Inflammation: The Root of All Evil?

Everything these days seems to be ‘anti-inflammatory’; declaring inflammation as public enemy number one and enticing you to avoid it like the plague! But surely a process which your body naturally does, can’t be bad for you? Let’s take a look at the good & the bad of it. After all, there are always two sides to the story.

The Good

Inflammation is part of our body’s natural immune response and as such, it works really hard at trying to keep us… essentially, alive. It’s an incredibly complex process that takes place, and I don’t want you to stare at your screen reading this getting confused with medical terminology and chemical names flying left, right and centre; so the simplest way I can explain our immune system is like an army.

Let’s take the flu as an example:

  1. The bad virus (pathogen) enters the body
  2. The immune system kicks in and releases an army of chemicals (e.g. histamine and prostaglandins) to fight the virus.
  3. The battle starts and symptoms appear (in a sense, battle scars). These symptoms include a runny nose, sore throat, fever etc.
  4. Over time, a solid immune system (sometimes with the help from medicine – alternative or allopathic) wins the war and the symptoms alleviate and ultimately the pathogen is killed.

When working correctly, our immune system is our saving grace in a world filled with things wanting to harm us and take us down. Short periods of inflammation works mostly in our favour and is crucial to our innate healing process.

The Bad

So, this is where the issue lies: chronic, long-term inflammation.

When it’s good, it fights off pathogens, heals injuries and mops up debris. However, chronic inflammation that is left untreated has been found to be a player in almost every chronic disease; diabetes, coeliac’s, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, asthma – the list goes on and on.

Why does chronic inflammation happen? Well, there’s a multitude of reasons, but basically sometimes when the immune system is fighting the battle (like it’s supposed to), it’s arsenal of chemical fighters isn’t strong enough & doesn’t have success. Or the immune system gets confused, like when someone is allergic to gluten and the immune system ends up attacking other parts of the body that resemble gluten.

Our lifestyle also plays a key role in chronic inflammation. Smoking, alcohol, prolonged stress and having excess weight can all contribute to chronic inflammation. Just keep in mind that every individual is different, and some cases of chronic inflammation doesn’t have a clear underlying cause.

Symptoms To Look out For

I pay a lot of attention to chronic inflammation when seeing patients. Right from the first consultation, I look for specific symptoms that often creep in without the patient realising or thinking that it’s not ‘important’. Some red-alerts to look out for include:

  • Rashes or ‘bumps’ (especially on the back of arms when it comes to gluten)
  • Mucous/ phlegm production (having to clear your throat constantly/ after eating certain foods)
  • Low energy and lethargy (even when getting ‘enough’ sleep or drinking caffeine)
  • Bloating, indigestion and pain in the abdominal area along with poor/disrupted digestion
  • Unexplained pain (especially in joints)
  • Low-grade fever for long periods of time

Steps To Healing Chronic Inflammation

When I see patients, my ultimate goal is to always help THEM to prevent and reverse chronic disease. (We always need to remind ourselves as doctors, that we do not do the healing. We need to equip and guide our patients with the tools in order to empower themselves in the healing process. Afterall, I’m not going to be there in your kitchen force-feeding you anti-inflammatory foods)

An anti-inflammatory lifestyle falls very much in line with a general healthy lifestyle.

  1. Remove/ reduce commonly known inflammatory foods like sugar and processed meats/dairy.
  2. Avoid foods that are known allergies/ intolerances.
  3. Manage stress trough reducing/ using coping mechanisms
  4. Regular, consistent exercise with moderate intensity
  5. Eating lots of deeply coloured vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices like spinach, turmeric, beetroot and blueberries.
  6. Additional supplements which can include adaptogens, omega-fatty acid complexes, probiotics etc (according to the individual’s needs)

The Bottom Line

While you might not have a diagnosed condition now, chronic inflammation increases your risk of developing several serious diseases, so if you want to optimise your current and future health, you can do so by minimising inflammation. 

If you suspect you may be showing signs of chronic inflammation, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a registered health practitioner who will be able to guide you through a proper treatment program.

No, I probably won’t prescribe you Cannabis (even if it was legal)

With all the hype around Cannabis at the moment, I often get asked if I can get it for my patients (often in the hopes that I will then become the asker’s new ‘dealer’).

But the truth is, even if I could get you cannabis, I probably won’t. While it really is a fantastic plant with incredible healing properties, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of healing botanicals. And it most definitely will not be right for every individual who walks through my practice doors.

You see, the main thing about Cannabis is that it contains phytochemicals called cannabinoids which activate the endocannabinoid system (very fancy words for plant chemicals which ‘turn on’ the signals for certain functions in your body to happen, like sleeping, immune function and digestion).

Cannabis is NOT the only herb that activates this system and many patient’s don’t need this system to be looked into or treated.

Before treating with ANY herb, diet and lifestyle will be looked at and adjusted which might regulate the system in and of itself without the need for herbal interventions. And even if you get to the point of needing herbal intervention, there are many herbs which can influence the endocannabinoid system including Rosemary, Helichrysum (Imphempho), Maca and Echinacea – all which are widely available to practitioners and all very effective in their own ways.

So at the end of the day, even if I could get you cannabis, I probably won’t. I might get you cannabis if you need it, if you require a herbal intervention that has the exact effects of cannabis. But will I recommend it for everyone? No.

The basis of Phytotherapy is patient-centred, individual therapy. Each patient is different and will be treated differently. Rosemary might work for one patient but not for another even if they have the same health problems. In the same way, cannabis could work for some but not others.