You may know why antioxidants are good for the body—they fight free radicals and slow the signs of aging. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson talks about how plant-based antioxidants can help prevent inflammation and oxidative damage. Look for them in brightly colored fruits and veggies, or through dietary supplements such as green tea, ginkgo and hawthorn, and superfruits such as acai and mangosteen.
Enzymes aren’t just vital for digestion—they’re important for the function of every cell in the body. In order to maintain balance in the structure and function of cells, tissues and organ systems, there are millions of metabolic enzyme reactions happening in your body.
Where do enzymes come from? Enzymes are proteins made by the pancreas, liver, gall bladder and other organs—as well as by every living cell—to enable biochemical reactions. Digestive enzymes are particularly important because they break down food (including protein, fat and carbohydrates), a process that in turn provides energy to the body. Digestive enzymes are made primarily in the pancreas.
Enzymes are also available in raw foods in our diet (but once foods have been heated/cooked or processed, the enzymes become damaged and unavailable for assisting digestion of that food). Pineapple enzymes (known as bromelain) and papaya enzymes (papain) are two highly concentrated raw sources of enzymes that can be especially helpful, and both are commonly sold in supplements.
You may also want to supplement if you’re experiencing symptoms such as painful digestion, gas/bloating, heartburn and diarrhea/constipation. Supplementing with plant-based digestive enzymes can also increase the body’s capacity to produce other systemic, inflammation-fighting enzymes—more on that below.
The digestive tract isn’t the only place our body uses enzyme reactions, however. Systemic (also known as proteolytic or metabolic) enzymes can help break down inflammation in the body. Inflammation is mediated by the immune system and is a natural and necessary response in every cell of the body. However, higher levels of inflammation have been associated with aging and it’s important to maintain a healthy inflammation response.
Enzymes can help decrease inflammation in different bodily systems (e.g. joints, heart, lungs, blood, immune, breasts, prostate, skin), and supplementation with systemic enzymes can help with aches, pains and muscle soreness from everyday activity. Experts believe that systemic enzymes can also help cleanse blood of foreign invaders such as viruses, therefore strengthening the immune system as well as breaking down scar tissue in the body.
Are digestive and systemic enzymes one in the same? It’s believed that enzymes are utilized differently when taken at different times. When enzymes are taken with a full stomach, for example, they will work on digesting food. If taken on an empty stomach, they can help break down other proteins in the body, such as those causing inflammation.
But supplement forms of digestive and systemic enzymes generally contain different levels of enzyme activity to accomplish what’s desired. Though you may see some positive benefits by taking a high-quality digestive enzyme on an empty stomach, it won’t generally have the same effect as taking a formula that is optimized for systemic use.
Systemic enzymes to try:
Wobenzym from Garden of Life
Bromelain from Jarrow Formulas or Pharmaca
Enzymedica’s SerraGold (helps improve circulation, speed tissue repair, alleviate joint discomfort, support heart health and relieve respiratory complaints)
Enzymedica’s Natto-K (to support circulation)
Enzymedica’s ViraStop (to help breakdown toxins and debris in blood)
Ultimately, the body is designed to make the digestive and metabolic enzymes we need. But just like many other bodily functions, this process slows as we age. By supplementing with digestive enzymes the body can focus on making metabolic enzymes—the “energy of life” needed to forge every biochemical reaction in the body.
Inflammation: It’s vital to our body’s natural healing process. It clots blood, fights infection and heals wounds. But certain factors, such as allergies, injury or poor diet, can keep your body in a constant state of inflammation.
“Usually what happens is there’s an event, like an injury, surgery or other stressful event, that kicks our immune system into action,” says Dr. Ashleigh Putnam, naturopathic doctor and lead practitioner at Pharmaca’s Monterey store. “The immune cells come to the area and do their work, but if that work doesn’t die down, our body continues to be under a state of stress.”
