Dealing with pain and inflammation can be an ongoing battle. There are three things I turn to when Iím looking for a more natural approach ó curcumin, omega-3s, and systemic enzymes.
Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions that break down foods and healing us from injury. Nearly every process in our body involves these kinds of reactions. Metabolism and growth are dependent upon enzymes.
There are enzymes found naturally in food that help with the health of our joints and immune system. Many of these are broken down though after they are ingested in the stomach and small intestine.
There are enzymes in our digestion system that aid in the process of breaking down these foods. Different enzymes are effective at deconstructing fiber, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Systemic enzymes inhabit the rest of our body and serve basically as a clean-up crew. They break down toxic material to help the body get rid of it. They also aid in the building of cells and tissue, as well as converting fat we have in storage to energy we can use.
Though it was initially thought that we cannot take systemic enzymes orally, this is being shown not to be the case. Hundreds of studies are now indicating that enzymes, like serratiopeptidase, and nattokinase, can be absorbed and utilized.
This makes enzymes potentially effective in reducing inflammation and swelling, resulting in pain relief. Iím also seeing reports that they may be able to reduce scar tissue and stop or eliminate excess fibrin that has accumulated.
Taking systemic enzymes in a gel capsule form that is protected from dissolving too quickly in the stomach can aid in getting these further into the digestive system to be better absorbed.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also long been know to reduce inflammation, especially chronic inflammation that often leads to ongoing pain. These are also called essential fatty acids, essential because the body does not produce them on itís own.
Some studies are showing omega-3s are equivalent to ibuprofen in reducing arthritic pain, without the side effects. We also often hear about their benefits for heart health, diabetes, and brain function.
I read some research that shows omega-3s are broken down into compounds referred to as resolvins that are 10,000 times more effective than the original fatty acids. These are part of a class of molecules called specialized proresolving mediators, or SPMs, that inspire anti-inflammation activities.
Though it is not clear and still controversial, it may be these are what actually helps bring down the inflammation response in our body.
Getting an effective dose of omega-3s is important. This typically means looking at oil derived from sardines and anchovies. Algae, flax, and krill are also sources, but I typically see these with much lower potency. I prefer the triglyceride form due to its higher absorption factor.
One thing I consider critical with omega-3s is making sure there are no detectable toxins in the oil. What ever toxins our seafood eat are accumulated in fats and must be removed by processing. So I suggest looking at this.
Lastly in my list of pain and inflammation remediators is curcumin. Unlike some anti-inflammatories that can have a negative effect on the entire inflammatory cascade, curcumin can have a positive effect without shutting down parts of the process that can be helpful.
Curcumin not only modulates the inflammation response like an anti-inflammatory, but it also supports a health inflammation response which allows the body to still do its job and heal itself.
Turmeric is the plant from which curcumin is derived. The challenge is that it is very hard to make it available and distributed in the body. This low bioavailability too often negates the many benefits that could be derived.
There is a lot of research and formulation being done to try and get curcumin into the body. This is in part because the evidence is clear that it is effective at reducing pain and inflammation.
Iíve considered variations that are unformulated, liposomal, nanocurcumin, and some made by adding in piperine which is a major component of black pepper. The one I like the most though is a complex made by binding curcumin with phosphatidylcholine. This appears to enhance absorption significantly.
I have found you just have to take enough curcumin and in the right form. Once it is absorbed and distributed throughout the body, the benefits can be realized.
Scott Porter, a functional medicine pharmacist, is the director of the Center for Functional Nutrition at Sandpoint Super Drug.