Anti-Inflammatory Diet

All health care starts with diet. My recommendations for a healthy diet are here:
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle.
There are over 190 articles on diet, inflammation and disease on this blog
(find topics using search [upper left] or index [lower right]), and
more articles by Prof. Ayers on Suite101 .

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Simple Remedies

Simple is usually best. Traditional herbal cures are tried and true. I learn a lot about biology by studying what works in herbal medicine. Some simple plant products, such as Vicks Vaporub, are very potent cures for what typically ails you. Castor oil is an excellent topical pain killer.

Herbs and spices excite our senses and dominate cuisines. Cultures are identified by their food, but the use of particular plant materials to food is not a random act of history, nor is it limited to the regions where the herbs and spices first appeared. Research by Paul Sherman at Cornell, and others has shown that herbs and spices that are used in a culture are also the most effective at inhibiting pathogens and parasites where that food is traditionally served.

I must talk about some related experiences that touch on the same subject, but are simply fun explanations of cultural practices. Milk is used in some interesting cultlural practices, because it has very potent anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal components -- milk keep newborns well nurished, but also safe from nasty germs, etc. while the immune system the baby matures. Two astoundingly disparate applications of milk come to mind: pruning fruit trees and walking hot coals. I have observed both. I previously worked with plant pathologists and I watched pruners sanitize their shears in milk between trees. The milk stopped the spread of viruses and bacterial pathogens. I also observed firewalking in the Sri Mariamman temple in Singapore. The firewalkers stepped from the coals into a pool of milk to stop infections of their singed feet. In both examples, milk provided an abundance of anti-microbial molecules that were retasked from protecting babies to protecting trees or adult feet.

Herbs and spices are plant products that are toxic to plant pathogens or herbivores, which are retasked to protect people. Some of these, such as the curcumin in turmeric, are potentially more effective that commercial drugs. I want to point out some of the common plant materials that are very useful in our diets and to remedy common infections, aches and pains.

My current champion cure-all is Vicks Vaporub. This thick ointment has the pleasant scent of its ingredients, menthol, eukalyptol, camphor and terpentine. I associate the smell with childhood treatment for congestion. I also remember that my father used to rub it on his arthritic hands to loosen them up before a day’s work. There is a solid physiological basis for the action of Vicks. Many of the ingredients are powerful antibiotics effective against a variety of bacteria and fungi. Vicks is one of the most effective topical treatments for athlete’s foot and ringworm fungal infections. The menthol is cooling, because it binds to the cold sensing receptors and it is an effective analgesic and anti-inflammatory, because it triggers acupuncture like responses through the vagus nerve. I would also try Vicks on autoimmune conditions of the skin, because of both the anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. I have even seen Vicks recommended for the same reasons for the treatment of acne. TMJ pain and inflammation apparently responds to the menthol.

Castor oil binds to heat detecting receptors of the skin and works similarly to hot pepper capsaicin. Castor oil can be used to stop many aches and pains in arms and legs by topical applications. Since most of these plant products act through the pain sensors in the skin, they don’t actually penetrate to the joints involved, but rather they trigger release of neurotransmitters from nerves that do penetrate to the sites of interest. I also think that the use of castor oil packs applied to the skin of the abdomen, may have systemwide anti-inflammatory impact.

Garlic is the most anti-bacterial of the herbs, but most of the common herbs added to food probably affect the gut flora and shift it to a more anti-inflammatory composition. Many herbs and spices are used as topical cures for acne, because of their combined antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory qualities. Plant materials are very potent. They contain many compounds that are highly effective at low concentrations in neutralizing plant pathogens and herbivores, and so they are also very potent in their impact on the bacteria of our gut and potential on our own systems. Plants are powerful, but just because they are natural does not mean that they are safe. Plants are also rich sources of poisons. Domesticated plants are safer, because we have selected for variants that have lower levels of the compounds that the plants need to otherwise protect themselves. This also means that the compromised varieties need to be sprayed with antibiotics, e.g. apple trees sprayed with streptomycin, fungicides and herbicides. We have traded one group of plant toxins for manmade toxins. All this aside, plants are necessary for our health, but it is better to browse over many different plants than eat a lot of just one. Grains are a relatively recent addition as large components of the human diet, and should also be limited because of their high starch and inflammatory omega-6 oil content.

