Taking the "flame" out of inflammation

From September to Christmas I spend my weekends in large harvest fairs and holiday shows. I meet a lot of people and what struck me in the past six weeks was how many of them are looking for a solution for inflammation, specifically arthritis. Since herbalism is part of a holistic approach to health I am trying to understand the root cause of what seems to be an epidemic and suggest a treatment for the entire body, not just the symptoms.

There are two types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a process in which the hardening or mineralization of the body becomes excessive, often naturally with wear and tear and the impact of age. The result is stiffness in the joint. This is a cooling, drying process which means that we are looking to stimulate warmth and flexibility. To nourish the joints and improve flexibility I suggest adding bone broth to your diet, A good homemade bone broth is thick with minerals that nourish the cartilage. Dr. Thomas Cowan MD in his book “The fourfold path to healing” suggests using unpasteurized whole milk and butter made from unpasteurized cream in your diet to “oil” the joints, much in the way that you would oil a rusting axle or a hinge. Bee Fields Farm’s Firework salve contains warming herbs that are designed to stimulate circulation to muscles and joints.

The more prevalent type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis which is an inflammatory process. Inflammation is part of the immune system’s reaction to infection. The symptoms of inflammation are heat, redness, swelling, and pain. An inflammation that lasts over a long period of time, in some cases months and years, might turn into an autoimmune disease. The root cause of autoimmune inflammation is diet and stress so a change in lifestyle is called upon.

During world war II, women were called to replace the man in many jobs to keep the economy running while man fought in the front line. They never got back to the kitchen since, and so preheated meals were invented. Cooking a wholesome meal from fresh, local ingredients is a lost art in our culture. I am not calling on women to go back to the kitchen. I do acknowledge that ending a long, sometimes stressful day at work, coming home to the task of cooking a meal is a challenge. At the same time eating processed foods means that it either went through a long process of heating, which depleted it from all nutrients, or a lot of chemical preservatives were added to it to keep it from spoiling and turned it toxic. Most processed foods go through both processes, first heating to a very high temperature, and then adding the preservatives.

I suggest moving most of your food shopping in the farmer’s market. Buy fresh vegetables, meat and milk products directly from the farmer. If you buy in a supermarket know that the “real food” is always lined along the walls. One side will be the fresh produce, vegetables, and fruits, The other side will usually house the milk products, and the back wall will have the meat freezers. Anything in between is very suspicious and requires that you read the small print and understand the ingredients.

Just prior to World War I, the German chemist Fritz Haber discovered a method for cheaply producing large amounts of nitrogen that could then be used as a fertilizer. The War led him and his team to begin developing much more toxic substances, such as mustard gas. These were the same years that saw the development of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane — DDT. After the war, the chemical companies were left with large quantities of these chemicals. They started to market them as pesticides and herbicides. It makes sense to me that if a chemical compound is able to kill plants or animals then it is not healthy for my body. Pesticides and herbicides accumulate in our body and trigger an immune response that manifests itself in many diseases from cancer to arthritis. There is no match for eating organic, local and fresh food.

Generally speaking, a diet for arthritis should be a cooling diet. It makes sense as inflammation is a warming process and we want to balance it. Carbohydrates are built through the warmth of the sun and are found in green plants starches, and sugar.  Green plants are highly nourishing and support the liver’s detox functions. Starch and sugar should be reduced to a small amount in your diet. Use whole complex grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, and oats.

Did you know that oats are not just highly nourishing but also have a calming effect on our nervous system, helping us be alert and focus?

Add some berries to your oats for the antioxidants and enjoy. 

While out there in the farmer’s market and fairs I always observe the long lines. What attracts people? I usually find people standing in line in front of the baked goods stalls. The combination of dough and sugar, both simple carbohydrates, works on our brain in the same way that drugs do. They are highly satisfying, calm our nerves system, makes us slightly sleepy and are so addictive. Until modern time sugar was available only for wealthy people in small amounts -- and only on special occasions such holidays. What used to be consumed in homeopathic quantities has become a staple in modern times and we are paying the price with our health. Reduce your sweet intake to a minimum and avoid all products that contain high fructose corn syrup.

“On the cellular level, the chemicals that initiate and control inflammation are called prostaglandins, which are a kind of a tissue hormone. Research has found that it is the balance of tissue prostaglandins that determine the amount and quality of inflammation. The absence of certain oils out of which the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins are made can lead to the kind of excessive inflammation found in rheumatoid arthritis”

~Dr. Thomas, S Cowan MD (The fourfold path to healing)

Anti-inflammatory oils include high EPA fish oil, cod liver oil, and flax seed oil. While you can add them to your diet by taking them in their tablet form, a much more balanced way would be to eat foods that are rich with them. Deepwater seafood contains a high level of high EPA fish oil and cod liver oil. I do not know of any organic fish farm and generally prefer wild-caught, fresh fish. Again, the farmer’s market in my area has a great seafood truck.

Add nuts to your diet. Full of healthy monounsaturated fat, nuts are recognized for their heart-protective properties and important nutrients. Try pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and almonds. Walnuts are particularly good for people with rheumatoid arthritis because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Ground flaxseed is another good plant source of omega-3. Most commercial vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils interfere with this anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and should be avoided. Use olive oil instead of other oils and fats. In addition to healthy monounsaturated fat, it contains a compound called oleocanthal that reduces inflammation and acts like ibuprofen in alleviating pain.

Add fermented food to your diet. Wild fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and kombucha are rich with enzymes that support the natural detox mechanism through the body. Hence they support the body in getting rid of the root cause of inflammation but also of by-products. Wild fermented food needs to be kept cold in order to stop the fermentation process. You can find it in the supermarket or in your local farmers market. Just remember that fermented food that is canned was boiled in the process thus altering all the enzymes which hinder them from supporting digestion.

Did you know that sourdough is a fermented food?

Sourdough is a type of bread that is made by inviting local lactobacillus, which is a type of bacteria that lives in the kitchen to help leaven the bread.

Use anti-inflammatory herbs in your diet. The first herb that comes to mind is stinging nettle. It was used for inflamed joints for hundreds of years. You can even have a warm cup of nettle tea. Use our Dragonfly vinegar which contains nettle with many other anti-inflammatory herbs. You can also use our Join-it Rub to soothe and alleviate pain and inflammation.

The easiest way to get rid of inflammation is of course to take anti-inflammatory medicine. But those have many side effects. Holistic medicine heals the body and soul but it requires a complete lifestyle change that will reduce the stress to your physical body by eating wholesome nourishing food as well as to your soul by visiting your local farmers market, engaging with your community, and making the time to cook and eat homemade food. But like every change, it might be daunting. Start with baby steps, be forgiving to yourself if you “fall off the wagon”, use a sense of humor and make it fun. Whatever you do, don't stress about it. If you feel lost, “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Falon is a highly recommended book to own. It is filled with recipes and tips that rely on long-lost wisdom.

**This blog post is intended as an informational guide. The remedies, approaches, and techniques described herein are meant to supplement, and not be a substitute for professional medical care or treatment. They should not be used to treat a serious ailment without prior consultation with a qualified healthcare professional.