General characteristics

General characteristics

Inflammation is an incredibly complex protective (immune) response produced by the body in reaction to certain triggers such as infection, physical or chemical trauma or irritation.

Inflammation is characterised by the presence of pain, swelling, redness and heat and often an impairment of the tissues or organs affected by the inflammation. The redness arises from blood vessel dilation and an increase in blood flow to the area as the body attempts to fight infection with greater numbers of white cells and deal with dead or damaged tissue, the heat helps to keep fluids thin and free moving whilst helping to destroy any pathogens present, the swelling also acts as a protective cushion around the area, effectively isolating the site and allowing healing to take place. Pain results from the pressure the swelling exerts on surrounding tissues or structures.

Inflammation as such is a healing mechanism and should not be suppressed unless its effects are dangerous, i.e swelling pushes against a vital organ and begins to impair the function of the organ. In this case anti-inflammatories would be invaluable.

Inflammation can be acute, such as in response to an injury, or chronic as in arthritis. Using anti-inflammatories for chronic inflammatory conditions may well lessen pain and swelling but rarely helps to resolve and heal the reason for the inflammation.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Avoid processed foods of all kinds including hydrogenated and trans fats in particular, refined carbohydrates, sugar, sweeteners, carbonated drinks, caffeine and alcohol, especially during chronic inflammation as these unnatural foods can encourage a low level inflammatory response throughout the body.

The essential fatty acids present in oily fish, nuts and seeds in abundance will help the body to deal with acute inflammation efficiently and ease the problems of chronic long term inflammation. Cold pressed organic oils can also be taken.

Foods rich in flavonoids, such as all berries, nuts, dark leafy greens and other dark coloured plants, raw cocoa, apples, pears and other tree grown fruits, are known to offer protection against chronic inflammation when consumed regularly.

Include plenty of fresh vegetables and leafy greens in the form of raw salads with each meal.

Over-consumption of plants in the nightshade family, such as potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines, can make inflammation more painful for some people.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

For inflammation of the bones following fractures or knocks use comfrey leaf as a poultice or compress. Make a strong tea with a heaped tablespoon of the leaves and stand for 10 minutes. To make a compress, soak a cloth in the tea and lay it over the affected area, bandaging loosely to keep in place. A poultice consists of using the soaked herbs to lay over the injury and gently securing in place.

Other herbs that can be used as general anti-inflammatories include meadowsweet (contains natural aspirin), marigold flowers, marshmallow root and leaves, (digestive system inflammation), plantain leaf (bites, rashes and stings), mullein leaf, burdock root and leaves, sage for skin.

Hawthorn berries and flowers have an anti-inflammatory effect on the blood vessels.

For inflamed nerves use st johns wort, chamomile and cleavers, in equal parts, as a tea and/or compress 3 times daily.

For more chronic inflammation use a teaspoon of turmeric in foods or in herbal teas 3 times daily.

For chronic inflammation of the joints try wild yam root, ashwagandha root, black cohosh root, willow bark and ginger. Use the dried herbs in equal parts except only a pinch of ginger to each cup of tea brewed. Simmer for 20 minutes minimum. Nettle tea can also be of great benefit for inflammed joints when atken regularly.

Natural healing

Natural healing

A very effective way of speeding up healing, that does not hinder the inflammatory process, is to apply alternating hot and cold compresses to the area. The heat helps to keep the vessels dilated and allow greater movement of blood and white cells whilst the cold constricts the blood flow. Applying alternate hot and cold compresses causes the blood and lymph vessels to act like a pump, encouraging more and more blood and lymph to flow through the area and speeding up the healing process quite considerably. It also lessens the pain. Apply the heat first for 20 seconds or so, then the cold for the same amount of time, then the heat again, then the cold, and so on for several minutes. Repeat the process every couple of hours or more frequently if the inflammation is severe.
Anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirins and other non steroidal pain killers) show evidence of actually slowing down the healing process of fractures if taken straight after the injury for several weeks.

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