- 4 Natural Remedies That Fight Inflammation
- What is inflammation?
- When inflammation becomes an issue
- Inflammation and disease
- Best natural remedies for inflammation
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- 12 Easy Ways to Reduce Inflammation Overnight
- Eat a salad every day.
- Avoid getting hangry.
- Go to bed.
- Take your dog for a walk.
- Spice things up.
- Take a break from alcohol.
- Swap one coffee for green tea.
- Be gentle to your gut.
- Consider a fast.
- Cut out dairy and gluten (temporarily).
- Chill out.
- Be picky about ingredients.
- 6 Natural Ways to Ease Inflammation
- Unnecessary Inflammation
- 6 Ways to Reduce Inflammation
4 Natural Remedies That Fight Inflammation
- There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
- Acute inflammation is short-term and your body’s first response to injury; chronic inflammation is longer-term and occurs when your immune system can’t eliminate the problem.
- Causes of chronic inflammation include: inflammatory foods, toxin build-up, stress, and a gut imbalance.
- Chronic inflammation puts you at risk of serious diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
- There are safe, natural remedies that can reduce inflammation as effectively as over-the-counter painkillers. These are curcumin, ginger, stephania, and boswellia.
By now you’ve no doubt heard about inflammation, and you know that too much of it isn’t good for your body. It’s the reason why you’re adding anti-inflammatory superstars like turmeric to your Bulletproof Coffee, right? But what is inflammation exactly? What role does it play in disease? And most importantly, what can you do right now to lower it? Read on to find out the best natural remedies for keeping your inflammation levels in check.
RELATED: Get free guides, ebooks, recipes and more to supercharge your health
What is inflammation?
Your body is a miraculous vessel — it knows just what to do to heal itself. If you scrape your knee or if you come down with a virus, your immune system sends white blood cells and chemicals to the injured area to kill the invader and get to work repairing any damage. That’s inflammation — your body’s way of protecting itself from something it deems dangerous or foreign.
If you get a splinter in your toe, and it starts to swell up — that’s a sign of inflammation, and it’s a good thing. Other signs of inflammation include redness, pain, and heat. Your body creates this type of inflammation — known as acute — quickly, and it usually lasts for just a few days.
When inflammation becomes an issue
But there are times when inflammation becomes harmful. When your body can’t break down certain invaders — like some viruses or a food you’re sensitive to — the inflammation will continue, and only get worse over time. This is known as chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation comes on slowly and can stick around for months, and even years.
“What’s happening in the body is that under certain conditions, inflammatory chemicals are released from immune cells, or other cells in the body, and these chemical messengers travel throughout the body causing irritation wherever they go,” says functional medicine expert Susan Blum, MD, founder and director of BlumHealthMD and Blum Center for Health.
The main causes of chronic inflammation are:
- Inflammatory foods: Eating too many inflammatory foods, such as sugar and processed vegetable oils, and not enough anti-inflammatory foods, like vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fats. Read more about cleaning up your diet here.
- Lingering infection or injury: When acute inflammation fails and your immune system is unable to heal an infection or injury.
- Gut imbalance: Too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria in your gut is a huge driver of inflammation (more on that below).
- Stress: Your nervous system helps manage inflammation in the body. “When you have long-term, ongoing chronic stress, your stress hormones (think cortisol and adrenals) can get out of balance, allowing inflammation to get out of control,” says Blum.
- Toxins: Toxic buildup from high-mercury fish, plastics and BPA-lined cans, and pesticides and herbicides. “These toxins are cumulative and fat soluble and can stay in the body for a long time,” says Blum. “They end up in fat cells and trigger the release of inflammation.”
- Autoimmune disorder: When your immune system attacks healthy cells and tissue by mistake, releasing inflammation. That’s what leads to autoimmune digestive conditions like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
Inflammation and disease
When your body constantly pumps out inflammatory chemicals, you become chronically inflamed, putting you at risk of serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, asthma, diabetes, and gut problems.
“Chronic inflammation happens when your immune system gets stuck in the ‘on’ position and keeps churning out chemicals that make you sick,” says Kellyann Petrucci, a leading naturopathic physician and nutritionist. “I compare it to a forest fire that never goes out.”
