In my last article, I talked about inflammation as being a silent underlying cause for heart disease. And I pointed out many other diseases that are linked to one another by inflammatory processes.
It’s important to realize that health problems caused by chronic inflammation don’t just suddenly “happen.” They often lie hidden for years until one day the fire becomes too hot and they burst into flame. That’s when we pay attention and notice them. Since so many illnesses begin with chronic inflammation, we would all be wise to counteract it as early as possible. Changing your diet and eating more cooling foods, as I explained last month, is the first step. Finding the right anti-inflammatory nutrients is next.
Free radicals and inflammation
Free radicals are damaging oxygen molecules found in contaminants in our air and food. Some are even made in our bodies from substances in the foods we eat like fried, barbecued, and charbroiled foods. And free radicals are increased by coffee and alcohol. They’re found in our environment in pesticides, solvents used in cleaning supplies, and radiation from sunlight. We may not be able to escape free radicals, but we can limit our exposure to them.
Free radicals damage, or oxidize, other molecules in our bodies just like iron causes rust in the presence of oxygen. An overabundance of free radicals can lead to inflammation. To prevent or reverse this inflammation, we need extra antioxidants, nutrients that counteract the formation of oxidants. Begin with taking extra antioxidants like essential fatty acids, vitamins C and E, and flavonoids (compounds found in vitamin C).
Good old reliable vitamin C
Inflammation leads to a vitamin C deficiency by causing the vitamin to break down in our bodies and be excreted. This is unfortunate, because vitamin C and the flavonoids it contains are important anti-inflammatory agents. Be sure you get at least 500 mg of vitamin C with bioflavonoids each day. You can take as much as 1,000 mg every hour for a week unless this amount causes loose stools or irritates your stomach. Buffered, or Ester C, is less likely to cause these side effects.
Mercury-free fish oils
Meat and dairy products contain a pro-inflammatory fat called arachadonic acid. When arachadonic acid is released, it interacts with enzymes called cyclo-oxygenase — commonly known as COX-1 and COX-2. COX-2 produces inflammation. You may have heard of drugs that are called “COX inhibitors.” Well, there are natural COX inhibitors, too.
Fish oils are high in omega-3 fatty acids, essential fats that block COX-2. Omega-3 oils function in a manner similar to aspirin but without side effects. If you have chronic inflammation, you’ll want to increase your fish-oil supplements to around three grams a day. But be careful: Some fish oils may contain mercury or pesticide residues. Three safe and clean supplements that I can vouch for are Mixed Fatty Acids (Women’s Preferred, 800-728-2288), Marine Fish Oil (ProThera 888-488-2488), and Carlson Laboratories’ Super Omega-3 (found in natural health stores).
Numerous plants have anti-inflammatory properties, but instead of choosing one or two herbs at random, I suggest you use an anti-inflammatory formula. Often, a formula is more potent than any single herb because of its synergistic effects. This has been proven with traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine, where single herbs are rarely used. I found two very different types of anti-inflammatory formulas, each with good studies supporting their effectiveness. One is a formula based on Western herbs, and the other is based on Tibetan medicine.
- Zyflamend and InflaThera are two Western herbal formulas that block inflammation by preventing the excessive stimulation of COX-2 enzymes. Each formula contains such well-researched anti-inflammatory herbs as turmeric, holy basil, oregano, rosemary, green tea, ginger, Chinese goldenthread, and skullcap.
Of all of these, turmeric may be the most important. It contains curcumin, an ingredient that stops inflammation by blocking COX-2 and by stopping the production of inflammatory hormone-like substances called prostaglandins.
InflaThera is stronger than Zyflamend. One capsule contains 375 mg of turmeric with 95 percent curcuminoids while Zyflamend has just 50 mg of turmeric with seven percent curcumin. When I compared the other ingredients in these products, I noticed that InflaThera has twice as much of other ingredients. However, each is worth trying since the balance of herbs differs slightly and one might work better for you than the other.
Zyflamend is available in health food stores or through the distributor, New Chapter, Inc. (800-543-7279). It costs around $28 for a lower-potency, two-month supply. You can order InflaThera directly from ProThera (888-488-2488). A one-month supply of this stronger formula is $20/month.
- Padma Basic (known in Europe as Padma 28) is an herbal formula of 20 plant-based ingredients based on traditional Tibetan medicine. It has been highly researched for decades and has many impressive applications. Padma Basic has extremely strong anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a powerful antioxidant that also strengthens the immune system, allowing the body to heal more quickly.
This Tibetan herbal formula has been tested on patients with chronic hepatitis-B. In a one-year study of 34 hepatitis patients, more than 75 percent improved or had normal T-cell counts. Padma Basic has been tested on more than 300 children with chronic bronchitis (remember, “itis” means inflammation), and more than 70 percent had a noticeable improvement. This formula is good! It’s also more expensive than the others. But if you have a tough case of chronic inflammation, start with a strong formula that has a lot of science behind it. In this case, I would personally use Padma Basic. In milder cases, you can either use another formula or less Padma Basic. This Tibetan herbal formula is available from Women’s Preferred (800 728-2288) or EcoNugenics (800-308-5518). Take two tablets two or three times a day.
Celebrex, Vioxx, or …?
What’s so bad about the prescription and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs that are so easily available and work so quickly, you ask? They’re often the first choice for people in pain who are afraid to try something their doctor doesn’t recommend. The biggest problem with drugs is that they have more side effects than natural anti-inflammatory products. This is why so many of them are being pulled off the market.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Celebrex and Vioxx commonly cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, swollen legs and feet, and urinary tract infections. Less frequent but more serious side effects include sudden stomach and intestinal bleeding, serious allergic reactions, and liver or kidney problems. Even aspirin can cause heartburn, nausea, irritation and bleeding in your stomach. You may want to try more natural supplements that block inflammation before rushing to the pharmacy. If so, please discuss your decision with your doctor and ask him or her to monitor your progress. If natural anti-inflammatory products, along with dietary changes, are not sufficient, you can always reach for a pharmaceutical.
Brzosko, W.J. “Padma 28 in patients with chronic hepatitis B clinical and immunological effects,” SchweizZschr fur GanzheitsMed, 1992; 7/8 (Suppl 1): 13-14.
Calder, P.C. and R.F. Grimble. “Polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation and immunity,” Eur J Clin Nutr, 2002 August; 56 Suppl 3:S14-9.