Control Inflammation—Naturally—for More Vigor

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt?

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Control Inflammation—Naturally—for More Vigor
If the inflammation process is a multifaceted chain reaction of biochemical events, then shouldn’t your approach to controlling inflammation also be multifaceted? Of course it should! This is one of the many ways in which synthetic single-action pharmaceutical drugs fail miserably. Drugs are a single molecule—a single chemical entity—that work on one biochemical mechanism, albeit it in a very powerful way—sometimes too powerfully, leading to serious side effects. If the recent history of medicine has demonstrated anything, it is that these single-action, modern pharmaceutical drugs, these synthetic silver bullets previously unknown in nature, can have serious adverse consequences.

Among adults, nearly 10 percent of those who use NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, will require hospitalization due to serious gastrointestinal toxicity (such as ulcers and stomach bleeding). In a 1998 study published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers reported that more than 107,000 people are admitted each year to hospitals—and another 17,000 die each year—as a direct result of complications due to the use of NSAIDs. This is a problem.

Popping a pill, such as an aspirin, ibuprofen, or one of the newer prescription drugs, to control your pain is certainly not the answer. Although these drugs may be able to offer a short-term reduction in sensations of pain, they do nothing to address the root of the problem, which is to get the inflammation process into balance. In fact, by strongly inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme and related inflammatory pathways, such as prostaglandin production, these drugs can actually reduce tissue repair (especially for joint cartilage) and lead to severe damage in other tissues, such as kidneys, liver, heart, and the entire gastrointestinal system (potentially leading to gastric ulcers, stomach bleeding, and even death).

As discussed earlier in the section entitled, “The Biochemistry of Inflammation,” the term “COX-2 inhibitor” generally refers to synthetic pharmaceutical drugs that interfere with the key enzyme involved with increasing inflammation and pain in the body. And, as you may recall, those drugs include Vioxx and Celebrex (the first has been forced off the market for causing heart attacks, and the second is still under investigation for the same heart risks). What you may not know, however, is that thousands of years ago, ancient herbal practitioners were prescribing all-natural, herbal COX-2 inhibitors for controlling pain and inflammation. What these traditional healers did not realize at the time, but what we know now thanks to advances in nutritional biochemistry, is that these natural anti-inflammatory nutrients were effective at controlling inflammation in many ways, simultaneously. This balanced approach is associated not only with a greater degree of overall effectiveness but also with a restoration of normal tissue function and fewer side effects. As is so often the case, however, the drug industry has tried to synthetically copy the extraordinary healing properties and powers of natural medicine—only to cause even more suffering, injury, and death. Fortunately, those herbs and natural products cannot be “owned” by the drug companies, keeping them widely available to anyone who wants to enjoy the safe and effective benefits of controlling pain and inflammation naturally.

When it comes to selecting a natural option for inflammatory balance and pain relief ,the obvious dilemma is that you want something that is safe, natural, fast-acting, and long-lasting. It is a tall order to get all four “wants” into a single item—but a growing number of products offer a suitable range of options (mostly by combining the most effective ingredients into a single, multifaceted product solution).

Now that I’ve presented the idea that herbs and natural products can combat inflammation and pain, you may now be wondering what, exactly, you need to ingest to address these health issues. Let me stop you right there for a moment. To obtain the real benefits from natural products and traditional healing wisdom, you have to break out of the mind-set that tells you taking one pill or one drug will cure your ills with a “quick fix.” That mind-set is pervasive in modern society, and countless ads and commercials constantly reinforce it. So before considering specific natural strategies for controlling inflammation, the first thing you need to do is to be willing to change the mind-set that says you can take a pill and forget the problem. You may also need to change your lifestyle and recognize the importance of being an active participant in developing your health and wellness, not a passive recipient of a prescription from a physician. Many of you are no doubt aware of the benefits of changing your mind-set and lifestyle to embrace a view of health that is more comprehensive and multifaceted than the typical Western medical approach. Nevertheless, it bears repeating, because even people who appreciate traditional medicine can fall back into thinking that one “superfood” or one “special” herb will solve a health problem as quickly and efficiently as a pill from the pharmacist.

Having said all that, here are a few specific, natural options that you can pursue to control inflammation and pain:

* Exercise—Numerous studies confirm that moderate exercise reduces inflammation as well as the production of C-reactive protein, which plays a role in heart disease. One study from researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta that was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2002) found that the more frequently you exercise, the lower your overall level of inflammation. The study looked at nearly four thousand U.S. adults ages forty and older and found that exercising approximately five times per week was associated with almost a 40 percent reduction in overall inflammation. (See Chapter 9 for more details on exercise.)

* Sleep—Sleep is crucial to your health and vigor in countless ways, including helping corral chronic inflammation. In one study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2006), researchers from the UCLA School of Medicine found that even a single night of disrupted sleep increases levels of inflammation throughout the body by two to three times compared to a normal night’s sleep. You’ll learn more about getting better sleep in Chapter 7.

* Herbs and Supplements—As noted earlier in this chapter, ginger, turmeric, bromelain, papain, and many other natural options are effective dietary supplements for reducing inflammation naturally. Many other herbs and dietary supplements also help control inflammation. For instance, the sap or resin of the boswellia plant has long been used in traditional Indian medicine to treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Chapter 10 includes much more information on using supplements to address inflammation, as well as the other biochemical processes outlined in the Four Pillars of Health.

If you are one of the twenty-five million Americans living with chronic low-back pain and the almost forty million suffering from arthritis, getting rid of that pain is obviously an important consideration. Natural options found in dietary supplements and other approaches may not offer a “quick fix,” and they should be viewed not only as simple pain relievers but also as agents to enhance the body’s healing response and restore biochemical balance to the entire inflammatory process. Most OTC (over-the-counter) analgesics (painkillers) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are safe and effective for short-term usage (two to three days at a time). NSAIDs do a great job of beating back the pounding from that headache, but they don’t do a thing to help promote healing of your aching knee. In fact, in some important ways, these drugs may actually inhibit tissue healing, especially in the case of cartilage repair. There is also little doubt that NSAID therapy can lead to gastroduodenal ulcers, primarily due to their inhibition of prostaglandin production in the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract (no mucus = no protection of stomach/intestinal lining = you digest yourself).

Coming chapters discuss more natural options for controlling inflammation and strengthening the other Pillars of Health to improve mobility and flexibility and actually rebuild damaged tissues for long-term well-being. The next chapter explores the effects that inflammatory cytokines (produced in many cells of the body, including immune cells, liver cells, and fat cells) have directly and indirectly on insulin function and blood-sugar control and how these effects, when unbalanced, drive people toward diabetes, weight gain, and further inflammation.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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