Inflammation can cause or worsen numerous ailments and diseases, including:
Gut problems: What you choose to eat plays a big role in whether or not you develop inflammation. The gut microbiome controls 70% of your immune system function, which means 70% of inflammation in the body, says Blum. “Making sure your gut microbiome is balanced and healthy is critical,” says Blum. “This is why healing the gut is always the first step in my functional medicine practice for people with inflammation.”
Certain bacteria in the gut can cause inflammation. Too much of this bad bacteria, and not enough good bacteria, can cause serious digestive conditions including SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), dysbiosis (overgrowth of harmful bacteria) and leaky gut (when cracks develop in your intestinal lining, allowing toxins, bacteria, and undigested food to pass through and enter your bloodstream).
Related: Your IBS Symptoms May Actually Be Caused by SIBO
Heart disease: Inflammation can cause and worsen atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries. Your body views this plaque as a threat, and builds a wall to keep the flow of blood from the fatty deposits. Leukocytes (aka white blood cells) and other inflammatory cells collect in the plaque. But the wall sometimes breaks down, releasing the plaque into the blood and causing blood clots. It’s these clots that cause most heart attacks and strokes.
You can check whether you have arterial inflammation by testing your levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) — a marker of inflammation. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1110260814001173
In one study, men with higher levels of CRP — more than 2 milligrams per liter (mg/L) — had three times higher risk of heart attack and two times higher risk of stroke than men with the lowest inflammation.
Cancer: Back in the 1800s, a scientist named Rudolf Virchow first found immune cells in tumor samples. Since then, multiple studies have shown that chronic inflammation can lead to cancer. People with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, for instance, have a five- to seven-fold higher chance of developing colon cancer. The longer that you have chronic inflammation, the higher your risk is of developing cancer. For people with colitis, they would need to have had the condition for at least 8 years to increase their risk of colon cancer.
Best natural remedies for inflammation
A lot of mainstream doctors recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like aspirin and ibuprofen to manage chronic inflammation and pain. While there’s certainly a place for these drugs, they don’t target the root cause of the inflammation; they simply mask the symptoms. NSAIDS also wreck your gut and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
There are safer, natural remedies for inflammation that have been shown to work as well, and sometimes even better, than NSAIDS. You can use the following herbs on their own, but they’re even more powerful when taken together:
Many people think turmeric and curcumin are the same thing — they’re not. Curcumin is the bioactive, anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric that gives the plant its healing properties. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have used turmeric for centuries — dating back at least 4000 years — and now it’s used as a herbal medicine to treat illnesses like asthma, urinary tract infections, skin cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Curcumin is one of the safest and most powerful anti-inflammatories out there — it works by blocking the production of inflammatory cells and proteins. Studies show curcumin can treat a range of inflammatory conditions. These include:
- Post-surgery inflammation
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Curcumin is also a powerful pain-reliever, and reduces pain as effectively as and, in some cases, even more than acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and other over-the-counter painkillers, without the harmful side effects.
Related: Natural Pain Relief: 5 Ways to Relieve Pain Without Ibuprofen
Curcumin makes up just 2 percent of the turmeric root, so when choosing a supplement, make sure you pick curcumin, and not powdered turmeric root.
Your body can’t easily absorb curcumin, so combine your supplement with oil, since curcumin is fat-soluble (i.e. it dissolves in fat and is stored in your body’s fat tissue).
Piperine (black pepper extract) is a proven way to increase curcumin’s bioavailability — one study showed it improved absorption by 2000%. Because piperine isn’t Bulletproof, choose newer curcumin formulas that have shown just as high absorption without using piperine.
If you like to drink lemon ginger tea when you have a sore throat, you’re doing yourself some favors — ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. Many of this flowering plant’s benefits are thanks to a potent antioxidant compound called gingerol.
Studies show that ginger extract can de-activate NF-kB, a signalling pathway that links inflammation with various diseases, including cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Ginger can also reduce muscle soreness after working out. In one study, people who took 2 grams of ginger a day felt a significant reduction in muscle pain after 11 days.
Avoid powdered ginger — it spoils and develops mold easily. Studies have found immune-system suppressants in ginger mold. So buy it fresh, or store the powder away from heat, light, and moisture. You can also buy a ginger root supplement — dosage is between 1 and 4 grams a day, depending on what you’re using it for.
