Anti-inflammatory medications are, without a doubt, one of the biggest selling medication classifications in the Western world. According to the June 17, 1999 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors wrote more than 70 million prescriptions for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or “NSAIDs.” On top of that, more than 30 billion over-the-counter NSAID tablets (aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, etc.) were sold in the United States in that year. But while these medications offer temporary relief for our everyday aches and pains, what exactly is their function? Are they healing or are they masking beneficial symptoms? Are their better alternatives? The answers to these questions may surprise you.
Inflammation can be a normal process designed to heal the body. Inflammation begins with the release of a fatty acid called arachidonic acid. Triggers for arachidonic acid release include chemical or environmental toxin exposure, bacterial or viral infection, or injury and trauma. Once released, arachidonic acid is converted to compounds called prostaglandins, specifically one called PGE2 which brings about the signs and symptoms of inflammation: redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Each of these symptoms, while uncomfortable, is a sign that the body is repairing itself and protecting itself from further injury.
NSAIDs and other anti-inflammatory medications stop the conversion of arachadonic acid to prostaglandins at various locations in the pathway. They can also have side effects on the body which include ulcers, intestinal bleeding, liver damage, kidney failure, headache, and more. Remember that the symptoms of inflammation indicate an attempt of the body to heal by increasing its metabolic processes. By suppressing the symptoms of inflammation, healing never actually occurs, the body can remain inflamed, and the cycle will begin again.
So how can we support the inflammation process, but reduce the symptoms that are so uncomfortable? One answer lies with essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids or EFAs are fats that come directly from our diet or from supplementation. They are called essential because our body cannot make them on its own and we must provide them through the diet. The most beneficial EFAs are the Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. The Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely powerful. In the body’s constant search for balance, it directly synthesizes an anti-inflammatory prostaglandin called PGE3 from Omega-3 fatty acids. Adequate amounts of PGE3 inhibit the inflammatory process and ensure that inflammation does not overwhelm the individual. In other words, omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation and bring balance to the body. This balance brings allows the body to heal and lessens uncomfortable inflammatory symptoms.
The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is cold-water fish like salmon, trout, halibut, sardines, and cod. These fish are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids. Another very beneficial source of EFAs is marine phytoplankton. Marine phytoplankton are microscopic single-celled plants which provide high levels of vitamins, minerals, and EFAs. They are the beginning of the food chain, the food for whales, and a great source of foundational nutrition. Marine phytoplankton is finally available for human supplementation and appears very promising at supporting optimal health. As with any nutritional supplement, finding a good product is very important. Knowing your source will ensure that you have a properly prepared and formulated product that will work effectively. Sources we have found to be reputable and beneficial can be found here.
Balancing the inflammatory response with omega-3 fatty acids is not typically done as a quick fix for an acute inflammatory response. For example, fish oils will not provide immediate relief for sports injuries, headaches, etc. Ice, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, and herbs are more effective in those situations. Instead, omega-3 fatty acids are most beneficial in supporting chronic inflammatory conditions like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, eczema, colitis, and autoimmune conditions
Essential fatty acids play a key role in balancing the inflammatory response in the body. They do not suppress healing, but instead support the body’s own anti-inflammatory response. Doing this ensures that healing occurs effectively and efficiently. So the next time you reach for that bottle of aspirin for your chronic pain, remember the marine phytoplankton and the friendly fish and their oils. They may be what you need to live pain and inflammation free.