole grains are also very important, as they are a good source of fiber and protein. Conversely, it is important when possible, to avoid foods containing lots of carbs, sugar, MSG, and gluten. It will also help to reduce or eliminate the consumption of alcohol and caffeine. (Don’t shoot the messenger!)
That said, the quality of the food you eat is just as important as the food itself. As a general rule, the more natural the food is, the better. Finding foods free of preservatives and additives will make a huge difference in your health. Whether it’s eggs, meat, fruit, or vegetables, organic is the way to go. Herbs and supplements are another effective tool in combating inflammation. Supplements you can take daily in pill form include vitamin D, fish oils, and calcium. Herbs such as ginger, turmeric, bromelain, and rosemary are also very effective and can be included in everyday meals. Spices like cayenne pepper, and green and chamomile tea work wonders as well.
So, as you can see, there are endless possibilities all around us that can reduce and prevent inflammation, and help us lead happier and healthier lives, without having to resort to over-the-counter medications. Remember that there is no such thing as a panacea, and that staying healthy is a daily task you must be consistent about and work at. It may not always be easy, but if you learn to treat your body responsibly, the hard work will pay off, and you will go through your day feeling stronger and more capable than ever before.
At 1000 Folded Cranes Acupuncture, we incorporate treatment plans to address a number of disorders and will work with your to determine if treatments can help you and possibly alleviate the need for the endless loop of medication. Using acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, and incorporating herbal remedies that we prescribe, may be a good substitute for restoring harmony in the body.