You might think inflammation is only about pain. But inflammation is actually the culprit behind many different health concerns such as depression, digestive discomfort, fertility issues and even auto-immune diseases.

Once, after moving to a new home, my wrist started to throb. Soon after, I ate some food I wasn’t supposed to eat, and the pain spread to the rest of my body. Being a naturopath, I’d seen this many times in patients I was treating, but the reality of it really hit home when it happened to me.

What is inflammation?

Technically, inflammation is the mobilization of your immune system’s army of white blood cells. They reproduce, release certain chemicals that activate other cells and change how the body is functioning, and move to the site of concern. The purpose of inflammation is to fight infection or heal a wound or injury, so really it’s a very good thing – until there’s just too much of it or until it goes on for too long and becomes chronic illness. An unresolved infection or weak immune system can lead to this. So can the overwhelm from the many toxic influences in our environment today. And so can stress.

Digestive discomfort is usually due to an inflammatory reaction.

Sometimes food doesn’t sit quite right in the stomach after we eat, we get bloated, constipated, or have crampy bowels. These can all be signs that the stomach or intestinal lining is inflamed. This inflammation is usually caused by infection, food sensitivities, or stress.

Because 70% of our immune system is actually located in the gut lining, inflammation there causes inflammation in other areas of the body. This is all the more reason to take digestive symptoms like those above seriously and listen to your body. Naturopathic support is typically very effective at restoring healthy digestion, whether these issues are recent or longstanding.

Most of the time depression is due to inflammation rather than to a chemical imbalance in the brain.

For decades, medical thinking has been that depression is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. While this is true in some cases, new research is showing that the main mechanism behind depression may simply be inflammation. Because chronic inflammation is a body-wide phenomenon, addressing it in any way possible can help resolve symptoms of depression. This is why moderate exercise is so effective for mild depression, and why something as simple as an anti-inflammatory turmeric supplement has been shown to improve mood.

Fertility issues and menstrual pain often have hidden inflammation behind them.

In conventional medicine, the cause of many cases of infertility (not achieving pregnancy after one year trying) is unknown. Naturopathic doctors find that working with women to resolve inflammation is a key part of optimizing reproductive function. But it is also important for women regardless of whether they are trying to achieve pregnancy, because many of us experience painful cramping on day one or two of the period.

Menstrual cramps are so common because the chemical messengers that initiate menstrual flow in the uterus are actually inflammatory signalers. This means that if there is already inflammation present in that area of the body, the cascade of chemicals at the start of a period may cross the threshold into pain and discomfort.

My clinical experience has shown me that nobody should have to live with menstrual cramps. Between physical therapies and naturopathic solutions for inflammation, 100% of women who are committed to healing can eliminate their cramps.

Chronic inflammation, even in low amounts, can trigger autoimmunity.

Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, diabetes, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis and many more are conditions of autoimmunity. But they don’t usually begin out of the blue. There is often a perfect storm of chronic inflammation, infection and genetic susceptibility that sets the immune system off. This is an attack on the body’s own cells by its own immune system.

It’s important to get a handle on inflammation before it gets out of hand. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and while autoimmune conditions are very much treatable, it becomes more challenging the more advanced they are.

How can you treat inflammation?

Inflammation can be treated as an isolated symptom, and pharmaceutical solutions for this abound. These may work to reduce pain and discomfort, but they do not fix the underlying problem. Anti-inflammatory herbs have the advantage that they can sometimes go beyond relieving pain, and restore healthy gut, liver, or immune function.

For long term health, the true causes of inflammation must be addressed. The way we eat, live, move, breathe and think has the most decisive influence on our physiological state. The way forward is different for different people, since no general health advice is applicable to everyone in the same way, especially when it comes to diet and supplementation.

Naturopaths specialize in crafting an effective regimen that works for each individual’s unique body, history and lifestyle, and provide the ongoing support to get back to healthy practices each and every time that life gets in the way.

Julia Segal, N.D., Body Harmonics

Julia helps individuals and families integrate the wisdom of their body and mind with the growing science of natural medicine. Her personal quest for wellness started in childhood and she has learned to enjoy the journey. As a licensed naturopathic doctor, Julia enjoys teaming with patients in their journey to vibrant, resilient health––from discovering the unique root causes of their concerns, to supporting the process of healing with nature’s remedies and solid nutrition. When she isn’t working, Julia can be found hiking with her family and friends.