Inflammation is often associated with pain. In fact, the suffix “itis” as in arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, or diverticulitis actually means inflammation. There are several different factors that contribute to inflammation and its accompanying pain, such as trauma, stress, or repetitive movements. Infections, chemicals or physical agents can also injure cells and trigger an inflammatory response.
The symptoms are commonly redness, pain, heat, swelling and depending on the extent of the injury, loss of function. In the body’s attempt to repair the damage, circulation is increased to the affected area. The redness and heat are the result of this increased blood flow. The rationale for applying ice immediately after an injury is to restrict blood flow to the area. The intention is to restrict the predictable swelling following an injury. As the inflammatory process continues, the blood vessels dilate and become more permeable to deliver white blood cells, lymphatic fluid, clotting factors, and the necessary nutrients to begin healing the injury. This accounts for the swelling. Pain can be caused by damage to the nerves, pressure from the swelling on the nerve endings, or irritation from toxins.
During the inflammatory response, a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin-E2 (PGE2) is secreted. It can prolong and increase the severity of the inflammation. PGE2 is synthesized from one of the omega six fatty acids, called Arachidonic acid, by the action of an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase2 (Cox2). The mechanism of action of many anti-inflammatory drugs is to inhibit that particular enzyme. That is why the next generation of anti-inflammatory drugs are referred to as Cox2 inhibitors.
In addition to conventional treatment, there are also nutritional means to combat inflammation. In my practice, I have helped many individuals complaining of pain from various “itis” diseases. We address the source of the inflammation, rather than attempting to inhibit an enzyme to suppress symptoms. The real problem may be the over-abundance of Arachidonic acid that is available to enter the PGE2 inflammatory pathway.
Therefore, the first step should be to reduce the dietary consumption of Arachidonic acid, which is only found in animal products.
Secondly, supplementing with the omega3 fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, commonly found in fish oil is also beneficial. One important role of omega3 fatty acids is to keep Arachidonic acids from escaping from our own cell membranes. This may account for the anti-inflammatory role that omega three fatty acids are credited with.
I have even seen dramatic results when fish oil is used topically over an inflamed area. For example, many have found relief from the pain caused by a common in-grown toe nail by simply applying fish oil to the toe nail. The oil helps to soften the nail, while the omega3 fatty acids (DHA & EPA) reduce the Arachidonic acid-PGE2 inflammatory cascade.