"Inflammation" has become a big buzz word in the health community in the last few years. Inflammation can occur in the body in many ways and for many reasons, but not all of them are problematic. For example, inflammation after an injury is your body's way of trying to protect, then heal itself. Just like a fever raises your internal body temperature to kill off viruses and bacteria, localized inflammation, like with a sprained ankle, is the way your body helps contain the injury and any pathogens that might be present, and prepare the body for tissue repair. When inflammation becomes chronic, that is when it stops being helpful and starts being harmful.
Chronic inflammation has been tied to many diseases, such as depression, heart disease, diabetes (Type 2), arthritis and allergies. Chronic inflammation is often tied to a poor diet (lacking fruits and vegetables, high in sugar, chemicals, processed foods, trans fats), chronic stress (which impairs the body's ability to regulate inflammation), poor sleep (raises stress) and incorrect exercise (too much or too little causes stress, therefore inflammation in the body).
Traditional Chinese Medicine doesn't recognize inflammation as a condition per se, TCM focuses instead on pain and the different types of pain that the body can feel. Pain is due to stagnation of energy (Qi), Blood and/or Body Fluids. When these substances get stuck and don't move, it is like pressure building up behind a clog in a pipe. The more the water tries to flow, the more pressure builds up (increasing sensation of pain). Once the clog is removed and the water can flow through the pipe again, the pressure returns to normal (no pain). Sometimes when Qi, Blood or Fluids stay stagnant for long periods, the constant attempt of Qi to move while impeded can create heat; this is similar to friction in an engine when you press the gas while the emergency brake is on. This type of heat is often seen with chronic inflammation in the musculo-skeletal system. Both inflammation and heat can also occur in other aspects of the body as well. Lung Heat might be related to bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchii), Heart Fire could be the cause of cardiac disease associated with high blood pressure, Liver Yang Rising might also relate to high blood pressure as well as headaches and dizziness with chronic lower back and/or knee pain. Each of these conditions could be attributed to inflammation and can be treated side-effect free with acupuncture, Chinese Herbal medicine and/or Dietary therapy.
Often times people think about NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories) for inflammation. Unfortunately long term, these can have some very negative side-effects including stomach upset, pain and damage, toxicity to the the heart, liver and kidneys and slowed healing of musculo-skeletal injuries.
Luckily, nature has provided many foods and spices that have excellent anti-inflammatory properties that can help ease your pain and heal your body from the inside, out.
1. Turmeric. By far, my favorite anti-inflammatory food, and many studies have shown it to be as effective as ibuprofen. It is best consumed with black pepper, as it makes the turmeric more bioavailable. There are many ways to consume turmeric, but just eating the occasional curry dish will not give you the medicinal doses needed for generalized inflammation. Golden Milk is a great way to consume it; it not only provides you with the anti-inflammatory qualities you are looking for, it is a soothing warm beverage that in and of itself offers some stress relief. There are many recipes for Golden Milk on the internet, but here is one of my favorites (I add a dash of black pepper and often leave out the ghee). For those of you who would rather take a supplement, there are many out there. Look for one that is either liquid, powder or a capsule as it will absorb better than a tablet. Take up to 2000mg daily, with food, for acute conditions, 1000-1500mg for chronic. Caution with pregnancy, nursing and for people on blood thinners. Talk to your doctor first if these apply to you.
2. Ginger. Often added to Golden Milk, ginger is a great anti-inflammatory. In Chinese medicine it is often used to heal the stomach, especially when nausea is present. It is a warming herb, so can be helpful with pain that is better with heat. You can also drink it as a tea; raw ginger is slightly less warming than dried ginger which is hotter in nature.
3. Tart Cherries/Tart Cherry Juice. This is a great alternative to Turmeric, especially for people on blood thinners. Drink about 8 oz. daily, either "straight" or diluted in water. It can have a very intense flavor, so spreading it out through the day is my recommendation, or you can add it to your favorite green smoothie recipe.
4. Pineapple. Like tart cherries, this is a great alternative to Turmeric, but diabetics should use it with caution since it does have a higher glycemic index rating.
5. Foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids. Foods like Salmon, anchovies, sardines, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts all contain high levels of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids. They are good for the joints and the brain as well.
If you tend toward inflammation, especially with the conditions listed above, these foods should be part of your daily diet. You don't need to eat everything on the list, but foods that you like should be consumed daily. Foods that cause inflammation (like sugar, artificial sweeteners, coffee, trans fats, factory farmed meats, nightshade vegetables) should be used sparingly if at all.
Health begins with prevention and diet is the key. Food is medicine.
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