Turmeric, red pepper and black pepper are commonly ground together and used to enhance many dishes in a variety of different cuisines. It turns out that the curcumin in turmeric and the capsaicin in red pepper are very potent anti-inflammatory agents, but they are enzymatically modified as they are absorbed through the intestines. The black pepper piperine inactivates the enzymes of the intestines and enhances the effectiveness of the other two chemicals. Thus, there has been a lot of trial and error optimization in the use of spices. It makes a lot of sense to eat the way that locals eat when traveling.


Ben said...

This post has no comments, so I'll inaugurate comment-posting here. I'm interested in herbs and spices as anti-inflammatory compounds. Are you suggesting in the above that turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties work only in conjunction with black pepper? Also, is chopped or whole raw garlic a good daily supplement? I've wondered about its potency for digestive ails. Is there an herb/spice top 5 or top 10? :-)

Dr. Art Ayers said...

I would suggest that we follow the lead of cultures with long, successful eating traditions. I visited a curry shop in Singapore and it had dozens and dozens of different herbal ingredients to compose curries specific for each dish. The ingredients were to be freshly ground together with a mortar and pestle and then added for cooking.

The point is that we are provided in a modern food store with hundreds of plant materials that can provide phytochemicals and unusual polysaccharides to select and support a complex gut flora. The gut must also participate in this process to suppress pathogens and support development of a healthy gut flora.

I think that the gut can produce a robust gut flora, if extreme eating/drug behavior is avoided, e.g. antibiotics, starch-dominant, omega-6-rich vegetable oils, vegetarian or strictly meat. Saturated fats should supply the bulk of needed calories. I consider a normal diet to be based on meat/fish/eggs/dairy with ample diverse veggies/herbs/spices. I minimize grains as problems for their high starch, inflammatory omega-6 oils and gluten.

With this basic diet, I would not expect any supplements to be needed and one should just happily eat until satisfied. With minimal dietary starch, hunger is seldom experienced and longer time between or fewer meals is natural. Blood sugar is easily regulated with fewer highs and lows. This diet is also healthier for diabetics and transition to this diet via a milk whey transition (the Drs. Eades, The 6-Week Cure) may be effective in treating many gut-related disorders.

The big missing piece in this approach is access to the hundreds of species of bacteria present in the healthy gut, but missing as part of many diseases. Perhaps the answer is dirty greens or contact with kids and animals that live outdoors.

Lots of garlic and other common ingredients are good. There is no top 5 or 10, because the list would be highly regional and change with the seasons. Pick several dozen and rotate through them. Embrace variety and novelty. Your gut should be able to regulate within that mix. Food intolerances are an indication of a sick gut flora.

Sorry that I couldn't be more prescriptive, but I think that it is unrealistic. Perhaps other readers can provides some ideas.

Thanks for your interest.

Steve said...

Hi Ben, Dr Ayers,

While this may be a little late, here's my .02c:

With tumeric, as the good Dr. mentioned, it is difficult to get effective amounts of active constituents into the blood, and consumption with other compounds found in an array of different spices is essential for absorption and utilisation (there are a few different curcuminoids that have and anti-inflammatory effect, and they are excreted very easily). Certain extracts in supplement form can be very effective in relieving chronic pain in muscular or osteo/arthritic type conditions, and I have used this to good effect when a change is diet is just too slow or not happening (due to patient comliance). Dosages are at least 400mg to 4g per day of curcumanoids for this pain relieving effect, which is impractical if you are talking real food. Long term use of small amounts of fresh spice will still have a benificial effect, when combined with the right foods, as has been described on this site.

