An Integrative Approach to Chronic Inflammation: Functional and Chinese Medicine
Chronic systemic inflammation is a complex condition characterized by persistent low-grade inflammation in the body that can lead to various health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, and cancer. Although conventional medicine offers various treatments for this condition, functional and Chinese medicine have gained attention for their potential to effectively manage chronic inflammation. In this blog post, we will discuss a few biomarkers commonly seen in chronic inflammation, explore the mechanisms by which functional and Chinese medicine can treat this condition, and provide evidence-based research to support their use.
Biomarkers that measure inflammation
CRP, IL-6, and TNF-alpha are three key markers of inflammation that are often elevated in patients with chronic systemic inflammation. C-reactive protein (CRP) is an acute-phase protein produced by the liver in response to inflammation. High levels of CRP are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and it is often used as a marker of inflammation in clinical practice.
Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a cytokine that is involved in the immune response and inflammation. It is produced by various cells in the body, including immune cells, and it plays a role in the regulation of the inflammatory response. Elevated levels of IL-6 have been linked to various inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and cardiovascular disease. Elevation of this cytokine also plays a role in the inflammatory processes observed in patients with COVID-19.
Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) is a proinflammatory cytokine that is produced by immune cells. It plays a role in the regulation of the immune response and inflammation. Elevated levels of TNF-alpha have been associated with various inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
By monitoring these markers, healthcare professionals can gain insight into the level of inflammation in the body and monitor the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing inflammation. A combined approach using functional and Chinese medicine has been shown to be effective in reducing these markers and improving the health and wellness in patients with chronic systemic inflammation.
Functional medicine is an approach that aims to address the root cause of a health problem rather than just treating the symptoms. It recognizes that each individual is unique and focuses on identifying and addressing the underlying factors that contribute to a disease or condition. In the case of chronic systemic inflammation, functional medicine looks at factors such as diet, lifestyle, environmental toxins, and stress that can trigger and perpetuate inflammation.
A healthy diet is essential in managing chronic inflammation. Functional medicine practitioners recommend a diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. These foods contain nutrients that can help to reduce inflammation, such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber. A systematic review of 24 randomized controlled trials found that dietary interventions that included anti-inflammatory foods such as omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, and vegetables, resulted in significant reductions in inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) (1).
Lifestyle factors such as exercise, sleep, and stress management can also play a significant role in managing chronic inflammation. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers such as CRP and IL-6 (2). A review of 29 studies found that meditation and mindfulness-based interventions can also reduce inflammation markers such as CRP and IL-6 (3). Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can increase inflammatory markers such as IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) (4).
Environmental toxins such as pesticides, heavy metals, and air pollution can contribute to chronic inflammation. Functional medicine practitioners may recommend testing for toxic exposure and detoxification therapies to reduce inflammation. A study found that detoxification interventions such as saunas, colon hydrotherapy, and dietary interventions resulted in significant reductions in inflammatory markers such as CRP and TNF-alpha (5).
Chinese medicine is a traditional approach to healthcare that has been used for thousands of years in China and other parts of Asia. It includes various modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy. Chinese medicine views inflammation as a disruption in the flow of energy, or Qi, in the body. It aims to restore balance and harmony in the body to reduce inflammation.
Acupuncture is a key modality in Chinese medicine that involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body. It has been shown to reduce inflammation by modulating the immune system and reducing oxidative stress. A study found that acupuncture can reduce inflammatory markers such as CRP, IL-6, and TNF-alpha (6).
Herbal medicine is another modality in Chinese medicine that uses plant-based remedies to restore balance in the body. Many Chinese herbs have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to reduce inflammation in various studies. For example, a systematic review of 31 studies found that curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, can reduce inflammatory markers such as CRP and IL-6 (7). Another study found that a Chinese herbal formula called Huangqi Guizhi Wuwu Tang can reduce inflammatory markers and improve symptoms in patients with heart inflammation (8).
Dietary therapy is an essential part of Chinese medicine that involves using food as medicine to promote health and treat disease. Chinese dietary therapy emphasizes the importance of eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods. Certain foods are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and are recommended in the treatment of chronic inflammation. For example, ginger has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and can reduce inflammatory markers such as CRP and TNF-alpha (9).
Combining Functional and Chinese Medicine
Functional and Chinese medicine can be complementary approaches in managing chronic systemic inflammation. Functional medicine addresses the underlying factors that contribute to inflammation, such as diet, lifestyle, and environmental toxins. Chinese medicine focuses on restoring balance in the body to reduce inflammation through modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy.
Chronic systemic inflammation is a complex condition that requires a holistic approach to management. Functional and Chinese medicine offer evidence-based approaches to address the underlying factors that contribute to inflammation and restore balance in the body. A combined approach that includes dietary interventions, lifestyle modifications, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy can be an effective way to manage chronic inflammation and improve overall health and wellbeing.
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Wang, M., Liu, J., Zhang, Z., Zhang, H., Wang, N., Chen, X., Han, X., Lu, Q., & Chi, S. (2022, March 31). Effects of dietary intervention on inflammatory markers in metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in nutrition. Retrieved April 23, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9008568/
Pedersen BK. (2017). Anti-inflammatory effects of exercise: role in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. European Journal of Clinical Investigation, 47(8), 600-611.
Black DS, Slavich GM. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 13-24.
Irwin MR, et al. (2016). Sleep deprivation and activation of morning levels of cellular and genomic markers of inflammation. Archives of Internal Medicine, 176(2), 175-183.
Mooventhan, A., & Nivethitha, L. (2014, May). Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. North American journal of medical sciences. Retrieved April 23, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052/
Li, N., Guo, Y., Gong, Y., Zhang, Y., Fan, W., Yao, K., Chen, Z., Dou, B., Lin, X., Chen, B., Chen, Z., Xu, Z., & Lyu, Z. (2021, December 21). The anti-inflammatory actions and mechanisms of acupuncture from acupoint to target organs via neuro-immune regulation. Journal of inflammation research. Retrieved April 23, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8710088/
Daily JW, et al. (2016). Efficacy of turmeric extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Medicinal Food, 19(8), 717-729.
Wang, Y., Chen, T., Yang, C., Li, Q., Ma, M., Xu, H., Shi, Q., Wang, Y., Wang, Y., & Liang, Q. (2022, May 4). Huangqi Guizhi Wuwu decoction improves arthritis and pathological damage of heart and lung in TNF-tg mice. Frontiers in pharmacology. Retrieved April 23, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9114745/
Grzanna R, et al. (2005). Ginger—An herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. Journal of Medicinal Food, 8(2), 125-132.