Fight Pain and Inflammation Naturally

Whether you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior, or just occasionally clumsy, lumps, bumps, bruises, and injuries are a part of life. Joint pain is also something most of us will deal with at some point. We may often reach for the bottle of Advil or aspirin without a second thought. These powerful medications do indeed help with pain and inflammation, but that may not be the right thing for your body.

Inflammation and swelling is your body’s way of taking action against an insult, and starting the healing process. Let’s say you roll your ankle stepping off a curb. You do no major damage, but you create some micro-tears to the tissue in the area. By sending in inflammatory compounds and thereby inflaming the ankle, your body creates a pathway that allows the immune system to mount a defense and start the healing. That inflammation ushers the white blood cells to move in and clean up the damaged tissues. (It’s also why infected tissues get inflamed–so the white blood cells can rush in to kill off the invading bacteria.)  Once the body has inflamed the area to start the healing process, it can then send in anti-inflammatory compounds to further help heal and calm the injury. So, the body’s natural process is, it must inflame before it can anti-inflame.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Advil stop the body’s process of creating pro-inflammatory compounds, and therefore reduce pain and swelling, but in so doing they also stop the creation of the body’s anti-inflammatory compounds, and can slow healing. Aspirin and NSAIDs can also cause a host of other problems in the body, chief among them damage to the stomach lining and interference with good digestion. They will also make bruising worse.

There are some good alternative routes to help relieve pain and swelling, when it’s too much to just ride out.

First, take a good look at your diet. Both our pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory compounds are created by the body from the fatty acids (fats) we eat, which is why high quality omega 3 and 6 fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, and fish are key to the healing process. A good mixed EFA (essential fatty acid) supplement is worth adding to your daily regimen, especially during times of healing. Vitamins C, E, B3, B6, and the minerals magnesium and zinc are key cofactors to these processes as well. Fresh fruits and dark green veggies, poultry, fish, beef, mushrooms, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, avocado, beans, cashews, and prunes will give you healthy doses of these nutrients. Remember also that sugar is highly inflammatory and will slow your healing process.

Especially when it comes to joint pain, water is your friend. The cartilage in our joints is 80% water. The main key to healthy joints, and the first remedy to reach for when they start popping and clicking, is water: half your body weight in ounces daily (to a maximum of 100 ounces). For healthy collagen, the matrix of glue that holds our cartilage together, ensure your diet contains adequate protein (amino acids), vitamin C, iron, copper, and water. One major component of collagen is chondroitin sulfate. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements can make a huge difference to joint health, but they must be consistently taken 3x/day for up to 6 weeks before you will see any effect (and must be avoided if you are allergic to sulfur). Also for joints, antioxidants combat the free radicals and enzymes that damage the joint (synovial) fluid, and EFAs help with swelling and pain–so make sure to eat lots of colorful fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, fish, and avocado.

Finally, there are some natural supplements that can be very helpful. All of these can be found at Whole Foods or other natural stores:

  • White willow bark is the plant that contains the active ingredient that is synthesized into aspirin. It is usually in a tincture.
  • Capsaicin gel or cream can be useful applied topically for joint, muscle, or nerve pain. Its active ingredient is derived from chili peppers.
  • Boswellia is an anti-inflammatory compound derived from a tree, and can be used as a topical cream or an oral supplement.
  • Curcumin is the bright-yellow compound found in the herb turmeric, and is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Taken as a supplement, it should also include the active ingredient from black pepper, which increases its effects.

Stay safe out there, but know that when life takes its lumps, you have some tools to fight back!

How to Undo When you Overdo

I’m not going to be another one of those experts telling you about all the ways to make healthy choices at the holidays. Cut your wine with seltzer. Fill up on shrimp cocktail and baby carrots. Cover half your plate in veggies. Save your calories for your favorite items and pass on the others.

Ok well, actually, that’s all really good advice.

But let’s be honest. There’s a pretty darn good chance that you are going to overdo it at some point this holiday season–if you haven’t already! You’ll drink too much. You’ll keep eating even though you’re full. You’ll have some of every dessert offered. You’ll eat pie for breakfast. So, here are some ideas on how you can undo some of the damage and start to feel better, fast.