So what causes the immune system to stay in gear after the work is done? It could be poor lifestyle habits, such as a diet high in animal proteins or grains, smoking or too much alcohol, chronic allergies, prescription drugs or even just normal wear and tear as we age. Chronic inflammation is, basically, any time your body has to work harder to heal itself.
If a joint, for example, is overused, Ashleigh says, “The joint gets swollen, the cartilage can wear down, there’s not as much fluidity in the joint, and it stays inflamed because your body’s under the impression that there’s an issue.” Inflammation in the gut, on the other hand, may be spawned from a bad infection or a course of antibiotics that wipe out good bacteria and make it more difficult to absorb nutrients from food.
But inflammation comes with a variety of symptoms, and it’s not always easy to identify the culprit. “It could start with aches and pains, getting sick frequently, sinus congestion, indigestion, skin issues, joint swelling or stiffness,” says Ashleigh. You can also ask a doctor for a blood test that measures c-reactive proteins (CRPs), a general marker for inflammation. “While most of us will see somewhat elevated CRPs, it can be markedly elevated in someone with chronic inflammation.” Ashleigh adds that there are very specific CRP levels that are an indication of inflammation of the heart, so it can be helpful for those concerned with cardiovascular issues.
Fortunately there are a variety of dietary and supplement options that can help. Ashleigh recommends inflammation-fighting omega-3s from fish or flax. “You want to maintain a balance of omega-3s and 6s,” she says. “We get a lot of 6s in our diet anyway (through animal proteins and grains), so you have to balance it out.” Ashleigh recommends Nordic Naturals’ Ultimate Omega, especially the liquid version that provides 3,000 mg of omega-3s per teaspoon. Limiting inflammatory foods like beef, chicken and pork, adds Ashleigh, can also be helpful.
“Probiotics can help rebalance and repopulate your gut with good bacteria,” says Ashleigh, who recommend’s MegaFood’s MegaFlora. “Probiotics boost gut health, which in turn helps your immune system, which controls the inflammation response.” Probiotics, therefore, can help break the cycle of inflammation. Along the same lines, digestive enzymes can be really helpful to break down food and help get more nutrients.
Next, Ashleigh says, add in an anti-inflammatory like the turmeric found in Thorne Research’s Meriva-SR. Turmeric can help with a variety of types of inflammation, including in the joints, skin and gut. “In Thorne’s formulation, the turmeric is bound to a fat molecule, which makes it much more absorbable,” Ashleigh says. Another great choice is New Chapter’s Zyflamend, which combines turmeric with circulation-boosting rosemary and ginger and antioxidants like green tea.
Another important inflammatory issue to look at it your allergy state. “Allergies are a kind of inflammatory response, so if it’s chronic, then you become more susceptible to infection, other allergies or inflammation elsewhere in the body,” Ashleigh says. That’s why, she says, it’s good to maintain a low allergy response. “I really like WishGarden’s Kick-Ass Allergy, as well as a xylitol nasal spray to nourish the nasal passages.”
Finally, Ashleigh says, make sure you’re resting well. “Sleep is when your body fixes itself, so getting a good night’s sleep can have a big impact on overall inflammation,” she says.
If you’re concerned about inflammation, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about natural options.
Want to learn more about the link between aging and inflammation? We found this fascinating article from Discover Magazine about how inflammation may be the most controllable element in the aging process.
"When you start to think about aging as a consequence of inflammation...you start to see old age in a different, much more hopeful light. If decrepitude is driven by an overactive immune system, then it is treatable. And if many chronic diseases share this underlying cause, they might all be remedied in a similar way. The right anti-inflammatory drug could be a panacea, treating diabetes, dementia, heart disease, and even cancer."
But prescription drugs aren't the only solution to inflammation. Exercise, diet and herbal remedies can all play a vital role in controlling inflammation throughout our lives. Read more about our practitioners' recommendations.
Here are a few other resources that can help:
- Six Steps to Preventing Inflammation (via wholeliving.com)
- Dr. Andrew Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet(via drweil.com)
- Dr. Perricone’s list of inflammatory foods to stay away from (via oprah.com)