Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection, injury or disharmony. It can cause redness, aching, swelling, a possible sensation of heat and tenderness to touch. Some people experience inflammation only after injury…others battle it daily. Before we can delve into how to treat inflammation let’s take a broad look at the causes of inflammation.
Injury – Playing too hard, injury or doing unfamiliar work may cause an inflammatory response. I triggered it the other daily, by zealously ripping out too many weeds. I work with my hands all the time, but to suddenly do so much of a different form of movement all at once – let’s say my hands got a little hot and angry with me – whoops. However, this type of injury is acute – which should quickly resolve depending on the severity of injury and your body’s healing ability.
Acute cold, flu or virus – Acute attacks of viruses, colds or flu can lead to inflammation, especially in the sinuses, ears, nose and throat. Again, ideally the body will rally its defenses to fight off the invasion. For example, the facial edema from an acute allergy flare up may reduce in a matter of hours. Sometimes, we don’t get on top of the invasion and it moves deeper and can lead to post viral syndromes. Find out more about interior and exterior patterns.
Chronic disharmonies – Inflammation is often a part of chronic disorders including Crohn’s, Irritable Bowel syndrome, asthma, arthritis, MS, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, herpes, canker sores, gout, bladder infections, nephritis, Lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma…and so many more. Do note that many acute viral attacks, if left untreated or properly treated may turn into postviral syndromes.
Post viral illnesses – This is a chronic pattern well identified in Asian/Chinese medicine, we call them Xiao Yang patterns, and it is strongly looking like post covid will fall into this category too. It happens is when viruses are not properly eliminated from the body. The virus can linger dormant in the system rearing its ugly head every now and then when the system becomes weak or something triggers it. These patterns are recalcitrant and take time and diligence to ferret out of the system. A good example of this is pattern includes mono, shingles, some rheumatoid arthritis, and Epstein Barr.
Parasitic invasions – Parasites will cause inflammation in throughout the entire digestive system. Called Gu patterns in Asian medicine, these partners are highly treatable, but they take proper diagnosis, and a consistent treatment starting with proper elimination of the parasites then work to rebuild the intestines and body’s strength to fight off further invasion.
Candida– Candida overgrowth is often a culprit in chronic inflammation. It’s an extreme damp and stagnation pattern in Chinese medicine. Candida overgrowth can rise from poor eating habits or it can be allowed to run rampant if the immune system is depleted for too long. It can be a bit of the ‘which came first?’ scenario. To be clear, our bodies naturally have candida in them, problems arise when the candida isn’t kept in check by a healthy immune and digestive system.
Iotrigenic causes – Literally, treatment caused. It could be that inflammation is caused by where the scalpel cut the flesh or it could be a deeper pattern such as lymphodema caused by the removal of lymph nodes, or it can be a side effect of medications themselves.
How Asian medicine views inflammation
Arthritis is arthritis is arthritis, right? Not… In Asian medicine arthritis is categorized as a Bi or POS(painful obstruction syndrome) pattern. This tells us there is pain, but doesn’t identify the cause of it. One client can have arthritis that is worse in warm weather while another suffers in the cold, windy or damp conditions. Both are Bi syndrome, but each one will have a different treatment. The cold, windy pattern will require warming, elimination of wind and moving stagnation, while the heat pattern requires eliminating excess heat and moving stasis that may be locked in the joints (viruses like to land in the joints…btw). The inflammation can be in the organs themselves or even running in the channels (which western medicine rarely recognizes).
To effectively treat a pattern, rather than just relieve the symptom, we have to delve deeper. It is not uncommon for several clients with the same western diagnosis to walk away with differing Asian medicine assessments and treatments. Chronic inflammation patterns take a bit of time to treat and consistency of treatment can sometimes be a point of frustration for many Americans – we often aren’t patient people.
Tips to trim inflammation
Treat the acute – The first rule of Asian medicine is to treat the acute. If you’re catching a cold, you stop your tonic herbs and vitamins to specifically fight the cold. If you injure yourself and acute inflammation, take steps to treat the injury right away. Ice is nice, but only use it during the initial stage of treatment. Even western medicine now recognizes that ice damages the flesh. It slows down Qi and Blood circulation, thereby slowing healing. Moments after and the first few days of treating an acute sprain, ice may be appropriate for, but don’t use it for too long.
Cut out sugar – Cutting sugar in the diet is essential in treating inflammation. Let’s be honest, many illness are aggravated, or caused by excess sugars in the diet. It feeds inflammatory processes and allows candida patterns and diabetes to flourish. It isn’t an essential food group and your body thrives when it is allowed to break down complex foods into simple sugars. Sugar habits can be very convoluted talk with your nutritionist about steps to get clear of sugar. A little natural whole form sweetener like honey every now and then is okay. But, please, avoid artificial sweeteners which bring their own problems. Read more on the sweet flavor.
