I was asked this question one day by a patient and was taken aback because to me it is so obvious that inflammation is one of the main contributing factors to most chronic diseases.
Cytokines are regulatory glycoproteins that act as messengers of the immune system.
They regulate the function of white blood cells, natural immunity, inflammation and the making of red blood cells. Some cytokines promote sleep, others cause sleep disruption. Some cytokines are stimulated by chronic infection and inflammation or persistent stress. Interleukin 1 and 6 (IL1 and IL 6) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are examples of cytokines involved in the regulation of the immune response, blood formation and inflammation. TNF is elevated in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic insomnia, preeclampsia, alcoholism, heart attack, influenza, rheumatoid arthritis and sleep apnea.
These are some of the markers that can be followed in cancer patients to evaluate their immune systems and response to treatment. In those with chronic pain these cytokines may be elevated. Stress promotes inflammatory cytokines and these also interfere with neurotransmitters in the nervous system.
Different things can drive cytokines and they include: food allergens or sensitivities, dietary deficiencies, poor intestinal integrity (leaky gut syndrome), dysbiosis, toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals and medications; stress – past or present; chronic infection; trauma and chronic pain, and hormonal imbalances including adrenal, thyroid and sex hormones.
Naturopathic strategies to lower inflammation include:
- Diet low in nightshade foods, wheat and gluten and other food sensitivities.
- Correcting common deficiencies such as calcium, magnesium, DHA and EPA essential fatty acids and B vitamins and iron.
- Correcting dysbiosis and optimizing gut function.
- Limiting exposure to chemicals, growth hormones and antibiotics etc. by choosing an organic food diet as much as possible and getting the chemicals out of the household. (See the Danish YouTube “The Organic Effect”).
- If a patient is on certain medications to inform them of the deficiencies created by them and to compensate for these deficiencies: ie Ramipril and zinc deficiency; statins and CoQ10 deficiency.
- Use natural inflammatories instead of NSAID medications to help the patient deal with chronic pain, chronic inflammation and past traumas.These include curcumin, devil’s claw, green tea and grapeseed extract.
- Evaluate hormone status including thyroid, adrenal, progesterone, testosterone, estrogen and cortisol. Supporting adrenal function is most important in any chronic inflammatory condition and herbs used for this include rhodiola, ashwaganda and astragalus.
- Use immune regulating herbs to improve immune function.
These include Echinacea, garlic, panax ginseng, milk thistle, and withania. Of all the above neutraceuticals, curcumin is the most diverse. It crosses the blood brain barrier and is used to treat and prevent dementias; it has anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.
It down-regulates most of the pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body.
It modulates the innate immune system of the body, activating white blood production, for example.
It is a natural COX 2 inhibitor or NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatory).
It helps synthesize glutathione, the major detoxifying anti-oxidant of the body. It raises many of the neurotransmitters in the brain including dopamine, serotonin and nor-epinephrine.
By lowering inflammation in the body you are helping all body systems, including the sleep/wake cycles, that are so important in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. Add some curcumin and rhodiola to your morning smoothie and you are making some very simple changes to give you lifelong health.
Dr. Ingrid Pincott, N.D. naturopathic physician, has been practicing since 1985 and can be reached at 250-286-3655 or www.DrPincott.com