Inflammation seems like a new health buzzword lately – and I find more and more patients coming in for treatment and saying that their body “feel inflamed.” But what is inflammation, and what should you do about it?
Acute inflammation is a normal part of the body’s immune response. It refers to the onslaught of beneficial immune cells to a site of trauma, irritation, or disruption. This influx of immune-boosting cells to an area is what causes redness, swelling, and pus. This is a normal and healthy biological reaction, one that is designed to push a foreign object or pathogen out, actively heal damaged tissue, and protect the rest of the body. Examples of acute inflammation include a cut or scrape, a sore throat with a viral infection, and acute sinusitis.
The health issue, with inflammation, is when it becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation occurs when there is an imbalance in the body – too many inflammatory chemicals and not enough anti-inflammatory ones. This can occur from a chronic infection that the body doesn’t eliminate (so that the inflammatory response is constantly going), an over-reaction on the immune system’s part to any stimuli, an auto-immune response (when an internal switch gets flicked, causing the body’s immune system to attack its own cells), or in inability to turn off a previously started immune response. Chronic inflammation has been linked to numerous diseases, including some cancers, asthma, ulcers, gum disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, depression, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and more. While there are numerous other genetic and environmental factors that may “cause” these diseases, inflammation is a factor in each.
Acupuncture and Chronic Inflammation
From an acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine standpoint, inflammation is usually a combination of 3 pathologies: toxic heat trapped in the body, dampness accumulation (an abnormal processing of fluids), and stagnation of the body’s energy, leading to pain and dysfunction. These pathologies can occur anywhere in the body, and that is why inflammation has such wide-reaching implications. For instance, a stagnation of energy mixed with toxic heat and dampness in the joints may manifest as rheumatoid arthritis. When these same pathologies occur in the cardiovascular system, they can lead to coronary artery disease or heart disease. When they occur in the digestive tract, we see diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, or chronic peptic ulcers.
With successive treatments, acupuncture can help to rectify these pathologies, reducing inflammation and therefore reducing swelling, pain, or risk of further degeneration. Acupuncture will not cure these diseases, once the inflammation has progressed to a state to actually label it as a disease. However, it can help to manage symptoms and prevent diseases from progressing or spreading.
What can you do?
In addition to getting acupuncture treatment, other holistic health treatments can help reduce inflammation by activating the body’s natural healing abilities, realigning the flow of fluids in the body, and increasing blood flow in and out of inflamed tissue. These include massage, craniosacral therapy, reflexology, and chiropractic care.
Eating healthfully is incredibly important in reducing systemic inflammation. Greasy and fried foods can exacerbate the swelling and sluggishness associated with inflammation. Common foods that exacerbate inflammation for some people (not all) are breads, gluten, dairy, sugar, and alcohol. Consult a nutritionist about the best eating plan that is right for you.
Exercise! Movement, from an acupuncture perspective, helps to get healthy energy flowing throughout the body as a whole, and can help to push that good energy through the blockages caused by inflammation. This can relieve symptoms such as pain, stiffness, swelling, bloating, and fatigue. Research also shows that moderate exercise reduces inflammation (but too much exercise can exacerbate it.) Obesity also increases inflammation throughout the body, so maintaining a regular exercise routine can help in that way, too.
Reduce stress. Research shows that the body’s stress response, long-term, produces inflammation within the body. So whatever you can do to help manage your stress will be beneficial in reducing the inflammatory chemicals in your system, as well! Exercise, meditate, write, read, get outside, do yoga, relax on the beach – whatever your stress release is, DO IT!
As with most chronic health issues, prevention is key. Leading a healthy lifestyle now can reduce your body’s inflammation in the short-term, but in the long-term, as well.