Natural Remedies for Inflammation
Anti-inflammatory agents are substances capable of reducing or even eliminating the reactions of inflammation. They moderate the excessive manifestations of inflammation and ease the patient's suffering. To understand how they work, it is necessary to briefly examine the biochemistry of inflammation and to take particular notice of a fundamental mediator of this defense-system process: prostaglandins.
A mediator is a substance that possesses the ability to trigger a specific reaction in the body.
As soon as a cell comes under attack, it releases two kinds of prostaglandins (as well as other substances that, in order to keep things simple, we will not discuss).
The first we will call the prostaglandins of war. As our name for them indicates, the prostaglandins of war prepare and trigger the body's defensive reactions. This is not a passive defense, however, insofar as white blood cells attack and fight the invader. The prostaglandins arouse, excite, and bring to a boil the attack systems with which the body strikes the enemy in order to destroy it.
Any battle will cause much damage, however. This is equally true whether it is a war between human beings (resulting in numerous dead and wounded, along with the destruction of homes, roadways, and other infrastructure) or a battle inside the body (resulting in the destruction or injury of tissues, the loss of white blood cells, and so on). Thus a battle cannot be endless. If it goes on too long, serious damage will result. A brake must be applied to the attack-and-destroy process that the body has implemented.
The responsibility for this falls to the second kind of prostaglandins, which we will call the prostaglandins of peace. The purpose of these prostaglandins is to mitigate, calm, and even halt the inflammatory reaction. The typical activities of peacetime—construction and repair—can then take place. They correspond to convalescence and a return to health.
The prostaglandins of peace therefore stand in opposition to the prostaglandins of war. While the latter cause inflammation, the activities of the prostaglandins of peace are anti-inflammatory. These opposing modes of activity are useful for the body. They permit it to monitor and regulate the inflammatory reaction—in other words, to ensure that the defense processes persist for an appropriate length of time and are followed by repair work.
Acute and Chronic Inflammation
Normally, the production of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins is followed some time later by that of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. The burst of defensive activity achieves its goal and is then put to rest. Under these circumstances, the condition is described as an acute inflammation. It is characterized by the limited time frame of its duration, a limit that is imposed by a sufficient presence of prostaglandins of peace to counter the defensive efforts that are no longer serving any helpful purpose.
Sometimes, though, an imbalance is established between these two opposing forces, and it works to the benefit of the defensive processes, which continue their activities for too long a period. When the body is unable to curb these pro-inflammatory activities with anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, they exceed their bounds. The cells of the inflamed tissues can be injured and even killed. The tissues suffer lesions and harden. The pain connected to the inflammatory process persists and causes the patient to suffer for longer than is necessary. This condition is known as a chronic inflammation.
During acute inflammations, anti-inflammatory agents are used primarily to soothe the pain felt by the patient. In chronic inflammations, they make it possible to protect the tissues from damage and also ease the patient's suffering.
Chronic inflammation has many possible causes. Most often it results from the fact that the body's protective forces—which depend on the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins—are too weak in comparison with those of its attack forces—which depend on the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. It may also be that the cause of the inflammation has not been removed; in other words, an infection, poison, or allergen has not yet been neutralized, and its continued presence ensures that the body's defensive reactions will continue. Another possible cause is an overload of toxins in the cellular terrain; in this case, the body's defenses will mobilize against the toxins and the damage they cause, and they will remain active for as long as the toxins persist.
How Anti-Inflammatories Work
Given the role prostaglandins play in inflammations, there are two ways that an anti-inflammatory therapy can proceed:
- It can aim to block the production of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins of war (when they are in excess).
- It can seek to increase the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins of peace (when they are insufficient).
The first of these two methods involves the use of anti-inflammatory remedies. In natural medicine, these would include plants; in allopathic medicine, they include aspirin, cortisone, and other pharmaceuticals. These remedies block the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins thanks to various substances they contain. The consequence of their use is that the body's inflammatory reactions are thwarted. Without the continued presence of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, the production of white blood cells is clearly restrained, if not halted outright. The capillaries are no longer dilated and edema (swelling) is reduced, which hampers the passage of white blood cells toward the affected tissues. For lack of fighters, the inflammatory reaction grinds to a halt. In this way the objective—the end of the inflammatory process—is achieved via an external supply of prostaglandin blockers, rather than the normal action of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins produced by the body.
The second measure—increasing the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins—relies not on medicines but on nutrition. It consists of supplying, in sufficient quantities, the essential nutrients for the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, to wit, omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Numerous medicinal plants are effective against inflammation. Those presented here are known for being highly effective and easy to use. They can be divided into three major groups. For each of these, we will give an example of a very effective plant in order to facilitate the first steps in the learning of the use of natural anti-inflammatories.
1. The first group includes the plants that stimulate the body to produce hormones that reduce or remove inflammation. These anti-inflammatory hormones are members of the cortisone family, for which reason these plants are described as having "cortisone-like" action.
Example : Black Currant (buds) glycerin maceration or mother tincture : Take 30 to 50 drops with water three times a day before mealtime (allergies, pain).
2. The second group consists of plants that work by directly supplying the body with substances that block the inflammatory process.
Example: Wintergreen Use 1 or 2 drops of essential oil per 1/2 teaspoon of sunflower or another carrier oil. Rub over the afflicted joint or muscles two or three times a day (arthritis, lumbago, tendinitis, sciatica).
3. The third group contains plants that have an antihistamine effect. The inflammation mediators—in other words the substances that trigger inflammation—consist not solely of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins but include a good many others. Among them, histamine figures prominently. It is involved in allergic inflammatory disorders like hay fever, for example. As their name indicates, these antihistaminic plants reduce blood histamine levels, and thereby the inflammation. The other anti-inflammatory plants do not do this; they act on the effects of histamine, but not on its concentration in the body. Example: Black Cumin (Nigella Sativa) Mother tincture: Take 10 to 30 drops in water, three times a day.