Treating Inflammation with Acupuncture and Other Natural Methods

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response to injury or invasion by what the body perceives as dangerous pathogens that can cause disease. While inflammation can be crucial to the body’s natural healing processes, prolonged or unnecessary inflammation can also wreak havoc on the body, leading to many maladies, such as chronic pain, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, auto-immune diseases, certain cancers, and many more.

How Do Drugs Treat Inflammation?

Western medicine does provide treatments for inflammatory conditions, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, like NSAIDS and corticosteriods. These drugs work by suppressing the body’s natural immune response, thus blocking inflammation and reducing pain. While these effects may provide welcomed short term relief, they do not treat the underlying cause of the inflammation, and long term use can lead to some troubling side effects. By blocking the body’s inflammatory response, these drugs can inhibit blood flow to the area of injury, thus cutting off the necessary nutrients that aid in healing. In other words, they can actually interfere with the body’s natural healing process, and in the long term, weaken the tissues. This is why many doctors will often limit cortisone injections to no more than 3 times per year. Additionally, by suppressing the body’s immune system, these types of treatments can open the body up to infections. Patients who receive long term steroid therapy often experience increased susceptibility to a number of infections. These includes many fungal and viral infections that can range from annoying to life-threatening.

How Can Acupuncture Help?

Acupuncture has long been a safe and effective therapy for treating inflammatory conditions, including pain problems and many chronic diseases, like IBD, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, and many more. Acupuncture can reduce inflammation in the body by affecting the body’s cytokines, which are proteins secreted by the immune system that influence the way cells interact. Certain cytokines promote an inflammatory response, and acupuncture has been shown to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines and increase anti-inflammatory cytokines. Acupuncture also helps stimulate the release of natural pain killers of the body, or endorphins, to further reduce pain levels.  From a Chinese Medicine perspective, inflammation and pain occur when blood and qi, or life energy, gets obstructed and the body is unable to heal. Acupuncture and electro-acupuncture can help to free up the flow of blood and energy, thus allowing the body to heal while reducing pain and inflammation.

How Else Can I Reduce Inflammation?

Besides acupuncture, there are many natural ways to reduce the inflammatory response in the body.  These include supplements, dietary changes, and lifestyle changes.  Here are a few of our favorite natural ways to help reduce inflammation.

Turmeric – Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that is commonly used in Asian cooking.  It contains an anti-oxidant called curcumin, which has been shown in studies to reduce inflammation.  Turmeric can be found in many grocery and health food stores.  Take it as a supplement, use it as seasoning on savory dishes, or make a turmeric tea.

Omega 3s – Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and thus can be helpful for many chronic diseases, like heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune disease, inflammatory skin diseases, and many more. Additionally, omega 3s are helpful for improving functions of the brain and nervous system. You can get omega 3s through supplements or from many food sources. When choosing a supplement, look for one that contains EPA and DHA for their more potent anti-inflammatory effect. Foods rich in omega 3s include fatty fish, like salmon, sardines, and herring. Plant based sources of omega 3s include olive oil, raw nuts, and flax seeds.

Anti-inflammatory diet – An anti-inflammatory diet is, simply put, a diet that is low in inflammatory foods and high in anti-inflammatory foods.  Unfortunately, the typical Western diet includes many inflammatory foods.  Examples of inflammatory foods are processed foods (fast foods, most packaged foods, soft drinks, microwave meals), bad fats (most animal fats, fried foods, high fat dairy foods like ice cream), processed sugar (baked goods, soft drinks, condiments like ketchup).  Avoiding inflammatory foods can significantly decrease your risk of many chronic inflammatory diseases.  Conversely, anti-inflammatory foods can significantly reduce your risk of many chronic diseases.  An anti-inflammatory diet includes mostly whole (non-processed) foods, foods high in fiber (oatmeal, black beans, many vegetables like broccoli, bran) and good fats (omega 3 rich foods mentioned earlier), and a lot of fruits and vegetables.

Stress management – Studies show that chronic stress can increase and activate immune cells entering the blood stream, thus leading to increased inflammation.  Therefore, stress management plays a very critical role in helping to control inflammation in the body.  Acupuncture is a great natural and effective way to treat stress and anxiety.  Some other methods of stress reduction include moderate exercise, meditation, yoga, and diaphragmatic breathing.  Stay tuned for our upcoming blog on stress management.


by Angie Ng, L.Ac.