Ask the Experts: Inflammation
For October’s Ask the Experts Blog, we are talking about inflammation. We are very excited to have worked with Dr. Mallory Mahoney ND, RAc, a Naturopathic Doctor and Acupuncturist of Four Seasons Natural Health in Petoskey.
According the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, naturopathic doctors mix conventional diagnosis and treatment with natural medicine. Naturopathic Doctors are concerned with many topics including nutrition, herbal remedies, healthy lifestyle, the healing power of the body, and lifestyle and physical medicine.
Dr. Mallory also practices acupuncture, which is a technique derived from ancient Chinese medicine that involves sticking very thin needles at specific points in the body in order to balance the body’s energy and promote healing, energy flow, and pain reduction.
1. What is inflammation?
Inflammation isn’t actually a thing, but more of a process.
Inflammation is the body’s response to a harmful substance or event, such as bacteria/viruses or an injury. When your body senses a foreign organism or there is damage to the tissue, there is an immune system response to help the body defend itself, and that response is inflammation. This response includes white blood cells and their byproducts which all act as the defense system and allow our bodies to manage any form of attack.
2. How damaging is inflammation to our health?
Inflammation in the acute stage is actually completely necessary for survival. Our bodies sense foreign organisms like bacteria and viruses before the actual infection even sets in, and gets to work. Without the inflammatory response, we simply wouldn’t fight any infection of any kind and we wouldn’t be able to overcome illness. Additionally, when we injure ourselves, whether it’s a scrape or a broken bone, we need inflammation to help prevent any sort of infection from starting and begin the healing process. However, when we experience inflammation for a long time, longer than would be expected for the particular illness or injury it becomes chronic and can then start to cause damage to the surrounding tissues. Chronic inflammation is more common in poor healing wounds or injuries, as well as auto-immune diseases or chronic conditions like arthritis.
3. What are some symptoms of chronic inflammation?
The symptoms of acute and chronic inflammation are generally the same and include:
loss of function
Often these symptoms are more intense in acute inflammation, particularly the redness, swelling and heat. However, just because our bodies have gone from the acute phase to the chronic phase and the external signs have reduced, the pain and loss of function may persist. It is very important for us to pay attention to our bodies and make sure we have truly healed, but if we are feeling somewhat better while still having some pain and reduced function we may still have a problem.
4. Do I feel pain when I have inflammation?
Generally people feel pain with inflammation in both the acute and chronic stages with the pain in acute inflammation tending to be more intense. However, some conditions such as autoimmune diseases may cause chronic inflammation throughout the body with a wide variety of pain levels. These diseases may have no pain, a lot of pain, or pain that comes and goes without a clear pattern.
5. How to cope with/control inflammation?
While inflammation is necessary for our body to fight infection and heal injury, it can be important to manage the level of inflammation to prevent long term issues or reduce pain. Acute inflammation can often be treated with simple actions like using ice/cold packs and resting and elevating the affected area. Chronic inflammation and the diseases that cause them often require more substantial management including: diet, nutritional supplements, manual or physical therapy, acupuncture, and healthy lifestyle habits like exercise and getting plenty of sleep.
6. When to seek out help from a doctor or provider for my inflammation?
We all know that the inflammation related to a common cold can be managed at home, however sometimes our illnesses require more attention and treatment. This can also be true for injuries that may have started off small, but may have been more severe than you initially thought. So it is best to go to a doctor:
● If you are feeling ill and are unable to control your fever or consume enough fluids and food.
● A seemingly small injury has continued to be very painful for more than a couple of days,
● If you have a cut or scrape that becomes red, hot, swollen and shows signs of an unhealing infection like weeping or oozing pus.
● Anyone managing a chronic autoimmune disease should definitely have regular visits to manage the long standing inflammation in order to prevent joint, tissue or organ damage and worsening of the disease.
7. Is there anything else you would like us to know about inflammation?
Inflammation can be managed naturally in a lot of ways, and doesn’t always require medications like ibuprofen for relief. For acute inflammation from an injury follow the RICE method: rest, ice, compression and elevation. When treating a musculoskeletal injury, heat packs often feel very good, however it is important to follow any heat treatment with cold. The heat will increase blood flow and bring those beneficial inflammatory products into the area, but the cold treatment is needed to help disperse the extra fluids and immune cells back out of the area to be recycled and prevent unnecessary swelling. Lastly, natural treatments in conjunction with the required medication can significantly improve symptoms and daily life of anyone suffering from a chronic inflammatory condition.