At its core, chronic pain is a symptom of chronic inflammation. To understand why inflammation can cause pain, lets start by understanding why inflammation occurs in the body.
Inflammation is actually a good thing and a normal process. It is how the body heals itself. The body’s cellular inflammatory processes are complex and intricate – but you do not need to know all of the details to understand the basics. Here is a simple explanation:
When an acute injury has taken place, the cellular inflammatory pathways signal the body to send red and white blood cells to the injured area in order for healing to take place. This increase in blood in the area causes redness, swelling and yep you guessed it pain! In the case of an injury to say a joint, the pain will keep you from using that joint allowing healing to happen faster. Once the healing has occurred, the red and white blood cells will retreat and the redness, swelling and pain will reduce. We call this “acute healing” and it is actually a beautifully designed process! While there are certainly dietary interventions and supplementation that can speed this process up, what we are going to talk about today is how to help the body with chronic inflammation.
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Chronic inflammation happens when something in the inflammatory pathways goes awry – essentially the body does not stop producing certain inflammatory cytokines and the inflammatory response does not shut off, leaving the body in a state of chronic pain. Essentially your body is stuck in the healing phase and you continue to feel pain even though the majority of the acute healing may have already taken place. There are many reasons the inflammatory response does not shut off and they can include poor diet, dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, genetic predisposition, lack of exercise and not enough visits to your local chiropractor (a little joke, but they say the truth is said in jest…).
1. Water, water and more water
Hydration is perhaps the single most important aspect of healing chronic pain. Pain can actually be a symptom of dehydration. When you do not drink enough water, your cells will become dehydrated and when cells do not have enough water, they cannot properly do their jobs. This means cellular signaling will not work properly, healing will not take place and you guessed it – chronic pain. Aim to drink ½ of your body weight in ounces daily. Add an additional 8 ounces for every 8 ounces of caffeinated liquid you drink.
2. Eat right for your blood type
Diet is extremely important for lowering inflammation and there are many anti-inflammatory foods out there. In my clinical experience, the best way to use diet to lower inflammation is to eat foods that are compatible with your blood type and to avoid foods that are not. You can read more about the my take on the blood type diet here:
The “Fad Diet” That Might Just Save Your Life
3. Spice it up!
Adding spices such as ginger, turmeric and rosemary into your diet is a great way to lower inflammation. You can cooking with them, eat them or take them in a capsule.
- Turmeric: Turmeric contains curcumin which has wonderful anti-inflammatory effects. In fact curcumin has been found to be equal or more potent than cortisone in treating acute inflammation. One of the ways it blocks inflammation is through its ability to block a molecule called NF-KB which travels into the nuclei of cells and turns on genes that promote inflammation – meaning that curcumin stops the inflammatory pathway before it even begins.
- Ginger: Ginger inhibits the pro-inflammatory pathways and promotes the anti-inflammatory pathways while providing your body with a high volume of anti-oxidants. It also promotes blood circulation and speeds up healing time, meaning it is wonderful for acute and chronic inflammation.
- Rosemary: Rosemary is a rich source of anti-oxidants which are invaluable when it comes to reducing inflammation. Studies have shown rosemary to prevent both inflammation and arthritis.
4. Breath in and breath out – the correct way
It may sound silly, but breathing can be extremely effective for lowering pain, when done the correct way. Yes, breathing is something we all do every day, but most of us do not know how to breath properly. The easiest way to determine your breathing pattern is to put one hand on your upper abdomen near the waist and the other on the middle of your chest. If you are breathing properly, the hand on your abdomen should be expanding and contracting with each breath. If the hand on your chest is moving more, you are engaging in chest or thoracic breathing which is the type of breathing that should happen when responding to an acute threat or when you are engaging in intense aerobic exercise. This type of breathing causes an increase in heart rate, muscle tension and triggers stress hormones to be released. The correct form of breathing is called abdominal breathing and when this occurs the body takes deep, even breaths resulting in a decreased heart rate, relaxed muscles and reduced stress hormones. When you breath this way, it will lower inflammation and reduce pain. To engage in abdominal breathing follow these steps:
- Place both hands on your abdomen. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose and breath into your belly. Your hands should rise as your belly rises and there should very little movement in your chest.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth and let your belly contract as do you do.
- Repeat this breathing exercise for several minutes or until you feel relaxed
Dr. Kinney, owner of KinnCare Inc. is a practicing Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in caring for patients suffering from anxiety, depression, gastro-intestinal disorders, hormonal imbalances and adrenal fatigue. Using personalized diet, lifestyle modification, genetic testing and counseling, homeopathic remedies, and herbal medicine, she is able to balance and boost the body’s natural regenerative capacity and help her patients overcome disease. She received a bachelor of arts from Vanderbilt University and is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine (UBCNM).
Dr. Kinney is currently vice president of the Maryland Naturopathic Doctors Association and an active member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She enjoys running, yoga, reading, and spending time with her husband and 2 little girls. For more information about her practice visit www.kinncare.com or follow her on facebook.