Inflammation and Chronic Disease

Last week, I gave a talk on the role of inflammation in chronic disease, and how natural medicine addresses this. Inflammation is such a hot topic these days, pun intended, I thought I could sum up the key points.

“There is no good or bad in Chinese medicine, only too much or too little.”

I love this quote from one of my teachers because it really highlights the issue surrounding inflammation and disease. Inflammation is a physiologic process of the body in response to injury or illness, and the end result is tissue healing and the restoration of healthy functioning. Inflammation isn’t a bad thing, it is the exaggerated or diminished inflammatory reaction that is problematic. Acute inflammation is what we are most familiar with – the red, hot, swollen, painful tissue surrounding an ankle sprain or scrape from falling off a bike.

Chronic inflammation is a prolonged or delayed response in reaction to a persistent illness, injury, allergen, or environmental pathogen. Its harm is the simultaneous tissue destruction and repair over a longer amount of time that leads to scarring, changes in tissue structure and function, and even damage at the level of DNA. The other issue with chronic inflammation is that it becomes a vicious cycle, with systemic affects changing the way the entire body functions. Chronic inflammation contributes to many disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more.

Where Chinese medicine helps is by using herbs and physical modalities that affect various stages of the inflammatory process. And, while even over-the-counter NSAID’s can cause undesirable side effects such as liver damage or stomach ulcers, herbs have multiple actions and can avoid such issues. They are also often used in combination to make their effect stronger, or to prevent side effects from toxicity. This is why Chinese herbal formulas consist of several different combined herbs working synergistically. Acupuncture can be a helpful tool to stimulate tissue repair locally, and decrease the harmful role of stress has in perpetuating chronic inflammation.

If you are curious about learning more, come and talk with an acupuncturist.

Suzanne Chi, LAc