Considering a natural, nutritional approach to ‘anti-inflammatory’ medicine with an anti-inflammation nutrition plan
Chances are you have experienced the effects of inflammation on your body at some point. While inflammation often has a bad reputation, it may be a healthy response to challenges your body faces, such as infection, illness or injury. Acute inflammation, for example, is a normal, protective response to injury.
However, inflammation can become your enemy if it is causing your body to overreact to stressors, creating a chronic, continuing natural inflammation response. Your lifestyle habits, including diet, nutrition and exercise, may affect the way your body addresses these challenges.
The idea of using an “anti-inflammatory” medication, such as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) to address inflammation, has begun to lose favor, because if inflammation is artificially interrupted or blocked, healing is also blocked.
By contrast, nutrients like essential fatty acids are not necessarily anti- or pro-inflammatory; instead, they modulate inflammation on a case-by-case basis, up- or down-regulating the production of pro-inflammatory mediators. This balances inflammatory processes so that healing can occur without undue damage to surrounding tissues.
Essential fatty acids and inflammation balancing
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been front and center in nutrition news for many years now because of their relationship with cardiovascular health. But, their role in modulating all types of inflammation in the body makes these fats even more important for a anti-inflammatory nutrition plan.
Omega-3s and omega-6s work together to modulate inflammation with a system of checks and balances built into place. When the diet provides a good balance of high-quality omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, this system works well to perpetuate inflammation when necessary and to quell and resolve the inflammatory cascade when the threat is over.
Most Western diets have an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids and include insufficient amounts of omega-3s. High omega-6 and low omega-3 intake can throw off the balance, resulting in continuously low levels of chronic inflammation.
Enriching your omegas diet
The most bioavailable source of omega-3 fatty acids are oils from fatty fish, especially sardines, anchovies, tuna, mackerel and salmon. A nutrient is “bioavailable” or “bioactive” when it is in a form where it can provide health benefits in the human body.
Nut and seed oils also are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, though their conversion to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may not be as efficient as those from fish. Omega-6 fatty acids tend to be more plentiful in many people’s diets, which can also affect how well omega-3 fatty acids convert to EPA and DHA.
Supporting the endocannabinoid system
The term “hemp” describes the fiber and seeds taken from the Cannabis sativa L. plant species. Hemp has long been used in food, fiber and medicine production ever since it originated from Central Asia. Hemp is rich with essential nutrients and bioactive phytochemical metabolites that nurture the endocannabinoid system, a rather unknown system of the body with a heavy influence on human health and well-being.
Hemp contains beneficial amounts of bioactive phytochemical metabolites and essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which promote brain and overarching systemic health, aligning physiological balance in the human body. This includes omega-3s and omega-6s. Along with natural antioxidants and fiber obtained via phytonutrients and other parts of a healthy, whole-food diet, hemp can support healthy inflammation.
Essential fatty acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are long-chain PUFAs, both 18 carbons long with two double bonds. They are considered “essential” because they are necessary for health and cannot be synthesized by humans (or in any mammals, for that matter) from other fatty acids. Therefore, they must be consumed in an anti-inflammatory plan diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and its metabolites, EPA and DHA. Omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid (LA) and its most notable metabolites, gammalinolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA).
Botanicals for inflammation
Herbs can also have a useful role in the management of inflammation and inflammation-generated pain. However, the selection of anti-inflammatory herbs needs to be appropriate to the condition under treatment.
Adaptogens are a diverse group of herbs that restore overall balance and functioning of the body as a whole through normalizing unbalanced physiological processes: stimulation, relaxation and improving focus and immune function. These herbs have been shown to clinically reduce self-reported stress, improve mood and energy and strengthen the immune system. Adaptogens are often particularly helpful in stress-related conditions due to their shielding effects on the brain, immune system and cardiopulmonary systems. Some, such as ginseng, ashwagandha and rhodiola, are specifically neuroprotective by blunting the impact of cortisol within the central nervous system by reducing neuro-inflammation and even encouraging repair.
In addition, nervines (examples include organic skullcap, oat tops, catnip, chamomile, valerian root) are a class of botanicals that reduce sympathetic overdrive, anxiety and irritability by sedating the autonomic nervous system and inducing a sense of calm or relaxation. They can be used during the day to blunt a hyper-aroused state or in the evening for sleep induction, giving you additional weapons in your anti-inflammatory nutrition plan arsenal.
JOHN TROUP, PhD, joined Standard Process in January 2017 as the vice president of clinical science, education and innovation. Among his many responsibilities, he leads the company’s Nutrition Innovation Center (NIC), a state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot facility at the Kannapolis, N.C., Research Campus. For more information go to standardprocess.com.