If you’re looking to ease joint pain: peel and mince 1-2 tbsps of ginger and mix with enough Brain Octane Oil — a purified form of saturated fatty acids called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) — to form a paste. Warm the paste on the stove and apply to joint for 15 minutes (you can use a wrap if you want support.)
Stephania tetrandra is a plant native to China and Taiwan. It might not be a household name in the U.S., but it’s one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in Chinese medicine. In traditional medicine, stephania is used to treat all kinds of ailments including asthma, edema (excess fluid in tissues), indigestion, wounds, and headaches.
Studies show it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory root. Stephania reduces production of inflammatory cytokines — small proteins that can cause and worsen inflammation.
Tetrandrine, a chemical compound of stephania, could also treat cancer. Research shows it can reduce the number of cancer cells, helps clean out damaged cells, and reverses tumor cells’ resistance to multiple chemotherapy drugs.
Stephania is typically taken as a tincture or in powder form. Follow the recommended dosage printed on the label.
Boswellia — also called Indian frankincense — is extracted from the boswellia serrata tree, native to India. Traditional ayurvedic texts prize boswellia for treating numerous conditions including arthritis, heart disease, fevers, and bronchitis.
Boswellia is also — you guessed it — a potent anti-inflammatory and painkiller. Research has singled out at least four acids that give boswellia resin its anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show these acids keep inflammatory cytokines in check. They can also prevent cancer growth — studies show boswellia acids attack breast cancer cells and suppress tumor growth in pancreatic cancer.
Boswellia can also be used to treat inflammatory digestive conditions like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. In a 2001 study, 90% of people with chronic colitis saw an improvement in various targets including their stools and tissue damage after taking 900mg of boswellia a day for 6 weeks.
Boswellia can also improve osteoarthritis — an inflammatory condition when the cartilage between joints wears down. In one study, people with osteoarthritis in their knee said they felt less pain after taking boswellia for eight weeks. They also said they could walk further and that their knee joint was more flexible.
Boswellia is typically taken as a capsule or pill, and dosage varies depending on the brand and what you’re hoping to treat.
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Aim for a healthy weight
Why? Obesity is described as a “state of low-grade inflammation”. Body fat (adipose tissue) releases inflammatory proteins and research shows that it suppresses anti-inflammatory proteins. “The more adipose tissue you have, the greater the source of inflammatory proteins,” says Dr Lettie Bishop, a reader in exercise immunology at Loughborough University.
How? Visit nhs.uk for its free 12-week plan for sustainable weight loss. Even if you already have an inflammatory disease, losing weight can help. According to the charity Versus Arthritis, inflammation caused by having too much body fat can make joints painful. Losing weight may reduce inflammation in any type of arthritis.
Why? “Many studies show a link between the amount of activity we do and levels of inflammatory markers,” says Dr Bishop. “One study of 4,300 people found that even though inflammation biomarkers increased over 10 years, those who remained regularly active during that time had lower levels of inflammation.”
How? “High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is very effective for reducing inflammation,” says Dr Bishop. “But it’s not for everyone. Regular brisk walking will also reduce levels of chronic inflammation. We’ve even found it to be effective in people with kidney disease (an inflammatory condition).”
Look after your oral health
Why? “Gum diseases are caused by bacteria that grow in dental plaque and they’ve been shown to increase the risk of developing systemic inflammatory disorders,” says Dr Svetislav Zaric, clinical associate professor in biomedical science at Peninsula Dental School. “For example, oral bacteria has been associated with cardiovascular disorders and detected in heart tissues, and there is a link between oral bacteria and rheumatoid arthritis.”
How? Brush morning and evening, floss regularly and keep up to date with dental check-ups. Mild gum disease (gingivitis) can sometimes be treated with good oral hygiene, but more severe cases need dental and medical treatment.
Give up smoking
Why? Giving up the cigarettes is a no-brainer but, as bad habits go, smoking is one of the most inflammatory. According to a 2018 study, smoking is a strong activator of systemic inflammation, whereas stopping is linked to a lower concentration of inflammatory markers.
