We've learned what acute and chronic inflammation are, what causes them, and how they affect the body. Now, its time to discuss natural ways to relieve acute inflammation and to help reduce chronic inflammation.
We'll start with acute inflammation. RICE - Rest, ice, compression, elevation, and NSAIDS are considered by many to be the standard in treating an injury with inflammation, but others say, "wait, ice and NSAIDS don't help, and may harm". It's been interesting reading about the controversies dealing with the ice and NSAIDS steps. In a nutshell, the studies that have been done don't conclusively prove icing to be beneficial or harmful. It's the same with NSAIDS, but these medications carry the risk of other harmful effects on the body.
What I suggest is to definitely rest, elevate, and use compression on a fresh injury (i.e. a sprained ankle). If you want to ice it, do so - it will probably help reduce pain and a little of the swelling. If you have no desire to ice it, then don't. Your body knows what it needs and your brain gets the signal to make that need sound, smell, or feel really good to you. In my personal experience, following many surgeries, I wanted to use ice and did so for several days post-op. I've also had many surgeries when the opposite was the case, and I didn't want ice and didn't use any at all. I recovered just fine in each case - my body knew what I needed and my brain signaled me to want or not want it. When it comes to NSAIDS, I have a more difficult time being unbiased. My body does NOT like NSAIDS at all -- I get severe stomach pain from them. I've also learned about some of the risks they pose to the body, so I won't recommend them.
Are there things we can do in addition to RICE? Yes! There are herbs and carrier oils we can use both internally and externally, and essential oils we can use externally to help relieve pain and to promote the body to heal itself naturally. The beauty of the herbs, carrier oils, and essential oils is that they can be used for both acute and chronic inflammation.
A wide range of herbs have scientifically-proven, significant anti-inflammatory properties. Included in this list are Ginger, Garlic, Oregano, Turmeric, Black Pepper, Rosemary, Lavender, Peppermint, Arnica, Calendula, St. John's Wort, Comfrey, Plantain, Plai, Galangal, Amla, Frankincense, Star Anise, and many more. Quite a few of these can be purchased at your local grocery store and incorporated into the foods you eat or used to flavor your coffee. Several can also be infused in water to use as compresses on an injured area or to drink as a tea. You can make tinctures by infusing them in a grain alcohol, then take a few drops of the tincture daily. When ingesting herbs, check to make sure it's safe. Some should only be used topically. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking certain medications, are heading into surgery, or have chronic health conditions, certain herbs will be contraindicated.
Fixed oils can be used in cooking, infused with herbs, and can serve as carriers to properly dilute essential oils. When cooking with these oils, it's important to get the proper balance of Omega 3 (Alpha-Linolenic Acid) to Omega 6 (Linoleic Acid) Essential Fatty Acids. That balance should be about a 1 to 3 ratio in order to maintain balance in the body's inflammatory process. For example, Olive Oil is comprised of 5% Alpha-Linolenic Acid and 5 - 15% Linoleic Acid. This is a great balance and the reason that Olive Oil is considered to be a healthy oil to use in cooking. A few other oils with the proper balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 are Avocado Oil, Canola Oil, Sea Buckthorn Fruit Oil, and Walnut Oil. (Next week's blog will discuss these EFAs in more detail.)
Fixed oils can also be infused with herbs and used topically or in cooking. The oils have their own therapeutic properties which can be enhanced with herbs. Trauma Oil is an herbally-infused oil. It's made from herbs that have been individually soaked in fixed oils for several weeks, then strained, then combined. Doing this allows the therapeutic properties of the herbs to transfer into the oils. The final oil can then be massaged into the skin to soothe localized pain and inflammation.
Likewise, fixed oils serve as carriers for essential oils -- they 'carry' the essential oils into the skin. When you incorporate essential oils into combinations of fixed oils like Hemp Seed Oil, Tamanu Oil, Trauma Oil, Andiroba Oil, etc. you get an effective mix of anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Stronger blends can be made for short-term use during acute inflammation, and more diluted blends used for long-term, chronic inflammation.
The list of essential oils that are analgesic and anti-inflammatory is too large for this blog, but here are a few of my favorites: Helichrysum, Copaiba, Ginger, Black Pepper, Turmeric, Geranium, Hops, Frankincense, Lavender, Peppermint, and Rosemary. Combinations of these oils can be used to help relieve both acute and chronic inflammation. An example of this is a blend I made to use after my last three surgeries. I added Copaiba Langsdorfii, Lavender, and Frankincense essential oils to Meadowfoam Oil and Jojoba that was infused with Comfrey Root and Calendula. All of these oils and herbs are safe to use during the two week post-op period and all have significant anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. This blend helped keep the swelling under control, and while it did not eliminate all of my pain, it soothed it enough to make it bearable.
There are a few final things to take note of here:
1. We don't want to immediately eliminate acute inflammation -- we need it to heal. The goal is to help the inflammatory process progress normally.
2. Chronic inflammation is what we do want to minimize or avoid.
3. There are steps we can take to reduce chronic inflammation. These steps include diet, exercise, lifestyle, and sleep, and can include the use of herbs, fixed oils, essential oils, and foods (which we haven't covered).
4. Most of us are not going to make sudden, drastic changes in our diets or lifestyle overnight. That's okay. Change just one thing at a time. Switch from using Peanut Oil to Olive Oil in your cooking or add ginger or peppermint to your morning cup of coffee. Once the 'new' action becomes routine, add another positive step. As you continue to repeat this process, eventually, you'll start feeling stronger, healthier, and more energetic -- oh, yeah, and your chronic inflammation will be reduced!