Regarding fresh garlic supps, I would be cautious in ingesting too much fresh garlic bulb at once. As it is such a strong anti-bacterial/parasitic/fungal it can irritate the mucus lining of the gut, and even end up destroying some gut flora. This works to such a degree that I have used it in food poisening, having the patient crush and swallow a few bulbs every couple of hours, unless the 'heat' in the stomach got to much. Few hours later there were no symptoms. Garlic is extremely versatile in its uses, but again, you cant go wrong with adding 'normal' amounts to a dish everyday for the benifit traditional cultures recieve from using the herb.



Dr. Art Ayers said...

Your 2 cents are always appreciated here.

Szara said...

Dr Ayers,

I wanted to leave a comment on Vicks. For me Vicks rub seems to work better than castor oil for joint pain/inflammation when I'm experiencing a RA flare. The only downside is that my feline friends think I stink.

I have been following the anti-inflammatory diet for about 4+ months now and I have not had the need for any "proper" medication. However, I am still suffering from very painful inflammatory flares every couple of weeks. I can't seem to get a good handle on hand/feet joint swelling unless I severely limit my diet which is a total bummer and seems like the wrong answer.

Another interesting note is that I think I notice a big reduction in hand swelling with the Vagus Nerve exercises. But the effect is it short lived.

I also tried the PEG cleanse and I felt great for about 10 days. I'm wondering if it would it be worth trying that again? I saw in another post that you mentioned trying that 1 a week for about 4 weeks, but perhaps I misunderstood the information.

Thanks for sharing your interesting research/thoughts on these topics.

Dr. Art Ayers said...

I enjoy hearing about personal experiences related to my suggestions.

The remedies are useful for quick results and to check if inflammation is involved. Persistence of inflammatory flares is an indication that there is still a source of inflammation that is contributing to joint pain.

Diet is the most obvious source, so check your diet again for vegetable oils, grains, etc.

Also check your vit.D blood level. Most people are low even though they get plenty of sun exposure. Even if you supplement you could be low. Since you have an obvious symptom of chronic inflammation, joint pain and swelling, I suspect low serum vit.D.

Chronic infections are also sources of chronic inflammation and the major candidate is gum disease. Gum disease can also be an autoimmune disease associated with gluten intolerance.

Fish oil capsules should eliminate the symptoms, but that would also just show that there is still a source of inflammation.

The PEG cleanse shows that you have a problem with your gut flora. I recommend this type of stripping of gut flora and biofilms for rare use. Also, since the gut flora quickly regenerates in a few days, you will end up in the same place unless you radically change diets and supply different gut bacteria. Probiotics are far too simplistic to provide for the hundreds of bacterial species that are needed for a healthy gut flora.

Changing gut flora requires probiotics, diverse soluble plant fibers and diverse candidate bacteria. People used to be told to move to a dry climate or get some sea air to cure chronic ailments. I think that they were just being introduced to new sources of gut flora from different people, animals and food. The new bacteria will not survive cooking, so salads with dozens of different veggies (and not overly clean) are needed.

You need new bacteria and new plant foods to support them. Limiting diets to avoid triggering foods simply avoids building up the gut flora in areas that are deficient. Food intolerances are a symptom of deficient gut flora and a compromised immune system that produces autoimmune diseases such as RA.

Let me know how you do.

Szara said...

I'll give the "unwashed" salads a try for two weeks and let you know how it goes. I have been grain free and veggie oil free with the exception of EVOO. I have eliminated starchy veggies - following a strictly paleo diet plan. Although my snack food includes an ounce of nuts, sometimes dried fruit and a little bit of 85-90% dark chocolate. I also use grass fed beef and pastured pork. Dental health is and has been very good - just had a cleaning 4 months ago.

I found a place to get my VitD serum levels checked. Is there anything else that would be beneficial to test for? I recently had some standard blood work done (Hematology, Chemistry, Iron and c-reactive protein) as a prep because I am considering trying helminths as a probiotic. Everything was well within normal range except for a high eosinophil count. I hesitate on the helminths because of a trust issue, difficulty of obtaining them, and the cost. Although if they work the cost would be justified.