How? Find support to help you quit for good at nhs.uk/smokefree.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (pauses in breathing when you are asleep) is associated with inflammation and it can lead to heart disease. ‘This appears to be because of repeated falls in oxygen level and sleep deprivation from repeated waking, both of which lead to inflammation in the cardiovascular system,’ says
Dr John O’Reilly, consultant in respiratory and sleep medicine at sleephubs.com. ‘That inflammation can cause plaque to build up in the arteries.’ Even if you don’t have sleep apnoea, getting eight hours is vital. ‘Sleep deprivation itself seems to raise inflammation,’ he explains.
If you have sleep apnoea, seek treatment from your GP. ‘There is a significant fall in inflammatory markers after treatment with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device,’ says Dr O’Reilly.
Want to know more? After struggling with her health in her 50s, journalist Maria Borelius documents her search for the ultimate anti-inflammatory lifestyle in her book, Health Revolution (HarperCollins, out 27 June).
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Good Housekeeping. SUBSCRIBE HERE
Inflammation is your body’s protective response to injury or damage. It helps your natural healing and repair processes. A problem starts when your body is chronically inflamed. Many modern stressors, such as pollution, food sensitivities and carrying extra weight, can lead to chronic inflammation.
There are many different herbs and spices that can help you reduce or prevent inflammation in your body.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to a wide variety of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
You don’t have to accept inflammation as a part of modern life. There are many different herbs that can help you reduce or prevent inflammation in your body.
1. Turmeric (Curcumin)
The anti-inflammatory agent in turmeric is its yellow pigment called curcumin. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines have long used turmeric and curcumin to reduce inflammation as well as treat digestive disorders, wounds and infections.
Studies have shown that curcumin also acts as an antioxidant and may combat cancer. Fresh or powdered turmeric is excellent in curries, soups or other dishes. Fresh turmeric can be added to fresh vegetable juices. Supplements of curcumin are also available.
2. Green Tea
The preventative effects of green tea against cardiovascular disease and cancer are well established. More recent studies have shown that green tea can be an effective anti-inflammatory, particularly in the treatment of arthritis. It can also reduce inflammation of the digestive tract, potentially helping conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
It’s recommended to drink 3 to 4 cups of tea daily. Green tea extract can also be found in pill form. And for those who don’t want the caffeine, decaffeinated green teas are available.
3. White Willow Bark
White willow tree bark has been used as a treatment for pain and inflammation since ancient Egyptian and Roman times. Many studies have shown that white willow bark has a comparable effect to aspirin, but with fewer side effects than aspirin.
The usual dose of white willow bark is 240 mg per day for ongoing conditions. There are also herbal blends that contain white willow bark which can be used for an acute event, such as a headache.
4. Maritime Pine Bark (Pycnogenol)
Bark from the maritime pine tree (Pinus maritima) can be processed into pycnogenol. This extract has been used for more than 2,000 years to help heal wounds, scurvy and ulcers as well as reducing vascular inflammation. It is one of the strongest antioxidants known today.
Studies have shown that pycnogenol is 50 to 100 times more potent than vitamin E in neutralizing free radicals in the body. It has also been found to reduce blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. A typical dosage is 100-200 mg daily.
5. Chili Peppers (Capsaicin)
The countless varieties of hot peppers we have today began as one small shrub (Capsicum annum), native to tropical regions of the Americas. The chemical capsaicin is what makes a pepper hot. And it’s capsaicin that’s been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in your body.
Any type of chili pepper, such as cayenne or jalapeno, contains capsaicin. You can use chili peppers fresh or powdered in a wide variety of dishes, including desserts. Supplements containing capsaicin are often mixed with other herbs to create natural anti-inflammatory blends.
6. Frankincense (Boswellia serrata)
Boswellia is a tree variety native to India, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula. Frankincense is a resin extracted from the trees. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic and pain-controlling properties. Boswellia resin is currently used to treat degenerative and inflammatory joint disorders.
One study showed that a combination of Boswellia and curcumin was more effective for treating osteoarthritis than a commonly used synthetic drug. It’s recommended to take 300-500 mg of Boswellia extract two or three times a day for ongoing inflammatory conditions.
