The term, “inflammation,” when used in a medical context, refers to a localized protective reaction of tissue to irritation, injury or infection, characterized by pain, redness, swelling and sometimes loss of function. The key feature here is “protective.” Inflammation is designed to protect us against infecting organisms and further damage. During inflammation white blood cells rush to the area to destroy harmful microorganisms and dead cells, preventing the spread of the irritation and permitting the injured tissue to repair itself.
The problem with inflammation occurs when it is not protecting us from danger, but is actually producing harmful effects. The damaging effects of inflammation are most apparent in inflammatory diseases caused by abnormal immune responses. Seemingly unrelated disorders such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis all have common inflammatory elements that underlie the disease process.
The Inflammatory Milieu
Inflammation is a fairly non-descript general term. So, too, is saying that compound X exerts “anti-inflammatory action.” There are several key sites of anti-inflammatory action, but simply qualifying a compound as an anti-inflammatory has little meaning. Providing an in-depth review of all of the natural anti-inflammatory agents is beyond the scope of this brief article, so let’s limit the discussion to the following categories: antioxidants, modulators of eicosanoid metabolism, proteolytic enzymes and a special nutritional factor. The point I want to make here is that during the inflammatory process, there are a number of interrelated cascading events that create the clinical features seen in an inflammatory condition. In one condition, one facet of inflammation may be more prominent than another facet seen in another condition. In other words, there are no simple answers or a single magic bullet for all inflammatory conditions. It requires a truly comprehensive approach to reduce whole body inflammation.
Antioxidants and Inflammation
Antioxidant compounds are important anti-inflammatory agents as during the inflammatory milieu, the area affected is bathed in an environment full of pro-oxidants and free radicals. When antioxidant status is low, it leads to greater perpetuation of the inflammatory response. Antioxidants quell the inflammatory fire, but they are generally only protective and exert little direct anti-inflammatory action. In other words, think of antioxidants as acting to protect our cells from damage the way that a moat protects a castle. A moat does not disarm the enemy; it just makes it more difficult to attack the castle.
The antioxidant system in the human body is a beautiful orchestra that requires all of the interrelated instruments. Vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium and flavonoids are particularly important against inflammation. In addition, flavonoids exert many other effects beneficial against inflammation making flavonoid-rich extracts like grapeseed extract quite useful in inflammatory conditions.
Modulators of Eicosanoid Metabolism
Eicosanoids include compounds known as prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These compounds are derived from essential fatty acids stored in our cell membranes. To reduce the production of eicosanoids that stimulate inflammation, (1) reduce the level of arachidonic acid by reducing the intake of meat and animal products and (2) increase the level of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Supplementation of fish oils concentrated for EPA and DHA at a dosage of 1.8 g EPA and 1.2 g DHA has been shown in numerous double-blind trials to be extremely effective in reducing inflammation and producing positive clinical changes in many inflammatory diseases. In fact, supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids is absolutely essential in any inflammatory state, whether it be acute or chronic.
Proteolytic enzymes (or proteases) refer to the various enzymes that digest (break down into smaller units) protein. These enzymes include the pancreatic proteases chymotrypsin and trypsin, bromelain (pineapple enzyme), papain (papaya enzyme), fungal proteases and Serratia peptidase (the “silk worm” enzyme). Preparations of proteolytic enzymes have been shown to be useful in a wide range of inflammatory situations.
The benefits in some inflammatory conditions appear to be related to helping the body break down immune complexes formed between antibodies produced by the immune system and the compounds to which they bind (antigens). Conditions associated with high levels of immune complexes in the blood are often referred to as “autoimmune diseases” and include such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma and multiple sclerosis. Higher levels of circulating immune complexes are also seen in ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and AIDS.
MicroLactin®—A Unique Approach To Inflammation
MicroLactin, as its name implies, is comprised of micronutrients found naturally in cow’s milk. Scientists have discovered a small, low-molecular weight fraction of milk that carries unique properties associated with the human inflammatory response system. Through a unique process, these bioactive micronutrients are super-concentrated so that they can be delivered in convenient dosages.
The history and scientific pedigree of MicroLactin is exceptional. For example, two independently conducted clinical trials have confirmed that it is highly effective at improving joint function in a short period of use. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, MicroLactin had a significantly better treatment effect versus placebo than did glucosamine. In fact, this treatment effect, which measured the overall improvement over six weeks in joint function scores, was 60% greater for MicroLactin than for glucosamine.
The proposed mechanism of action of MicroLactin is quite remarkable. Basically, during the inflammatory response the junctions between the vascular cells that line the joint spaces increase and allow white blood cells (neutrophils) to enter the joint. Once inside the joint, these white blood cells cause more inflammation and ultimately more joint damage. By tightening up these cellular junctions, MicroLactin prevents the migration of white blood cells into the joint spaces. This mechanism of action is similar to one of the hallmark features of drugs like prednisone (glucocorticoid steroids), but without the side effects. In fact, MicroLactin has not shown any side effects in the controlled trials.
Look for formulas that feature MicroLactin as well as other key nutrients to provide natural support for inflammatory processes.
Michael T. Murray, N.D., is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on natural medicine. He is a graduate, former faculty member, and serves on the Board of Regents of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. He is the author of over 30 books on health and nutrition with his latest release, What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.