Imbibed a bit too much? Alcohol increases urination and dehydration, taking lots of electrolytes with it. Before bed, drink coconut water to try to replenish some of those electrolytes. In the morning, continue the coconut water, eat some eggs for the important minerals and amino acids found in the yolks, and drink some bone broth or homemade chicken soup for the healing minerals and soothing collagen. Avoid taking Tylenol or Advil, as these will further stress your liver. Black coffee can help with headaches by fighting blood vessel constriction.

Tummy not happy?  Gastritis is the fancy term for an upset stomach, with symptoms such as pain, nausea, burning, belching, and heartburn . One of the best cures for gastritis is a supplement called DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). DGL acts as a demulcent, which means it coats and soothes the lining of the stomach. A couple of tablets chewed up can really bring relief. DGL is widely available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other natural foods markets.

Stuck in a cycle of poor choices? Pie for breakfast. Donuts for a snack. Fudge just because. Cookies cookies cookies. You’re eating this stuff every day and feeling worse and worse. One of the best ways to gird yourself is to start your day with a healthy, filling breakfast. Start there, and see if you’re not inspired to make better choices later in the day. Focus on getting lots of protein and fats: eggs, healthy meats, cheese, plain whole fat yogurt, berries, sauteed plantains with coconut oil.

Bloated like Santa’s belly? Water water water!  Dehydration, which will occur when we are eating poor food and drinking lots of alcohol, will cause the body to retain water. Increasing your water intake will flush that retention out, and help you beat the bloat. It sounds counterintuitive, but drink water to make the body excrete water.

Here’s wishing you a holiday season filled with good choices. But just in case, now you know what to do!

Shoo, Shoo Colds and Flu

There’s nothing worse than being taken down by a cold, or even worse, the flu. Definitely puts a cramp in your plans for a week or two! As cold and flu season is upon us, there are things you can do to up your resistance, and to help you recover more quickly if you do get sick.

First and foremost, wash your hands. A lot. Touching germy surfaces and then touching your mucus membranes is how you catch a virus. End of story. Wash. Your. Hands. Antibacterial gels are good in a pinch if you can’t get to soap and water, but shouldn’t be overused. In general, keep your hands away from your face.

Immune boosting nutrients that you should be loading up on this winter include:

  • Vitamin C: make sure your C also includes bioflavinoids for the best utilization. Around 1000 mg/day is useful and shouldn’t upset your tummy. (Too much C can cause loose stools).
  • Vitamin D: almost all of us are deficient in this nutrient that is key to immune health. The D that is added to fortified foods like milk is actually D2, which is not a useful form for the body. You need to supplement with D3, which is best found in oil-suspension drops you can put directly on your tongue. About 3000 IU for every 100 lbs of body weight daily. Also, make sure your diet is rich in Vitamin A, as these two nutrients need each other. Good sources include raw organic dairy, organic pasture-raised animals, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens.
  • Zinc: another nutrient most of us are missing out on, zinc is found in beef and lamb, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and lentils and garbanzo beans. When you feel you’re fighting something, 30 mg of zinc gluconate can be helpful daily.

If a virus takes you down, some ways to make it move along a bit more quickly include:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Your system needs to be well-hydrated to mount a strong immune response, and being hydrated will also thin your mucus secretions and make you more comfortable. Herbal teas and bone broth are your best bets. Bone broth also gives you collagen and minerals, all much-needed as your body fights the bugs. Chicken soup isn’t called “Jewish penicillin” for nothing!
  • Elderberry syrup: a very potent anti-viral, take 1 tsp twice a day if you feel something coming on, and double that dose if in fact you fall ill.

Over-the-counter cold medications can help with symptoms in varying degrees, but often produce a “rebound effect” and leave you feeling worse than before. And remember, antibiotics are for bacterial infections only, and will do nothing to help with a cold or flu virus.

Wishing you a happy, healthy winter!