In previous blogs we have talked about ways in which to avoid or minimize inflammation due to injury, and although physical injury is very real, we haven’t really delved deeply into the arena of inflammation itself as a chronic health condition and how it can be present without physical injury.
In the types of body work, massage and energy work we provide, every day, in almost every client, we come across some kind of inflammation in the body. This can be due to exercise, injury, diet, stress and other health issues. Regardless of its root cause, inflammation is the body’s way of defending you and letting you know that there is something to be defended against. If you ignore the signs of inflammation, you could end up with a chronic auto-immune disorder.
What is Inflammation? How/Why Does it Happen?
Wikipedia defines Inflammation as “part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. Inflammation is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the injurious stimuli and to initiate the healing process.”
More simply put, your immune system is your defense against invaders. These are your warriors in the battle for your overall health. Because stress, the number of threats (viral/bacterial exposure), diet, amount of sleep, injuries etc. vary in our lives, daily or sometimes even hourly, to maintain your body’s health equilibrium, this battle is always being waged.
When Inflammation Becomes Chronic
Prolonged inflammation, or chronic inflammation, often leads to a shift in the types of cells located at the site of inflammation (altering the effect of the body’s defense mechanisms to combat these issues.) This is because of the simultaneous destruction and healing of these cells in the tissue, as a result of the inflammatory process. Research shows that the effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of UltraPrevention: The Six Week Plan that will Make you Healthier for Life, your body, “has to clearly distinguish friend from foe — to know you from other. Autoimmunity occurs when your immune system gets confused and your own tissues get caught in friendly cross-fire. Your body is fighting something — an infection, a toxin, an allergen, a food or the stress response — and somehow it redirects its hostile attack on your joints, your brain, your thyroid, your gut, your skin, or sometimes your whole body.”
We recently had a client come to us that is in a complete inflammatory process due to chronic stress. All her joints hurt, her sleep is fitful at best, she finds it hard to concentrate and her digestion is also affected. There is no pathogen that she knows of, but her whole body hurts most of the time.
She came to see us because she was not sleeping and her body hurt all over. After her first massage, she slept through the night and was much more comfortable in her body for several days. We talked about stress reduction and about diet, and how they are all related. For her the first step to getting better was to take the time to come see us, and for many people learning to stop running, if only for a little while, is the beginning of more profound changes.
We’ve often said that one of the best things we do for our clients it to get them “back in touch” with their bodies. Our bodies are so good about taking care of injuries and inflammation that often we are not even aware that they are working hard to fight all sorts of trauma (both physical and psychological). By the time we hurt so much that we can’t sleep or digest our food, the process has been going on for a quite a long time.
Diet, proper rest and hydration are critical to keeping us in good health, but when we let it get away from us, massage is a good way to get back in touch with our bodies and to begin the healing.
Unfortunately western medicine responds to inflammation, chronic or otherwise, by mainly throwing anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil, ibuprofen, cortisone, etc., at you, treating the symptom, but not the underlying problem or root cause.
This just suppresses the inflammation or pain – your early warning system. The end result of suppressing this inflammatory response is not a cure of the condition, but rather a masking of its existence. It’s a lot like having your smoke alarm go off at your house and rather than trying to find out why it’s going off and either putting out the fire or evacuating your house, you instead, unhook the smoke detector and remove it’s batteries in order to stop the noise. This only stops the alarm from sounding; it does not prevent your house from burning down or you with it.
The long-term use of many of these medications can cause even more problems to people already in serious trouble.
Holistic Treatment and Prevention for Inflammation
Dr. Hyman as the Chair of the Institute for Functional Medicine, an organization that believes in: “Addressing the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership,” talks about the 9 steps you need to think about and take, if you have an autoimmune disease.
We think this list is a great one, even if your health or inflammation issues are not yet to the chronic disease state.
Mark Hyman’s Nine Steps to Treating Autoimmune Disease
- Check for hidden infections — yeast, viruses, bacteria, Lyme, etc. — with the help of a doctor, and treat them.
- Check for hidden food allergens with IgG food testing or just try The UltraSimple Diet, which is designed to eliminate most food allergens.
- Get tested for celiac disease, which is a blood test that any doctor can do.
- Get checked for heavy metal toxicity. Mercury and other metals can cause autoimmunity.
- Fix your gut. (For details, see his vlog on irritable bowel syndrome.)
- Use nutrients such as fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics 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.
- Tell your doctor about Functional Medicine and encourage him or her to get trained in it.
Of course not all symptoms will go away easily, and you have to work in conjunction with your primary care physician to coordinate your care and to make sure you are doing this safely, but taking charge of your own well-being has become more and more important. If what you have been doing up to now to solve your health and inflammation issues is not working, why not give the Nine Steps a try and begin a journey to something new — good health.