Inflammation: What exactly is it, and how does it cause my chronic pain?

Click here to read our entire online January e-newsletter on inflammation and pain.

Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

INFLAMMATION. We’re told that it causes anything from heart disease to arthritis to aging. Medical science has developed countless pharmaceutical and surgical interventions to suppress or circumvent its destructiveness, to alleviate pain and treat chronic disease. We even have drugs that affect how our DNA is involved in the generation of inflammation! But now science is starting to understand the long-term consequences of this approach, including the real possibility that our anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals are actually contributing to prolonged low-grade inflammation that makes us more ill. There are safer, more complete ways of addressing the inflammation that causes pain and disease.

Inflammation is a whole-body complex biochemical process initiated by the body’s immune system as a response to some form of “danger”, such as an injury or infection. It’s the red soreness of a scratch on our skin, the ache in our lower back, the stomach pain that follows a meal that didn’t agree with us. It’s the body’s warning that something isn’t right and so… we suppress it. We take anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or Celebrex when we have pain associated with inflammation. When inflammation goes on for many years we know that the risk of chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, is significantly increased. (This is one reason why we think that regular aspirin use reduces heart attack risk.) Or at least that’s the traditional theory that much of our medical science is based upon.

Many older medicines, including Chinese medicine with knowledge spanning over 2000 years, will agree that inflammation is part of the body’s attempt to heal, including from infection or injury. These ancient medicines do not, however, generally support the single-pronged approach of suppressing the body’s immune response to alleviate pain or other discomforts. These older medicines generally address inflammation by indirectly supporting the inflammatory process to completion rather than blocking it as is common in mainstream medical approaches. This is accomplished in part by identifying and treating where the body is having difficulty. This “difficulty” could manifest in nearly any organ or system, including liver metabolism, hormone balance, digestive function, or nervous system function, as all of these systems and organs are related to the inflammatory process. Mindfulness meditation for example, has the scientifically documented ability to resolve inflammation, in part because of its effect on the nervous system which in turn is connected to the immune system.

Advanced international scientific research is finally coming together to support this historical approach for healing inflammation. We’re finally learning about how inflammation is triggered not only by injury and infection, but also by tissue stress. This means that if our liver or heart isn’t functioning optimally, such as when they lack oxygen or essential nutrients for enzyme function, their distress signals can initiate and propagate system-wide inflammation. Inflammation and the accompanying pain or disease will remain until the underlying tissue stress is resolved, and sometimes the body needs some proper support to do this. Scientific recognition that sub-optimally functioning organs and tissues propagate pain and inflammation on their own will lead to a critical shift in medicine in the years to come. It means that we can no longer appropriately address inflammation from the reductionist perspective of single biochemical pathways (e.g. COX-2 inhibitors like Celebrex and other NSAID medications). These drugs will be replaced or combined with more holistic approaches typical of Naturopathic and other integrative or complementary medicines that address the “terrain” of the body (i.e. body organs and systems).

Please continue reading here: “Prescription for Reducing Pain and Inflammation: The Big Picture“.