By Sarah A LoBisco, ND

It’s the “million dollar pathway” in pharmaceuticals. Various pills and potions are aimed at manipulating it, quenching it, and naming the latest initiator of it to halt. It’s the curse word in pain management! What is “it”? It’s inflammation.

In a previous blog, I discussed the process of inflammation, how it contributes to disease processes, and various natural methods on how to turn it down naturally. I also discussed how inflammation in one area of the body affects distant areas. Specifically, how inflammation in the digestive track leaks into the body and settles in joints, organs, and the brain.  However, let me caution you before you start shouting curse words at inflammation.It is not the bad guy it’s marketed to be. As a Naturopathic and functional medical practitioner, I have to consider the purpose and cause of symptoms, including inflammation.  

The key point of this article is to show that although inflammation is suffering from a bad rap as the cause of all the modern woes, it’s not a good idea to completely shut it down. Politics aside, in the body, moderation is truly the key, especially with quenching out the fire of inflammation.

Inflammation does serve a purpose; it is the body’s action response when there is an invader or trauma to the system. The reason we get red, hot, and swollen is because the body is bringing in all the immune troopers and increasing blood flow to the affected area in order to bring nutrients and support to heal it. However, it is when inflammation continues chronically, or if no land troops (AKA white blood cells) can get to the site of trauma, that the body becomes imbalanced and dysfunctional.

Think about it-if inflammation really is the ultimate demon of function in the body, then we could all just take natural anti-inflammatories and be cured. It’s not that simple.

For example, some trials provide evidence that Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, NSAIDs; help prevent brain changes in Alzheimer’s, while other studies report just the opposite.  Furthermore, too much anti-inflammatory action of NSAIDs shuts off the pathway that protects the lining of the digestive tract, increasing risk of ulcer. What is the reason for this? The answer lies in balance, addressing the cause, and supporting the body to heal, not just suppressing its response through manipulating it.

Jeffrey Bland explained the biochemistry of the manipulation of the inflammation response in a recent edition of the Townsend Letter. If one just attempts to shut down the body’s inflammatory signals without addressing the factors that control the signals, or ignoring a person’s unique biochemistry and lifestyle,  the wrong pathway or factors could be halted, creating more damage.

This is why research studies of why things work and what pathway they modulate can be helpful in clinical medicine. In individualized medicine the idea is not to find general recommendations for the public and a million dollar drug panacea, but to custom tailor treatment and work with the body’s response according to each individual’s needs.

The good news is diet and natural compounds tend to have within them the innate ability to balance out the transcription and inflammatory pathways, not through manipulation, but through nutrition.

According to Dr. Bland,

It has recently been discovered that omega-3 fatty acids modulate inflammation in part by their influence on the regulation of specific kinase signaling pathways that control nuclear regulatory factor activity and inflammatory gene expression.27,28 Supplementation studies in humans with omega-3 EPA and DHA have demonstrated their impact on regulating inflammatory pathways without blocking the housekeeping inflammatory functions.29,30These mechanistic characteristics of this class of bioactive food-derived substances impart a unique safety and efficacy profile from those of traditional anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs.

Recently, it seems that Krill oil is the latest natural “anti-inflammatory fish oil,” and probably for good reason. According to a recent newsletter in Vital Choice:

Endocannabinoids (ECs) help regulate pain and inflammation signals, and are needed for appetite regulation and for “working” memory. Starting several years ago, researchers began to find and detail unhealthful “dysregulation” (abnormal activity) of key ECs in overweight/obese animals and humans.

In their study, supplemental krill oil partially reversed adverse EC-system changes seen in mice fed a high-fat, obesity-inducing diet. The high-fat diet, rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, was associated with an increase in levels of ECs in all tissues except the liver and subcutaneous (under-skin) adipose tissue.

Feeding these overstuffed mice krill oil for eight weeks reduced the levels of both ECs associated with weight gain(anandamide and/or 2-AG), in all tissues except the liver. Importantly, these beneficial effects usually occurred in a dose-dependent manner, which strengthens the case that krill oil was responsible.

Furthermore, fish oil’s effects seem to go beyond inflammation and weight loss. One journal reported:

Dietary (n-3) long-chain PUFA [(n-3) LCPUFA] ameliorates several metabolic risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, although the mechanisms of these beneficial effects are not fully understood.

Other studies also report that eating a diet that is anti-inflammatory and full of beneficial fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, has positive effects on heart, brain, and immune health. Therefore, when dealing with any symptom, remember that moderation and balancing the body is key, not manipulating its response.

It’s important to address the cause of any symptom and modulate the response as it heals by making changes along the way. Don’t just take fish oil because you are in pain, but look at why. If your diet consists of sugar, you are partaking in inflammatory lifestyle patterns, have high stress, and not resting; fish oil or popping NSAIDs won’t cut it for true healing, maybe symptom control short term. There is no panacea, but there is balancing and nourishing the body for optimal health.

Click here for bonus article links on how to manage pain symptoms holistically with excerpts from Dr. Northrup.


Bland, J. Making Clinical Sense of the Inflammation/Chronic Disease Story. Townsend Letter. June 2011.

Wetherby, C. Krill Oil Kills the Munchies in Mice. Vital Choice Newsletter. July 22, 2011.,b1h0JlRD

Batetta B, Griinari M, Carta G, Murru E, Ligresti A, Cordeddu L, Giordano E, Sanna F, Bisogno T, Uda S, Collu M, Bruheim I, Di Marzo V, Banni S. Endocannabinoids may mediate the ability of (n-3) fatty acids to reduce ectopic fat and inflammatory mediators in obese Zucker rats.J Nutr. 2009 Aug;139(8):1495-501. Epub 2009 Jun 23.

Laura Firetag. Alzheimer’s Disease: Genetic or Lifestyle? Innate Response Blog. July 27, 2011.

Jennifer L. Bayer-Carter, MS; Pattie S. Green, PhD; Thomas J. Montine, MD, PhD; Brian VanFossen, PhD; Laura D. Baker, PhD; G. Stennis Watson, PhD; et al. Diet Intervention and Cerebrospinal Fluid Biomarkers in Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (abstract). Arch Neurol. 2011;68(6):743-752. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.125

Mayo Clinic Staff. Mediterranean diet: Choose this heart-healthy diet option. Accessed July 2011.