When you hear the word “inflammation”, the most common image is one of redness, swelling and pain. Maybe a sprained ankle, tendon or even a blister. While this is true for one form when view externally, it doesn’t always hold true. Pain is a common association with inflammation, but doesn’t always have to be present for the inflammatory process to impact health on many levels. Sometimes, it is like a smoldering fire, out of normal view, contributing to many health conditions in people, pets and horses.
Inflammation is a necessary evil in many instances and comes in two distinct forms: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is characterized by 5 cardinal signs including pain, heat, swelling, redness and loss of function. This type of inflammation is often seen when you stub your toe or a local area of infection arises due to multiple causes. Acute inflammation is needed to rid the affected area of bacteria as well as increase blood circulation to clear damaged tissue and supply nutrients for repair. This process is temporary by nature and resolves once the condition is resolved. It is not this acute inflammation that is the concern, but more so chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation can turn into chronic inflammation given the right circumstances. Chronic inflammation is a process by which the inflammatory condition continues, releasing increased levels of inflammatory proteins (cytokines) into the blood stream, recruiting more inflammatory cells and causing tissue damage and cellular alteration. Many things contribute to chronic inflammation and we are all undergoing this process to a certain degree. Other factors include unresolved infections, uncontrolled immune responses, dietary influences, environmental factors, ongoing stress, excessive exercise, toxin exposure as well as various medication interactions including vaccines. Chronic inflammation is closely connected with the aging process in humans as well as animals and is responsible for cellular deterioration due to free radical production.
Chronic Inflammation Is The Root of The Problem
Chronic inflammation is associated with a host of conditions affecting animals as well as people. In people, there is a strong connection with arthritis, joint pain/stiffness, cancer, diabetes, allergies and cardiovascular disease. In horses, we have a direct connection with arthritis, joint deterioration, laminitis, navicular syndrome, COPD, uveitis, tendon conditions and insulin resistance. Companion pets are in the same group and are affected by arthritis, back conditions, skin conditions….the list goes on and on. Horse
As a veterinarian treating these conditions, I find there are many limitations and often times, pharmaceutical medications leave many gaps. Chronic inflammation is a huge player in overall health as well as in recovery. It is a process that I feel is not being addressed. Many prescription pain medications often times only focus on a small facet of the inflammatory process, usually affecting pain levels only, which leaves the process ongoing with tissue potentially being affected, not to mention overall health being impacted.
We have to realize that chronic inflammation is around us at all times, part of life and the reason we age. It is the cause of weakened tissues, joint deterioration, cardiac problems, allergies and many internal medical conditions. With this being said, we also have to realize that there are then things within our lives and our lifestyles that accentuate the inevitable, making matters worse and accelerating the deterioration process. Some of those contributors include diet, environmental influences, emotions, stress, lifestyle habits and even genetics.
To put this in perspective, let’s look at a person of ideal body mass index versus one that is obese or overweight due to poor eating habits. The individual that is overweight is more prone to health problems due to adding to the process of inflammation through consumption of processed foods and empty calories, not to mention carrying more weight and stressing the body. The same holds true for horses that are in competition, heavy training and stressful circumstances. They literally ‘age’ faster than the average horse, demonstrating more clinical evidence of tissue breakdown in the joints and tendons. The stress and heightened cortisol levels adds to the already present inflammation, but is often made worse when we figure into the equation the processed feeds many horses are consuming.
How To Manage Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a part of our lives and that of our horses and pets. It is a reality, but there are things we can do to minimize or slow the impact.
First, diet must be addressed, reducing as much processed foods as possible as not only are they often void of nutritional value, but they can contribute to the process through their additives, preservatives and high sugar content. Processed foods are anything that is not in the food’s natural form. This concept applies to horses and pets as well in terms of their feeds. Pelleted feeds in horses are the epitomy of processed foods in most circumstances, often supplying very little in nutrient value but more contributing to many health conditions in my opinion. Dry kibble food for pets is also processed foods by definition, despite what the ingredient label states. We are all designed to consume our foods in their most natural form and anything beyond this may be contributing to health problems due to lack of nutrient provision. The label may say “chicken”, but when was the last time you saw chicken that looked like a small brown kibble?
While on the concept of diet, we have to realize that there are many beneficial herbs, which are food, that can be consumed to not only provide nutrients in their natural forms, but many also possess the ablity to impact the inflammatory process at a cellular level. Curcumin and Boswellia, have been heavily researched and proven effective on multiple levels against inflammation, often times superior to prescription medications, impacting the process at a cellular level. The wonderful thing about most herbs is that they impact many negative cellular pathways by returning things to more normal levels, which helps to minimize side effects. They also impact many more pathways than traditional medications, specifically anti-inflammatories. Even herbs such as Ashwaghanda and Spirulina blue green algae provide many health and inflammation sparing benefits, including nutritent provision to support overall cellular health and cortisol reduction associated with stress. The problem with consuming these ‘super foods’ is that most people are turned off by their flavor or aroma, which is due to our over consumption of sugar loaded processed foods. Sometimes, this holds true for horses and pets as well. In reality, the herbs are good, but our sense of taste has become askew.
Given the major connection between ongoing inflammation and disease, the ultimate question is ‘what are you doing to control chronic inflammation?”
Thank you all again for your support and I hope you find this information valuable!
Tom Schell, D.V.M.
Nouvelle Research, Inc.