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7. Black Pepper
This unassuming spice actually packs an anti-inflammatory punch. The distinctive flavor of black pepper comes from the chemical piperine. Even at low doses, piperine has been shown to reduce inflammation. It can inhibit the spread of cancer and has been shown to suppress the perception of pain and arthritis symptoms.
This is an antioxidant found in many plants. The highest amounts have been found in Japanese knot weed (Polygonum cuspidatum) and in the skins of red wine grapes. Resveratrol has been shown to be a strong anti-inflammatory. It also protects against DNA damage and mutations. You can find resveratrol as a common supplement in natural food stores. A typical dosage is from 50 to 500 mg per day.
9. Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
This herb is derived from a woody vine native to Peru. The bark of cat’s claw has traditionally been used to treat arthritis, bursitis and intestinal disorders. Studies have shown that it can reduce inflammatory responses in the body and it has a protective effect against gastrointestinal inflammation.
You can make a tea from cat’s claw from either a prepared tea or use 1000 mg of the bark to 8 ounces of water. It is also available as a dry extract in a capsule. It’s recommended to take 20 to 60 mg daily.
In one study, participants were given small amounts of various common herbs and spices for a period of 7 days. Rosemary showed one of the strongest protective effects against inflammation and oxidation.
The other top spices were turmeric, cloves and ginger. The researchers noted that the amounts given of each herb were no more than what someone would normally eat in a seasoned soup, sauce or other dish.
Clove oil can be applied directly to the gums to help with a toothache or for pain control during dental work. Cloves have been shown to reduce mouth and throat inflammation. Cloves can also be used to treat diarrhea, nausea, hernia, bad breath and as an expectorant.
The powdered or whole dried flower buds are delicious in many savory dishes as well as in desserts and hot drinks.
Research has shown that ginger has a better therapeutic effect than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat pain and inflammation. Ginger also inhibits the activation of several genes involved in an inflammatory response.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, ginger may help prevent or treat nausea and vomiting from motion sickness, pregnancy and chemotherapy. It can also be used to reduce osteoarthritic pain and heart disease. Ginger is delicious in many savory dishes, as well as in teas, juices and desserts.
Ginger has a very long history of use in various forms of traditional/alternative medicine. It has been used to help digestion, reduce nausea and help fight the flu and common cold, to name a few. Photo credit:
This popular spice is made from the bark of cinnamon trees native to China, India and Southeast Asia. In addition to being anti-inflammatory, cinnamon has been shown to have antioxidant, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, anticancer and lipid-lowering properties. It has even been found to act against neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Cinnamon goes well in anything from breakfast grains, to soups and stews, to desserts and drinks. Any pre-made apple pie or pumpkin pie spice mixes will often have cinnamon, cloves and ginger all in one tasty blend.
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12 Easy Ways to Reduce Inflammation Overnight
The subject of inflammation is everywhere lately, and the hype is for good reason. Not only can adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle reduce chronic inflammation to help you stay healthy and slow down aging, but research also suggests it can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases, joint pain, and cancer.
Best part? You don’t have to wait for months or years to start seeing results and feeling better! Small changes you make today can start reducing your inflammation overnight. Here’s what to do ASAP to start reaping the health benefits.
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Eat a salad every day.
Keep a package or two of leafy greens on hand to toss in your lunch bag or on your dinner plate. Having a cup of leafy greens—like baby spinach, arugula, kale, or lettuce—each day is one of the most beneficial diet habits you can adopt. These leafy greens offer an anti-inflammatory double-punch, thanks to antioxidants and bioactive compounds that reduce inflammation and prevent free radicals from creating new inflammation.
RELATED: Our Favorite Healthy Salad Recipes
Avoid getting hangry.
Skip the vending machine and sweetened coffee drinks, and opt instead for a fiber-rich snack with a little protein like apple slices and peanut butter, raw veggies and hummus, or a few almonds and cheese cubes. The reason is that eating a balanced snack without added sugars and refined carbs is key to keeping blood sugar within normal parameters, which in turn helps you avoid cravings, hunger, and irritability. Not only is this nicer for those around you, but avoiding peaks and drops in blood sugar also prevents inflammation in the body that can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Go to bed.
