Inflammation is one of those words that people use without really thinking about its actual meaning. It pops up quite often in our conversation with patients but never gets defined. Heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, depression, arthritis (and any -itis, really), autoimmune diseases, insulin resistance are all linked to inflammation.
Without inflammation, wounds and infections would never heal. Inflammation is the body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens – and begin the progressive healing process. When something harmful or irritating affects a part of our body, there is a biological response to try to remove it, the signs and symptoms of inflammation, specifically acute inflammation, show that the body is trying to heal itself.
Inflammation does not mean infection, even when an infection causes inflammation. Infection is caused by a bacterium, parasites or mold, while inflammation is the body’s response to it.
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response. Initially, it is beneficial when, for example, your knee sustains a blow and tissues need care and repair. After the repair is complete the inflammation stops. This response is controlled similar to driving a car. This controlled response started by pro-inflammatory cytokines and stimulatory neurotransmitters is similar to starting the motor and stepping on the gas pedal. Just as in driving, you use the amount of stimulation to stay with the flow of traffic and arrive safely at your destination. To slow down or stop, you take your foot off the gas pedal and use the brakes. The immune system does this through anti-inflammatory cytokines and inhibitory neurotransmitters.
However, sometimes inflammation can cause further inflammation; it can become self-perpetuating. More inflammation is created in response to the existing inflammation. Chronic inflammation causes your brakes to burn out, leaving your immune system without control. Without control the pro-inflammatory cytokines and stimulatory neurotransmitters cause progressive inflammation. One of the many possibilities of progressive inflammation is autoimmunity. Autoimmune Disease is the worst type of inflammation. Cancer may involve one part of the body. Autoimmunity affects many parts of the body simultaneously. An autoimmune condition never occurs in just one part of the body. It spreads progressively throughout the body.
When symptoms become confusing an autoimmune condition is likely in the works often resulting in a “Cytokine Storm”. These symptoms are often addressed by powerful immune suppressing medication and not by addressing the cause. That’s like taking a lot of Tylenol while you are standing on a tack. The treatment is not more Tylenol or a strong immune suppressant, but removing the tack.
It you want to cool off inflammation in the body, you must find the source. Treat the fire, not the smoke. In medicine we are mostly taught to diagnose disease by symptoms, NOT by their underlying cause.
Functional medicine, the emerging 21st century paradigm of systems medicine, teaches us to treat the cause, not only the symptoms, to ask the question: WHY are you sick, not only WHAT disease do you have.
Nine Steps to Treating Autoimmune Disease
- Check for hidden infections — bacteria, mold, yeast, parasites, etc. with the help of a doctor, and treat them.
- Check for hidden food allergens with IgG food testing or just try The Paleo/Primal Diet, which is designed to eliminate most food allergens.
- Get tested for neurotransmitter imbalance, which is a saliva and urine test that any doctor can do.
- Check your immune status. Autoimmune disease is a TH1 condition in the early stages and a TH17 dominant situation in chronic conditions lasting three months or more.
- Calm and quiet your immune system. Avoid supplements that provoke an uncontrolled immune response.
- Get checked for microbial infection. Bacteria, mold, and parasites manipulate your immune system for their survival. This can cause the immune system to mistakenly attack you in stead of them resulting in autoimmunity.
- Fix your gut. For details, see my blog on irritable bowel syndrome.
- Use nutrients such as fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and turmeric to help calm your immune response naturally.
- Exercise regularly — it’s a natural anti-inflammatory.
- Practice deep relaxation like yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback, or massage, because stress worsens the immune response.
- Seek a doctor practicing Functional Medicine.
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