This is certainly not the first time I’ve written about the hazards of using anti-inflammatories at the first sign of a twinge. But this one is going to take it from a different viewpoint.
I think we could all agree that the process of inflammation is a natural one. After all, why would the human physiology have a process in place that is useless? It wouldn’t. Inflammation serves several purposes. One key purpose would be the prevention and management of infections. Your immune system (the system responsible for the inflammatory response) gears up to fight off an invader, and, should that invader break through, it will gear up an attack on that invader, be it a virus, bacteria, yeast or even a tumor cell. Another key purpose is the clearing out of damaged tissue and subsequent repair of the damaged region.
Each of these actions of the immune system needs balance and control:
- Too much protection against an invader and you get allergies and asthma.
- Too strong of a reaction against an invader and you could go into shock.
- Too strong of a response to an injury and undamaged tissue gets taken out in the process.
But these are all on the upswing of the inflammatory response and controlling this side of things is a good thing. But can our society’s obsession with anti-inflammatories be affecting the natural history of this process? You bet!
Consider inflammation as pushing a boulder uphill. Once you get it over the top, the going’s easy from there. Anti-inflammatories may, in the initial stages, make the hill smaller. But the initial stages of inflammation are supposed to end–after a few days with an infection (hopefully) and within 24 hours with an injury (depending on severity of the injury). We used to think that inflammation, once started, would resolve all on its own. We now know this is not true.
The resolution of inflammation is not a passive process. The body has to actively end inflammation. And there are some critical factors needed for this process.
Namely, our old friends, DHA and EPA from fish oils.
Specifically, DHA and EPA are required to make a class of compounds referred to as Resolvins and Protectins (I know, but I didn’t come up with the creative names…). If you’re a biochemistry nerd, you can read more about them in this particular review.
This begins to explain the many benefits we see from essential fatty acid supplementation on a long list of chronic disease. More importantly, you can begin to lay out some “to do” things on your journey to control and resolve inflammation in your own body. These include:
- Increasing your intake of healthy fats found in such foods as wild caught fish, olive oils, raw nuts, seeds and avocados.
- Decreasing your intake of less healthy fats found in hydrogenated oils and vegetable oils.
- Avoiding anti-inflammatories. With the exception of aspirin, which may help the process, other anti-inflammatories actually slowed or stopped the ability of EPA and DHA to halt inflammation.
- If inflammation from an autioimmune disorder or chronic pain is a concern, consider supplementing UP TO 3 full grams of omega-3 / day (this does NOT mean 3 capsules per day).
So, next time you think about curbing inflammation with drugs, shift your thinking. Think about how you are going to RESOLVE your inflammation instead.