Turn off Netflix, get off social media, and head to bed a little earlier. While it may seem a little indulgent, getting 7 to 8 hours of continuous sleep is what’s considered adequate for adults and we should all aim for that as our norm. Routinely not getting enough sleep (6 hours or less) triggers inflammation—even in healthy individuals—which research suggests increases risk for metabolic issues that can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Take your dog for a walk.
Missed your workout today? Take a quick walk around the block! While regular exercise is ideal for treating and preventing most all health issues, some days there’s not enough time for a full-blown workout. However, results from a 2017 study suggest that getting just 20 minutes of movement reduces inflammatory blood markers. So, lace up your shoes and get going!
More on inflammation:
- The Best Anti-Inflammatory Diet Is Eating Healthy
- How to Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- 10 Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Spice things up.
Look for ways to add a little garlic or spice when you’re cooking dinner tonight. Fragrant and pungent spices seem like they would have the potential to aggravate inflammation, but research suggests they actually do the opposite. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest incorporating garlic, or herbs and spices such as turmeric, rosemary, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and fenugreek, decreases inflammation that could eventually lead to heart disease, brain degenerative conditions, cancer, and respiratory issues.
Take a break from alcohol.
If you like having a nightly cocktail or glass of wine, consider abstaining for a few days. This doesn’t have to be long-term, but cutting out alcohol briefly (while making other anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes) helps the body calm down and reduce existing inflammation. While research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption offers some benefits, the problem is that it’s easy to cross the line from beneficial and anti-inflammatory to harmful and inflammatory.
Swap one coffee for green tea.
If you drink 1 to 3 cups of coffee or other caffeinated drinks a day, consider swapping one of those for a cup of green tea instead. Green tea leaves are packed with polyphenol compounds, which can help reduce free radical damage to stop further inflammation. Studies suggest that regularly drinking green tea can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and joint conditions.
Be gentle to your gut.
There’s lots of hype around probiotics, but are you supporting those good microbes already living in you? Protect those existing good bacteria by cutting out added sugars, trans fats, and focusing on choosing primarily whole and minimally processed foods. It’s also worth consuming probiotic-rich foods—such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, or kimchi—every single day. Strengthening the gut’s microbe barrier is one of the cornerstones to reducing inflammation long-term.
RELATED: Reboot Your Microbiome With Our 3-Day Gut Health Makeover
Consider a fast.
Granted, it’s not for everyone, but research continues to find benefits when it comes to intermittent fasting (IF), largely due to the anti-inflammatory effects the eating pattern induces. There are several ways to approach fasting, but an easy way to start is with a 12-hour fast. This means if you finish dinner at 7 p.m., then you only consume water or black coffee until 7 a.m. the next day. Studies suggest regularly doing IF may reduce heart disease risk and improve insulin sensitivity, brain health, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Cut out dairy and gluten (temporarily).
Dairy and gluten are not usually inflammatory in healthy individuals (unless you have an allergy, intolerance, or celiac disease), but they can be irritating when there’s already existing inflammation. Some people may find it beneficial to cut out dairy, gluten, or both for a few weeks while eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and low in inflammatory ones. The thought is that this gives the body time to “calm down.” After which, you can slowly start to incorporate dairy or gluten-containing foods to see if they cause any irritation.
No matter how healthy your diet, low-grade inflammation isn’t going away if stress levels run continuously high. And even if stress isn’t too much of daily problem, learning how to manage and cope when it does occur is key for preventing new inflammation. Finding healthy ways to escape that stress—for example, by practicing yoga, meditating, or taking a short walk—provides quick relief psychologically and anti-inflammatory effects physiologically.
Be picky about ingredients.
Additives, dyes, preservatives, and other ingredients regularly added to foods all have the potential to trigger or aggravate inflammation—particularly if you have a weaker gut barrier—so take a look at the ingredient list on products in your pantry and fridge. Are the ingredients listed what you might use if making the food from a recipe at home? If yes, then this is likely a minimally processed product and a good choice. If not, opt for another brand or substitute when shopping next time.
Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award. You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.
