Natural Solutions for Inflammation
by Michael Murray, N.D.
There is an old saying that makes great sense in this day and age – NEVER TAKE A DRUG THAT PRODUCES SIDE EFFECTS MORE SEVERE THAN THE DISEASE! That is certainly the case when we look at drugs used to deal with inflammation and especially those taken for the most common form of arthritis – osteoarthritis. No one has ever died from osteoarthritis, but serious adverse side effects (including death) can occur with conventional drugs used for this condition. Not just Vioxx and Celebrex, but even aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen can produce serious side effects. In fact, statistics indicate that more people in the United States die each year from taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs than die from AIDS.
Fortunately, results from clinical trials have shown nature offers some very effective alternatives to these drugs in the treatment of osteoarthritis such as glucosamine sulfate, MSM, and the natural matrix of special cetylated, esterifed fatty acids (Celadrin?).
Though osteoarthritis is the most common reason why people take anti-inflammatory drugs, it is not the only reason. Inflammation is an underlying feature of virtually every disease process. Inflammation may be acute and obvious such as that seen in rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, and infections, or it may be subtle and chronic as seen in atherosclerosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
What exactly is inflammation?
The term inflammation when used in a medical context refers to a localized protective reaction of tissue to irritation, injury, or infection, characterized by pain, redness, swelling, and sometimes loss of function. The key feature here is “protective.” Inflammation is designed to protect us against infecting organisms. During inflammation white blood cells rush to the area to destroy harmful microorganisms and dead cells, preventing the spread of the irritation and permitting the injured tissue to repair itself.
The problem with inflammation occurs when it is not protecting us from danger, but actually producing harmful effects. The damaging effects of inflammation are most apparent in inflammatory diseases caused by abnormal immune responses. Seemingly unrelated disorders such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel diseases, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis all have common inflammatory elements that underlie the disease process.
The inflammatory milieu
Inflammation is a fairly non-descript general term. So, too is saying that compound X exerts “anti-inflammatory action.” There are several key cites of anti-inflammatory action, but simply qualifying a compound as an anti-inflammatory has little meaning. Providing an in-depth review of all of the natural anti-inflammatory agents is beyond the scope of this brief article. So, let’s limit the discussion to the following categories: antioxidants; modulators of eicosanoid (prostaglandin) metabolism; and proteolytic enzymes. The point I want to make here is that during the inflammatory process, there are a number of interrelated cascading events that create the clinical features seen in an inflammatory condition. In one condition, one facet of inflammation may be more prominent than another facet seen in another condition. In other words, there are no simple answers or a single magical bullet for all inflammatory conditions.
Antioxidants and inflammation
Antioxidant compounds are important anti-inflammatory agents as during the inflammatory milieu the area affected is bathed in an environment full of pro-oxidants and free radicals. When antioxidant status is low, it leads to greater perpetuation of the inflammatory response. Antioxidants quell the inflammatory fire, but they are generally only protective and exert little direct anti-inflammatory action. In other words think of antioxidants as acting in protecting our cells f