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Inflammation: A Symptom, Not the Root Cause of Chronic Disease - The Naturopathic Approach

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on April 14, 2023

Inflammation is often cited as the root cause of many chronic diseases, but is this assertion entirely accurate? As naturopathic doctors, our goal is to identify and treat the underlying causes of illness, rather than merely managing symptoms. Although inflammation is a significant factor in chronic diseases, it is crucial to understand that it is not a root cause in and of itself. Instead, we must delve deeper to uncover the true etiology driving the inflammation in order to effectively address chronic conditions and promote optimal health.

Understanding Inflammation

Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or infection, and is a necessary part of the healing process. In acute situations, inflammation helps to deliver nutrients and immune cells to the affected area, promoting tissue repair and recovery. However, chronic inflammation occurs when this response persists, and can contribute to the development of various health issues, such as autoimmune disorders, heart disease, and diabetes, among others. (1)

Inflammation is Not the Root Cause

While inflammation is undeniably linked to chronic diseases, it is not a root cause in and of itself. It is essential to recognize that inflammation is a symptom of an underlying issue, not the issue itself. By focusing solely on inflammation, we risk overlooking the true cause of the problem and potentially miss opportunities for effective treatment.

Uncovering the Etiology

As naturopathic doctors, our primary objective is to identify the root cause(s) of a patient's health concerns. This involves examining various factors, including genetics, lifestyle, diet, and environmental exposure, which may be driving inflammation and contributing to chronic disease. Some potential root causes of chronic inflammation may include:

  1. Poor Diet: Diets high in processed foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can promote inflammation, while nutrient-dense, whole foods can help to reduce it.
  2. Stress: Chronic stress can lead to the overproduction of cortisol, which has been linked to increased inflammation.
  3. Lack of Sleep: Insufficient or poor-quality sleep can contribute to increased inflammation, as the body requires adequate rest to maintain a healthy immune response.
  4. Environmental Toxins: Exposure to harmful substances such as pesticides, heavy metals, and air pollution can trigger inflammation.
  5. Gut Health: An imbalanced gut microbiome can lead to increased inflammation, as the gut plays a critical role in regulating immune function.

Naturopathic Approach to Addressing Chronic Disease

By focusing on the root cause(s) of inflammation, naturopathic doctors can create a personalized treatment plan to address chronic disease effectively. This approach often involves:

  1. Nutritional Counseling: Identifying and eliminating dietary triggers of inflammation, while incorporating anti-inflammatory foods.
  2. Stress Management: Incorporating relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga, to help regulate cortisol levels and reduce inflammation.
  3. Sleep Optimization: Establishing healthy sleep habits and addressing any underlying sleep disorders to ensure adequate rest.
  4. Detoxification: Reducing exposure to environmental toxins and supporting the body's natural detoxification processes.
  5. Gut Health Support: Utilizing probiotics, prebiotics, and targeted dietary interventions to restore gut balance and promote optimal immune function.

As naturopathic doctors, it is our responsibility to look beyond inflammation as a root cause of chronic disease. By uncovering the true etiology driving the inflammatory response, we can develop effective, personalized treatment plans that not only address symptoms but also promote long-term health and wellness. With a holistic and integrative approach, we can better support our patients on their journey towards optimal health.


  1. Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. 2022 Aug 8. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 29630225.

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