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Inflammation in the body is a normal and healthy response to injury or attack by germs. We can see it, feel it and measure it as local heat, redness, swelling, and pain. This is the body’s way of getting more nourishment and more immune activity into an area that needs to fend off infection or heal. But inflammation isn’t always helpful. It also has great destructive potential, which we see when the immune system mistakenly targets the body’s own tissues in (autoimmune) diseases like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Whole-body inflammation refers to chronic, imperceptible, low-level inflammation. Mounting evidence suggests that over time this kind of inflammation sets the foundation for many serious, age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Recent evidence indicates that whole-body inflammation may also contribute to psychological disorders, especially depression – for more on this, see my new book, Spontaneous Happiness, which will be released November 8, 2011.
The extent of this chronic inflammation is influenced by genetics, a sedentary lifestyle, too much stress, and exposure to environmental toxins such as secondhand tobacco smoke. Diet has a huge impact, so much so that I believe that most people in our part of the world go through life in a pro-inflammatory state as a result of what they eat. I’m convinced that the single most important thing you can do to counter chronic inflammation is to stop eating refined, processed and manufactured foods.
You can also try my anti-inflammatory diet, as illustrated by my anti-inflammatory diet and food pyramid. This isn’t a weight-loss diet (though you can lose weight if you follow it). Instead, it is designed to help you reduce chronic inflammation by eating fresh, healthy and delicious foods. One of the most important things the diet does is provide balanced amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Most people consume an excess of omega-6 fatty acids, which the body uses to synthesize compounds that promote inflammation. You get a lot of omega 6 fatty acids from snack foods and fast foods. Omega-3 fatty acids – from oily fish, walnuts, flax, hemp and to a lesser degree canola oil and sea vegetables – have an anti-inflammatory effect.
If you look at the food pyramid on this site you’ll see that it emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, fish and sea food, whole soy foods, and tells you how much of these foods to eat daily or weekly. You get a wide variety of fresh foods on this diet, plus some red wine daily, if you so desire, and healthy sweet treats such as dark chocolate (make sure it has a minimum content of 70 percent cocoa). Along with influencing inflammation, this diet will provide steady energy and ample vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, and protective phytonutrients. What’s more, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
6 Natural Ways to Ease Inflammation
If you are like most people, you lead a rather stress-filled life — a life filled with demands, and little time for rest and relaxation. With little time for you, you eat fast food rather than preparing a healthy meal, you choose more coffee over getting more sleep, and you spend hours hovering over your computer or smartphone instead of being outside and enjoying nature. In response to the overload of rampant stress, your body’s inflammatory response goes into hyper-drive. Because of these high levels of inflammation, you feel dis-ease rather than ease.
In other words, not only do you feel tired, achy, and moody, but you handle stress less effectively because every part of your body is negatively affected by this unnecessary inflammatory process. This includes your brain, as inflammation and oxidative stress can worsen your memory and your ability to think clearly or be happy. Inflammation has been linked to heart disease, depression, autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis… Shall I go on?
The key word here is “unnecessary.” Some inflammation is necessary for you to function so that your body can rid itself of unwanted toxins or expedite wound healing. This inflammation is meant to be short lived — to perform necessary tasks and then stop. Inflammation is a natural reaction your body is meant to have as a warning signal for you to do something different, take care of yourself, not keep doing the same thing that is leading to the inflammation in the first place. When you expose yourself to chronic psychological, emotional, or physical — including negative thoughts, junk or processed foods, lack of sleep, or little exercise —inflammation becomes chronic too. Studies show, for instance, that both lack of sleep and social isolation impact inflammation and can have a negative effect on disease risk.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do about it, from working on your negative thought patterns, getting more sleep, eating a healthier diet, exercising, and meditating to spending more time in nature. In fact, studies show that by spending more time in nature, you can counteract some of the pollutants that can increase inflammation and fatigue. Other studies show that meditation practices, like guided-imagery relaxation, can reduce the inflammatory response.
One of the easiest and most effective ways of reducing inflammation is by fueling your body with food that supports you.
There are many types of inflammatory foods, including sugars and syrups, processed foods, and certain grain products. Here are some additional examples:
- Cornmeal, starch, and syrup
- Powders such as gluten, maltodextrin, or milk
- Artificial sweeteners
- Grains such as baked goods or crackers, chips, processed junk food, or energy bars
- Fruit juices, energy drinks, flavored milks or mixes, soft drinks, sports drinks, or sweetened drinks, mayonnaise, ketchup, or anything that has added fructose corn syrup or sugar
- Trans-fat and partially hydrogenated oils (like canola), margarine, vegetable oils, or buttery spreads.
