4 Inflammation-Busting Therapies You Won’t Believe (Hint: Poop Transplants!)
Inflammation is the one underlying factor that links all modern chronic health problems. From cancer, heart disease and autoimmune conditions to digestive, brain and hormone problems, inflammation is the commonality.
Most of functional medicine focuses on four practical, natural areas to regain health:
- Comprehensive labs: Getting to the root cause of health problems such as gut dysfunctions, immune imbalances, toxicity and nutrient deficiencies.
- Foods: Using meals as medicine, the foods we eat will either feed health or disease.
- Natural medicines: Herbal and natural medicines are customized based on labs to support and nourish the body so that your body can thrive.
- Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle modifications are also tailored to the individual in functional medicine. Using tools such as mindfulness meditation, yoga and tai chi are some ways I address the mind-body component to healing.
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Some stubborn inflammatory problems also call for more advanced tools.
These tools are not your mother’s, run-of-the-mill generic ideas, let’s take it to the next level.
Here are 4 unconventional ways people are fighting against inflammation:
1. Helminthic therapy
Autoimmune conditions, where the immune system attacks the body, have exploded to epidemic proportions over the last few decades, affecting an estimated 50 million Americans. To put that in perspective, there are around 14 million living Americans who have been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.
Millions more have undiagnosed autoimmune spectrum problems, suffering with unexplained symptoms of inflammation. What was once a rarity is now commonplace.
In addition to the many functional medicine tools for autoimmune diseases such as food and natural medicines, there is one therapy you may not have heard about: helminth therapy.
Helminths (1) are parasitic worms such as hookworms, whipworms, and threadworms.
These creepy guys have evolved to live within humans and animals, and eat what their host eat. Yum.
Helminthic therapy, is the treatment of autoimmune diseases and other inflammatory conditions, by deliberately giving yourself parasites!
It may sound disgusting, but research suggested (2) a beneficial effect of helminth infections on autoimmune conditions such as inflammatory bowel conditions (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes and asthma.
How does it work? Well those parasites have evolved with humans, and they are remarkably savvy at surviving inside of you.
These sneaky bugs are able to go undetected and unharmed by turning off (3) inflammation (Th1 and Th17 cells) and increasing immune-balancing (regulatory T) cells! Human and animal studies have provided evidence of decreased Th1 and Th17 immune responses. Result: Less inflammation and symptoms.
Researchers believe this is one reason (4) why autoimmune diseases are exploding in industrialized nations while developing countries, where parasites are more common, have less cases of autoimmunity.
Your microbiome, the trillions of bacteria in your gut, is the foundation to your health. Where 80% of your immune system resides, the majority of chronic inflammatory problems are linked to microbiome problems.
Bacterial imbalances (dysbiosis) has been shown to be an underlying trigger to many inflammatory health problems.
Bacteriotherapy (5) is one way to reset balance to the microbiome.
Bacteriotherapy or fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) is, you guessed it, a poop transplant!
Fecal transplants are more commonly known as a treatment for inflammatory gut problems such as c. difficile infections and colitis, case reports have also shown it to be helpful (6) for problems such as chronic fatigue syndrome, parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity, metabolic disorders, allergies, and brain problems!
Fecal transplants are a promising way to reset unhealthy, damaged microbiomes to balance the immune system and therefore calm inflammation.
Does enduring freezing temperatures, below -200 degrees Fahrenheit sound like a good time?
Whole body cryotherapy (WBC), which involves standing in a deep-freezing tank for a few minutes (typically 2-4 to be exact) to decrease inflammation in the body.
Some small-scale studies have shown (7) that cryotherapy was effective for people with inflammation in their muscles and joints.
There are a growing number of cryo spas popping up around the world, so check one out near you.
4. Flotation tanks
The speed of our hectic lives can be stressful. Chronic stress has been shown to raise inflammation levels in many ways.
Now imagine a place of quiet and silence with no light, no touch, no movement. Imagine floating effortlessly in a pitch black tank filled with salty water, the temperature of your skin.
Flotation REST, or Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy provides a place for you and your inflammation to calm the heck down.
Flotation REST involves floating in buoyant water in a light and sound-proof tank.
When you are floating weightless with no external stimuli, it activates, inflammation-busting pathways in the body.
A meta-analysis (8) found that flotation therapy lowered stress hormones and stress levels better than relaxation exercises, biofeedback or even relaxing on the couch (gasp!)
Small studies have shown that flotation therapy improved inflammatory stress-induced problems such as fibromyalgia, headaches, (9) insomnia, (10) high blood pressure, (11) chronic pain, and rheumatoid arthritis. (12)
The floaters in the studies reported less pain and anxiety, better sleep and generally feeling happier. Sounds good to me.
Just like cryo spas, float spas are the next big things to pop up in a city around you.
So what now?
Are these tools for everyone? No, but in addition to the functional medicine foundations of food and herbal medicines, they can be amazing pieces to calm inflammation.
Talk with your doctor about your health and options.
Will your mainstream doctor know about these options? Since these tools are not in pill form, probably not. But information is power.
So, you’ve heard it here first. The awareness for evidenced based natural medicine options like functional medicine is growing. Something tells me you will be hearing more and more about these health tools in the near future.
As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.
- Helmby, H. Human helminth therapy to treat inflammatory disorders- where do we stand?. BMC Immunol 16, 12 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12865-015-0074-3
- Elliott DE, Weinstock JV. Helminthic therapy: using worms to treat immune-mediated disease. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009;666:157-166. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-1601-3_12
- Finlay, C.M., Walsh, K.P. and Mills, K.H.G. (2014), Induction of regulatory cells by helminth parasites: exploitation for the treatment of inflammatory diseases. Immunol Rev, 259: 206-230. doi:10.1111/imr.12164
- Weinstock JV, Summers R, Elliott DEHelminths and harmonyGut 2004;53:7-9.
- Huovinen P. Bacteriotherapy: the time has come. BMJ. 2001;323(7309):353-354. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7309.353
- Xu MQ, Cao HL, Wang WQ, et al. Fecal microbiota transplantation broadening its application beyond intestinal disorders. World J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(1):102-111. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i1.102
- Bleakley CM, Bieuzen F, Davison GW, Costello JT. Whole-body cryotherapy: empirical evidence and theoretical perspectives. Open Access J Sports Med. 2014;5:25-36. Published 2014 Mar 10. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S41655
- Dirk van Dierendonck & Jan Te Nijenhuis (2005) Flotation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) as a stress-management tool: A meta-analysis, Psychology & Health, 20:3, 405-412,
- Rzewnicki R., Wallbaum A.B.C., Steele H., Suedfeld P. (1990) REST for Muscle Contraction Headaches: A Comparison of Two REST Environments Combined with Progressive Muscle Relaxation Training. In: Suedfeld P., Turner J.W., Fine T.H. (eds) Restricted Environmental Stimulation. Recent Research in Psychology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4613-9701-4_15
- Ballard, E. J. (1989). The use of flotation rest in the treatment of persistent psychophysiological insomnia (T). University of British Columbia. Retrieved from https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/ubctheses/831/items/1.0098140
- Kristeller JL, Schwartz GE, Black H. The use of restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) in the treatment of essential hypertension: two case studies. Behav Res Ther. 1982;20(6):561-566. doi:10.1016/0005-7967(82)90034-1
- Turner J., DeLeon A., Gibson C., Fine T. (1993) Effects of Flotation REST on Range of Motion, Grip Strength and Pain in Rheumatoid Arthritics. In: Barabasz A.F., Barabasz M. (eds) Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4684-8583-7_31
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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