Exploring Inflammation and its Effects on Healthy Aging

By Dr. Chris D. Meletis, N.D.

October 2017

Staying physically active now, and for a lifetime, is an inspirational concept shared by many.  We all know a body in motion stays in motion, and a body at rest stays at rest.  In short, get active, stay active and don’t give up, otherwise you might find yourself stuck being unfit in your later years.  Many people find that there are unforeseen obstacles which can impede even the most well-intentioned, fitness-oriented individuals.  These include injury, excess inflammation or other life circumstances.  So, whether you’re enjoying youthful vigor, or trying to age gracefully, there is a balance between exercise and inflammation, and I would like to explore some important and empowering health tips to staying active and quenching inflammation.

Inflammation and Aging

Athletes, and weekend warriors alike, realize that all exercise triggers a degree of inflammation.  With the muscular exertion and strengthening process that comes from exercise, inflammation is generated at multiple levels: joints, muscles and even the immune system.  All active individuals push their body's limits when overtraining, engaging in the pursuit of a new exercise or just plain aging, and eventually hit the threshold of keeping inflammation under control.

Scientific and medical literature point to the importance of incorporating daily exercise into one’s lifestyle will help a person stay healthy during the aging process. Also, it points to evidence that inflammation is associated with obesity, physical inactivity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.  

Getting and Staying Active

Removing obstacles to getting and staying more active is vitally important.  Yet, even the best trained athletes will have times when injury, inflammation and pain impedes progress.  Others may find that even getting started on an exercise routine can be limited by rebound inflammation, even after the most modest exertion.  But for both, it is essential to address the cause of the aches and pains our body experiences, including poor biomechanics such as flat feet, high arches, old injuries, spinal misalignment, being under nourished or inadequately hydrated.  Or, for those that have been less active, experiencing the pain and inflammation of the reawakening of their muscles and joints. Regardless of the cause, the end result is the same -  limited momentum and process will help with inflammation flare-ups.

Natural Approaches to Inflammation

Exercise requires that you fuel the body and give it adequate rest. First and foremost, fuel your body with antioxidant rich veggies and fruit, along with foods rich in essential fatty acids such as fish, seeds and nuts, which can help fuel anti-inflammatory pathways.  Also, stay hydrated and get a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of sleep, allowing your body time to “rest” and restore. I tell my patients that the first four letters of the word “restoration” is rest!  What I have found over the last 25 years of clinical practice is that just because your mind says YES, it does not mean your body will always agree with an equal level of vim and vigor. Start slow and preserve, while listening to your body’s innate wisdom.

Popular Botanicals and Inflammation

There are a number of botanical remedies that can support inflammation management in your body. Plants possesses unique properties to help assist with the aches and pains that frequently come from mild pain related to exercise, or over doing it.  In my clinical practice, I routinely use synergistic blends such as Bromelain, Tumeric and Bioflavonoids. Or, larger blends that incorporate the benefits of Turmeric, Green tea, Nettle, Ginger and Rosemary.  The rationale behind using a combination supplement is that some botanicals are better at balancing inflammation, whether they are C-reactive proteins, IL-6, COX or LOX pathways. Certainly, if you happen across the “right herb for you,” it will often offer remarkable nurturing benefits to your body.  Yet an herbal combination may help as a more general level of support as well.

Turmeric.  When standardized to 95% curcuminoids and combined with an absorption enhancing agent such as black pepper, Turmeric has been shown in the scientific literature to help reduce the biological inflammation associated with exercise recovery. In one study, 60 subjects do 60 repetitions of a dual-leg press exercise. They discovered that there was a 48[AB1]  percent reduction of the muscle enzyme called, creatine kinase, and a decrease of 25 percent for TNF-alpha and 21 percent drop in IL-8.  The authors concluded that “The observed improvements in biological inflammation may translate to faster recovery and improved functional capacity during subsequent exercise sessions”. 

Citrus bioflavonoids have been shown to help with bruising and support the health of blood vessels. Also, hesperidin, a specific type of natural flavonoid has also been shown to help inhibit the conversion of curcumin into its inactive form, allowing for the potential for greater effectiveness of Turmeric when used orally.

Ginger is a dynamic plant that has long been used for nausea.  Yet, clinically, it has shown itself a potent antioxidant and good tool for inflammation.  It is important to remember when we exercise, we generate more free radicals. When not sufficiently quenched, free radicals can worsen joint and tissue damage. There are many active ingredients in Ginger including Gingerol, shogaol and other structurally-related substances which have been studied to lessen inflammation by inhibiting both prostaglandin and leukotriene biosynthesis.  Research also shows Ginger's ability to help control pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1, TNF-α, and IL-8.  When all of these are left unchecked, it can lead to excess inflammation.  

Nettles have long been used for sinusitis and other inflammatory processes in the body. One of the things my patients often overlook when looking to improve their exercise performance is the importance of having a optimally clear airway. 

Oregano & Rosemary.  Rosmarinic acid is found in large quantities in herbs like Oregano and Rosemary. These botanicals have been used traditionally for hay fever and to support airway function. There are also studies that have shown its helpfulness in addressing inflammation with rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers concluded in another study: “… the anti-inflammatory potential of rosmarinic acid has been identified, as it causes a substantial reduction in inflammation, and we speculate that it might be useful in the pharmacological modulation of injuries associated to inflammation.”

Bromelain, popularly known as the pineapple, is a botanical I have used with my patients that suffer from mild inflammation, aches and pains. I find it particularly helpful for sore muscles and joints, and when there is mild swelling from injury as well. When used with Turmeric and flavonoids, it confers a nice combined effect. In a clinical trial of 77 subjects with knee pain, 400 mg of Bromelain taken for 30 days lowered stiffness and soreness scores by 59 percent.

Take Home and Encouragement

Regardless of whether you are looking to put out the fire of inflammation that has arisen from exercise or other health issues, it is essential to address the underlying cause.  If left unaddressed, inflammation will contribute to not only the inability to stay optimally active, it will also contribute to “inflam-aging”, which is an ecological and microenvironment that arises within the body,accelerating premature aging and disease. 

Sources

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Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D.Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., has 24-years of experience practicing as a Naturopathic Doctor in Portland, Oregon.  He is dedicated to using his vast knowledge about alternative medicine to help his patients and generously give to those in need. He has written over a dozen books and 100's of national articles, and was named Naturopathic Physician of the Year in 2003 by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.  Read more about Dr. Meletis here.  Or, visit our "Ask Dr. Meletis, N.D." page for additional articles. 

*Statements herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not intended to treat or diagnose any disease or health condition. The information on this website, and provided by Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is recommended that patients check with their doctors before taking herbs, to ensure that there are no contraindications with prescription medications. There is additional information linked within this site to HealthNotes®, a third party educational source, containing the latest research on health and supplements. Oregon's Wild Harvest will not be held accountable for this information and consider it an education reference only.  

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