“I Pick Things Up and I Put Them Down”
Looking to switch things up at the gym, I recently began a new type of HIIT training which involved power-lifting. Since I’ve transitioned to more of a restorative routine these past few years, my body was ill-prepared to start lifting heavy weights again like I did in my 20s. Despite working with a personal trainer, I injured my back by day 3.
Initially, I thought it was an acute muscle strain which is typically the case for the vast majority of new low back injuries and because it wasn't radiating anywhere else in my body. However, by day 2 I began experiencing pain shooting down my leg.
Although I’ve seen this time and time again in my patients, I’ve never experienced it until now–and let me tell you, it hurts like stink. The pain can best be described as a relentless, toothache-like sensation that can be completely incapacitating at times. Numbness and tingling also set in, convincing me that I was dealing with a nerve, not a muscle, problem. More likely than not, what I was suffering from was a lumbar radiculopathy– or what is commonly referred to as "sciatica."
Lumbar radiculopathy is essentially a pinched nerve root in the back. Given the mechanism of injury, it was highly probable that the underlying culprit was a disc herniation in the lower spine pushing on a nerve root resulting in significant inflammation.
Synthetic Anti-Inflammatory Agents
Putting my doctor hat on, I decided to combat this inflammation with some oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen. There was mild improvement in my pain, however, it was still limiting my day to day function. As such, I decided to ramp things up a notch and take an oral steroid taper. This too offered some improvement in my symptoms but my function was still impaired. Given it was taking longer than expected to start physical therapy, I began thinking of other natural anti-inflammatory remedies that I was overlooking.
Unfortunately, formal education about naturopathic remedies for combating inflammation typically isn't provided in medical school. As such, doctors often fail to discuss these options with patients. In this blog post, we'll review some of the natural remedies provided by Mother Earth and see if we can better manage my pain in the process. Let’s take a look.
Naturally Occurring Anti-Inflammatory Agents:
1) Omega-3-Fatty Acids:
Omega 3’s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are found not only in fish but in plants as well. A number of studies discuss the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3’s which have been used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal injuries going back to the 18th century. [1,2]
Plant seeds such as chia or hemp are high in omega 3’s. Walnuts and soybeans are other tasty sources. I’d recommend soaking some chia seeds in water for 10 minutes, adding some walnuts and protein powder for a delicious anti-inflammatory-filled breakfast of champions.
2) Green tea:
Green tea is made from unfermented tea leaves and is known to be a rich source of polyphenols. Polyphenols are phytonutrients that are known to have both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects.  Green tea also contains EGCG that is believed to reduce vascular inflammation which occurs in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. 
Not only is this an alternative to steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications, it is a tasty, relaxing treat as well.
3) Chili Peppers:
Capsaicin is the active component in chili peppers that is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. As an added bonus, it also helps soothe nerve pain as well. Capsaicin is responsible for giving chili peppers its spice and makes up approximately 12% of the pepper. It works by inhibiting the transcription factor NF-kb which is known to play a role in inflammatory cascade reactions. 
Capsaicin can be utilized in both oral or topical formulations. When using topically, remember it will likely cause a burning-type effect on your skin and should not be applied near your eyes. Always make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after use.
It’s not the tumeric itself that has an anti-inflammatory effect, but the curcumin that is within the tumeric. Curcuminoids pack a significant anti-inflammatory punch and have been used for years in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines. 
As an added bonus, curcumin has also been used to treat a number of digestive disorders and can better control blood glucose levels in diabetics. Learning to cook with tumeric can be a healthy and yummy addition to your chef skills.
5) White willow bark:
As the name implies, bark from the white willow tree is a remedy used to combat inflammation. It has been referred to as Mother Nature’s alternative to Aspirin–only with fewer side effects. It works via blockade of both COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes that play a role in the production of prostaglandins which are pro-inflammatory within the body.
In my opinion, the best way to incorporate the ant-inflammatory effects of white willow bark is through the tea formulation. It can also be consumed as capsules with the recommended daily dose being 240mg/day. 
Given the similarities between white willow bark and Aspirin, it is not recommended that children use this remedy as it can predispose them to Reye’s syndrome.  It should also be avoided in pregnant or breastfeeding women. If you have a bleeding disorder or if you are on any blood thinning medications, it should also be avoided.
6) Black Pepper:
Black pepper has been used throughout history for over 4000 years and has a number of medicinal properties. In addition to having anti-inflammatory effects it is also purported to be anti-microbial and a potent antioxidant.  It’s even believed to decrease flatulence, which begs the question, why haven’t I been sprinkling this into my dog’s food for years?
Who doesn’t love a little black pepper to spice up your favorite dish? Some pasta primavera. Pepper, please. Arugula salad. Pepper. Potatoe wedges. Pepper. Butternut squash soup. Pepper. You get the drift. Not only is your meal more delicious, but you’re combating your inflammation at the same time. In the words of Emeril Lagasse, Bam!
In addition to making your breath smell fantastic, garlic is jam-packed with a number of health benefits. It helps maintain homeostasis within your immune system, has cardio-protective effects, can reduce your risk of developing a variety of gastric pathologies, and is anti-inflammatory. 
As you can see, we are starting to see a trend where delicious, natural food and spices can have incredible health benefits. No factories. No processing. No additives or preservatives. No shelling out a small fortune to pharmaceutical corporations. Just good old fashion Mother Earth offering up an anti-inflammatory smorgasbord for your enjoyment.
How about you? What are your natural remedies for inflammation? Have you tried any of the above? If so, how have they worked well for you?
*Note: It’s important to mention that the safety profile of the above anti-inflammatory agents have not been studied extensively. As with any type of medical intervention, it is always recommended that you discuss their use with your physician(s) before initiation as there may be unforeseen consequences in regard to your own medical situation. Please read our Health Disclaimer for more information.
Curtis, C. L., Hughes, C. E., Flannery, C. R., Little, C. B., Harwood, J. L., & Caterson, B. (2000). n-3 fatty acids specifically modulate catabolic factors involved in articular cartilage degradation. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 275(2), 721-724.
Riegsecker, S., Wiczynski, D., Kaplan, M. J., & Ahmed, S. (2013). Potential benefits of green tea polyphenol EGCG in the prevention and treatment of vascular inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. Life sciences, 93(8), 307-312.
Butt, M. S., Pasha, I., Sultan, M. T., Randhawa, M. A., Saeed, F., & Ahmed, W. (2013). Black pepper and health claims: a comprehensive treatise. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 53(9), 875-886.
Arreola, R., Quintero-Fabián, S., López-Roa, R. I., Flores-Gutiérrez, E. O., Reyes-Grajeda, J. P., Carrera-Quintanar, L., & Ortuño-Sahagún, D. (2015). Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. Journal of immunology research, 2015.