Posted October 2011
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Natural Alternatives to Support the
by Martin Gallagher, MD, DC
Just as the term “antioxidant” went from an academic concept
to an almost household word, we may be seeing a similar shift
with the use of the term “inflammation.” Researchers are
continuing to uncover that chronic inflammatory processes may
be at the root of many health problems. While inflammation is
a necessary and important process in the body, especially for
healing of the body following acute injury, it appears that the
presence of a chronic imbalance in favor of pro–inflammatory
pathways can tip the scale toward the development of disease.
This is not necessarily the type of inflammation that makes
your joints hurt after a strenuous bout of exercise, but rather
persistent, low-level inflammation that exists throughout the
body. Many biomarkers and indices of inflammation have
been revealed in recent years in an attempt to better quantify
these processes, including but not limited to C-reactive
protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL–6), IL–10, IL–18, monocyte
chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP–1), and tumor necrosis
Some of these markers have been correlated with the development of chronic disease, and while the exact temporal relationship between the inflammatory markers and the disease processes is not fully understood, there does appear to be a link. Elevated levels of CRP have been associated with decreased cardiovascular health and blood sugar management and weight loss has been shown to significantly reduce levels of the inflammatory biomarkers IL–6, and TNF–a as well as CRP.
One of the major questions for the integrative healthcare professional is: Are there natural products that can beneficially support the inflammatory processes? The answer is a resounding YES. Many natural compounds possess inflammatory supportive properties that may beneficially impact health, and these products are gaining more attention in the public eye as a result of basic research. Covering every natural product that has shown anti-inflammatory potential is beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to highlight a few natural products that have been the focus of recent interest. Here I list four compounds that I find interesting and briefly describe how I use these in my practice.
Pine Bark Extract: A brand of standardized French maritime pine bark extract called Pycnogenol® has been the focus of a significant amount of research over the last 20 years, much of which has centered on its support of inflammation. In addition to its ability to scavenge free radicals, this extract has demonstrated the ability to inhibit NF–kB dependent gene expression and decrease the activity of pro–inflammatory mediators. Interestingly, subjects who ingested oral Pycnogenol® demonstrated a reduced plasma secretion of matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9). Proteinases such as MMP9 can be produced during chronic inflammation and can result in the breakdown of cellular integrity. Pycnogenol® has been safely used in doses of 50–450 mg daily for up to six months in adults. I recommend 25–50 mg of Pycnogenol® one to three times daily for my patients.