Soak in Epsom salts – Grandma’s old remedy? Yep, it still serves wonders for sore and aching muscles and joints. If you happen to be fortunate enough to have mineral hot springs nearby a plunge may be in order.
Add in anti-inflammatory foods – Fortunately, nature provides a plethora of beautiful anti-inflammatory foods. Inhale and….alfalfa, aloe vera, turmeric (curcumin), echinacea, fennel, ginger, pau d’arco tea, red clover, yucca, fenugreek, flax seed, green tea, strawberries, pineapple (especially with some of the peel), blueberries, spinach, chlorophyll foods, cherry juice, apple cider vinegar, most culinary herbs, lavender and fiber rich foods. Note that all foods have energetic temperatures–a post metabolic response in the body. If you have a heat pattern, like Crohn’s or herpes you may want to watch out for using too many hot foods like ginger and use red clover and aloe instead. If you want a big list of the temperature of foods, check out the Energetic Temperature of Foods poster.
Cut out gluten – If you suffer from inflammation, I can promise you will see improvement by cutting out gluten. At least, that has been my experience over last 20+ years. Anytime a client cuts the gluten, the inflammation decreases or clears up. Gluten is sticky and many inflammation patterns have dampness as one of their components. Read more on gluten.
Avoid nightshades – You are dreaming of summer’s garden delights – eggplants, tomatoes, peppers–delicious, unless you have inflammation. The nightshade family includes Idaho russet potatoes, peppers (all of them), eggplant, tomatoes and tobacco. This group, when overeaten, can create an inflammatory response in the body. If you’ve been aching, or just done a really long run, you may want to cut out the nightshades for a period of time. Get your lovely red color from apples, beets and other fruits and veggies for a while.
Add in natural antibiotic foods – According to Chinese medicine if the Stomach Qi pulse is strong then the body will be able to recover, if the Stomach Qi pulse is weak the body will suffer from illness. In other words, our digestive vitality is our vitality. Our bodies need a healthy level of ‘happy’ bacteria and enzymes to heal, create our immune system and to create energy. Naturally fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi are an excellent way to get in healthy flora. But mix it up. Yes, a quality yogurt has probiotics, but if it is the only way you take them in it may be too cold and damp, where a ginger kombucha or water kefir might be a better choice for cold clients. Even just a teaspoon after a meal can do wonders. If the digestion is severally weakened, taking a supplement for a while may be in order.
Move your body appropriately – Movement is necessary for the body. The lymph system has no pump of its own and requires the movement of muscles (and the cardiac system) to move out toxins. Okay, we must move, but how much? Here’s a clue. If you feel better with movement the pattern has a lot of stagnation. Move regularly but not excessively. Stagnation patterns often feel they must move and will over do it. In these cases we need to add in foods or herbs that keep you from feeling ‘pent up’ and create free and easy movement. If you feel worse with movement the pattern is of a deficient nature, move gently even if that means that you start with a walk around the block 2 times a day. As you get stronger you can increase. Don’t over do it…You should feel like you’ve moved, but not wiped out.
Learn your pattern – Understanding the inflammatory pattern in your body according to Chinese medicine will help you hone your lifestyle to reduce or eliminate the pattern rather than just manage the symptoms. Get into your practitioner so that you can work together to find out if you are needing to treat heat, cold, wind, damp or a combination.
Eat foods with flavonoids – Time to eat your colors. The more (naturally) colorful your diet the more inflammation reducing and disease fighting flavonoids you will get in. Grab some blueberries, or grapes, add in some spinach or seaweed. Need more colors?
Add in Vitamin C – Vitamin C and bioflavinoids reduce swelling. I prefer people to take in vitamin C in whole forms of foods, but in a pinch adding in a buffered form of vitamin C can do wonders. Now, often people mistake this to mean, drink lots of orange juice. Orange juice is a very highly concentrated sweet that creates mucus and dampness –which will in turn aggravate inflammation. Consider it – you are likely drinking the equivalent of 5-6 oranges – that’s a lot! An orange, on the other hand, will have the pith (that bitter, white stuff) which counters dampness. When it comes to vitamin C, grab some rose hips tea, which is the richest source of vitamin C. How much? Vitamin C is a delicate vitamin, meaning it is easily destroyed and we burn through it quickly in our systems. We don’t store it or create it, so we must get it from our diet. In situations of infection and inflammation take Vitamin C 2-3 times a day. Some sources recommend getting up to 8,000 mg of C a day. I usually recommend ‘to tolerance’ meaning increase the dosage until your bowels are loose then back down.
Get Amma – When it is safe to be in close contact, Amma and other hands-on modalities can be wonderful at treating inflammatory conditions. Ahhhh….sometime soon.