Avoid these food groups because they drive insulin production, fat storage (rather than fat use), inflammation, and oxidative stress.
6 Ways to Reduce Inflammation
- Spend 20 to 30 minutes a day doing something outdoors. Allow yourself some sunlight exposure and that needed vitamin D, or take a mindful walk and enjoy the beauties of nature.
- Move your body and stay active. Amp up your exercise regimen to three to four times per week. Be sure to alternate between days where you perform moderate exercise (you can hold a conversation) and vigorous exercise (you can only focus on breathing, let alone talking).
- Improve your sleep time and quality. Remove stimulants from your bedroom (like your computer, work papers, or television), and avoid stimulants like caffeine before bed. Instead, consider meditating before bed, taking a relaxing bath, and hitting the pillow earlier.
- Work on building a strong social support network. Regularly meet up with friends and family, or participate in a group where you share like interests. You can also meet with a counselor or therapist. And, in general, don’t wait too long to ask for help (or a hug).
- Develop a meditation practice. This can be yoga, sitting quietly for 10 to 20 minutes, practicing deep breathing, or taking a mindful walk. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you enjoy it.
- Try to follow an 80-20 nutrition plan. This means 80 percent of your food intake in non-inflammatory, and the other 20 percent are foods you like that may be inflammatory. In general, I recommend:
- Avoiding simple or refined sugars or carbohydrates
- Cutting down your caffeine and alcohol intake
- Limiting saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, and processed foods
- Eating more greens, legumes, and vegetables
- Picking foods rich in essential fatty acids and MCFAs
- Using high-quality protein sources (especially grass-fed animal sources that lack hormones)
- Choosing a wide variety of berries, spices and herbs that offer a high source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
- Adding fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or miso to your nutrition plan
These are only just a few ways you can reduce inflammation in your body. Ultimately, it is up to you to make healthier choices. What will you choose? Ease or disease?
Eva Selhub, MD, is an internationally recognized physician, author, speaker and consultant in the fields of stress, resilience, mind-body medicine, and working with the natural environment to achieve maximum health and well-being. Board certified in internal medicine, Dr. Selhub is on staff at Harvard Medical School and is a clinical associate of the world-renowned Benson Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
While in many cases, anti-inflammatory medications are prudent and potentially life saving in patients with certain conditions such as cardiovascular disease (for example aspirin has been shown to prevent heart attacks) and auto-immune inflammations (when treated with anti-inflammatory medications, these patients can experience improved quality of life), it is still very common for doctors and patients to take a rather cavalier attitude toward prescribing and consuming these medications. It is important to note that anti-inflammatory medication is not without side effects. One problem is that in suppressing inflammation, the medicine is disabling the body’s ability to detoxify, repair, and protect itself. In addition, the medication itself is a toxin that needs to be eliminated through the pathway of primary inflammation, when that pathway would be better spent taking care of the body’s natural needs.
Anybody on a prescription anti-inflammatory medication is required by their physician to take periodic liver function blood tests. Why? Because the drugs are suppressing not only the chronic inflammation which causes pain, but also the primary pathway of inflammation, which, as you know is responsible for detoxifying our cells. When the liver is unable to detoxify expediently, then the cells of the liver will become damaged. The result? Liver toxicity. Other common side effects such as internal bleeding and drug interactions must be closely looked for.
It’s not that I am suggesting that you live your life in pain. But you can now see, every time we use a medication that suppresses inflammation, we are effectively suppressing detoxification, repair of the cells, and protection of injured tissues. What I am suggesting is that you become a responsible advocate for your own good health. Relying on a lifetime of medication alone will not improve your health. Optimizing your health depends on understanding the mechanisms that are responsible for your body’s need to maintain a chronic inflammatory approach. Often, an integrative physician who combines traditional and holistic principles to treat patients can identify these reasons. By ordering certain lab tests as well as examining the patient’s diet, lifestyle and environmental influences on health, many mechanisms can be uncovered and addressed.
So what can we do to help our bodies heal without suppressing inflammation? The answer is to decrease the need for chronic inflammation in our bodies.