I'll repost in 2 weeks to let you know how things progress.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Ayers, thank you so much for the information you have provided on your blog. I have learned more in the last few months searching all your posts than I have ever learned from the medical profession. I wonder if you have any thoughts on a few questions I have.
I am a 62 year old female diagnosed at 50 with hypothyroidism. I have suffered migraines most of my adult life which changed slightly in the last 10 years...more of a sinus pain/pre-migraine that I control with Imitrix. Your post on the Migraine Diet was so illuminating. I have eliminated grains/starches, boosted my Vitamin D3 to 4000 IU (a recent test was 66ng), upped fish oil and after about 3 weeks or so my nightly migraines stopped. My hearing also seems improved.

1. My only problem with LC is that I have lost about 5-6 pounds and I was already thin. My appetite is very poor. I have always eaten fat and meat as well as carbs. Is there anything I can do to replace the missing carbs. I have been trying macadamia nuts (because of the good Omega 3 to 6 profile). Is there anything else that might help weight gain or perhaps appetite?

2. I am still struggling to understand Vit.C and oxidative stress. You indicated in a comment that “if you can’t take more than a gram a day without diarrhea that could mean that you aren’t consuming extra Vit C due to extra oxidative stress”. That seems to be an issue with me. I am not sure I know the source or understand the way to rectify it.

Thanks again for your blog. I keep thinking of all the doctors I have seen regarding migraine and not a single doctor ever suggested grains could be an issue or a connection between hypothyroidism and grains.

Szara said...

Dr. Ayers,

I checked my VitD serum levels last week. It is at 58.6 ng/ml. I have been supplementing most days with about 8,000 IU using a drop formula. I usually add the drops to my liquid fish oil supplement. I'm still having issues with joint swelling, redness and pain. I have been gluten, veg oil, and sugar free for about 5 months now.


Juan said...

I have plantar fibromatosis.
I use diclofenac gel to calm the pain and inflammation. Maybe I could try Vick or castor oil? Any other suggestion? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Ayers.
I really enjoy your site. Thanks for all the great information. I ran across I study that deals with alopecia and the use of Tumeric and Resveratrol. I was hoping you would share your thoughts on it. Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

It might be helpful if I pointed you to the study.

Henk Poley said...

@Art, would you care to post some good papers that explain the workings of the contents of Vicks VapoRub?

Karalee said...

Hello, Dr. Ayers. I just discovered your articles here and reading with great interest. Thank you for the confirmation about certain spices and herbs and their combinations and I will further research for a more "haute cuisine" :-)

Would you please also elucidate a bit more about fruits and their effects re gut flora? The reason I ask is that one year I was on an 80-10-10 diet of 80% fruits and that summer I existed on watermelon and lemons during the summer, and apples and lemons during the winter, and then I rather spontaneously went into a 13-days 24/7 dryfast (no water, no food for 13 days). During the last week of the 13 days the nitrous oxide I was given as a child during dental surgery was off-gassing and I could not stop laughing for the week - it was even sometimes embarrassing, but I'm retired and stayed mostly at home. The hardest part of the 13-days was ending it slowly because naturally I was very thirsty by that time, but, to be noted, I did pee every day except for the last two days, which caused me to end the dryfast.

I've also healed a sprained hand through fasting.

Currently I'm limited re fruits. When I do eat grains (corn or wheat or rice) I find it pre-sprouted, even seek out the einkorn wheat - or, for wheat, also sourdough. I heard that the "limed" corn is more digestible, and I'm testing out a closed pollinated corn from Paraguay.

As you suggested, I've learned to spot more edible plants in the yard and woods and pick and eat as I walk.

Thank you again for the data about combining the curcumin with the peppers. I am going to purchase the P-3 enzymes you recommended too. Without good access to fruits I feel more on the defensive re food selection, and feel I have to get really wise, wheras with my fruit diet I simply selected for ripeness and let my body intelligence tell me what to eat. Did you ever examine gut flora of largely fruit eaters - maybe even our genetic cousin, the orangutan (still living in its native environs)?

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