Many people confuse inflammation with infection. Though infection and inflammation can happen at the same time, they are completely different. Infection is just one of the causes of inflammation.
Inflammation is nothing but your body’s response to a physical stress. For example, if your body is too tired, it can cause inflammation; if you get a cut, it can cause inflammation; if you eat something too spicy, it can cause inflammation; if you touch a scalding cup, it can cause inflammation; if you get an infection (acne, a cold, or pink eye) it can cause inflammation.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, saw the inflammation process as a digestion of diseased material in the body.
So, you’d think inflammation is good. Well, yes and no. Let me explain.
What You Need to Know about Inflammation
Normally, inflammation is characterized by heat, pain, redness, and swelling. When these symptoms occur, we know there is inflammation and we do something (take medicines, rest, change our diet) to help our body fight it. The inflammation subsides and all is good. This kind of inflammation is good because it helps the body protect itself.
However, there is another kind of inflammation called silent inflammation. This inflammation may not be painful. In cases like this, we aren’t too quick to realize we are inflamed. It slowly festers inside the body, becomes chronic, and causes huge damage to the tissues and organs. If this kind of inflammation happens in important organs like your brain or your heart, it can cause serious damage.
Needless to say, this kind of inflammation is bad and has to be stopped.
As it would be unwise to constantly keep taking medicines to fight this silent inflammation, the best way to do it is through your diet. There are many natural anti-inflammatory herbs and anti-inflammatory spices that you should try to ease inflammation naturally.
Role of Diet in Lowering Inflammation
Inflammation is a process of the body designed to protect us from infection. However, there are instances where this inflammatory process occurs without the need for it, and due to its destructive nature, it can damage normal functioning cells rather than harmful ones. Our diet can play a role in the activation of inflammatory mechanisms, with dietary components either preventing or triggering inflammation.
Foods can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Knowing which foods reduce and promote inflammation is the first step in choosing your diet. The following are some examples of pro-inflammatory foods:
- High fructose corn syrup, found in many sweetened drinks as a sugar substitute
- Processed vegetable oils, which contain trans fats
- Oxidized cholesterol found in overcooked foods where cholesterol has gone rancid. It’s also found in scrambled eggs.
- Foods with high trans-fat levels
- Refined sugar
It is recommended to replace these foods with organic substitutes. By avoiding these pro-inflammatory foods, you give your body the best chance at avoiding unnecessary inflammatory damage.
Most Effective Anti-Inflammatory Spices and Herbs
Ginger: A zesty spice used in many Asian cuisines, ginger is a handy anti-inflammatory spice. Ginger can be purchased as a fresh root in most supermarkets, or you can buy it in dry powdered form. Ginger has been used as a traditional medicine to treat stomach upset, headaches, and infections in ancient Chinese and Indian medicine. Today, its healing properties have been confirmed by scientific studies.
Cinnamon: This popular spice, often used to flavor baked treats, is a natural anti-inflammatory spice. In addition to adding a delicious flavor to food, this unique bark finds a place in many medicine cabinets. The most important benefit this spice delivers in the inflammation fighting process is easing swelling.
It’s a good idea to introduce this delicious spice into your daily meals. Keep a good supply of cinnamon on hand and sprinkle it in your coffee or tea and on top of your breakfast cereal.
Garlic: Known as the stinking rose, garlic is used in many cuisines around the world to add flavor to food, but it’s also been used as an ingredient in traditional herbal medicine for centuries, both in its fresh plant form and as a powder. Research shows that garlic has many medicinal benefits, but for the purpose of this article, we shall stick to its anti-inflammation benefits.
Garlic has many anti-inflammatory properties – one study identified four sulphuric compounds in garlic that helped cut inflammation. In fact, garlic finds a prominent place in Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid.
Chili pepper and black pepper: All chili peppers contain natural compounds called capsaicinoids. This is what gives the spicy fruits their anti-inflammatory properties. Chili peppers have long been used as a digestive aid. However, they have more recently been shown to ease pain associated with arthritis and headaches.
Chili peppers are considered to be a powerful anti-inflammatory spice, so be sure to include a dash of cayenne in your next dish.
If cayenne is just too hot for your liking, the milder black pepper has anti-inflammatory properties. Known as the “King of Spices,” black pepper has been valued for its flavor, antioxidant. and anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies show that the chemical compounds of black pepper, particularly piperine, may be effective in helping to combatting the early acute inflammatory process.
Cloves: Widely used in Asian cuisine for thousands of years for both dietary and medicinal purposes, cloves can be an addition to a healthy diet. They have been known to improve digestion, combat diabetes, and even fight cancer. Much of this is due to their anti-inflammatory properties, as cloves contain a compound called eugenol. This compound works by blocking the activity of harmful inflammation-causing enzymes called cyclooxygenase (COX).
Allspice: Packed with antioxidants and flavor, allspice is a wonderful addition to most meals. It can also be helpful for menopause and high blood pressure.
Caraway seeds: A delicious seed commonly used in bread like rye, it can be great for promoting digestion, preventing constipation, and reducing acid reflux.
Cumin: Contains properties that can be beneficial for cancer, epilepsy, type 2 diabetes, and bone health.
Fennel: Known for helping treat the symptoms of arthritis, menstrual cramps, and colic.
Fenugreek: Can improve weight loss, improve moods, and even help balance blood sugar levels. It has even been known to help prevent or reverse nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Nutmeg: Known for having anti-anxiety and anti-depression benefits. Nutmeg can also help protect the skin from developing wrinkles by reducing the breakdown of elastin in the skin.
Most Effective Anti-Inflammatory Herbs
Basil: Known for having beneficial properties for type 2 diabetes, cholesterol, pain, stress, ulcers, and high triglycerides.
Bay leaves: Great for joint pain, indigestion, ulcers, and arthritis. It has also proven to be useful in the treatment of cancer.
Dill: Helps support digestion, aid bone density, and creates the feeling of calm energy. Dill can provide great flavor to fish, any vegetable dish, and various dressings.
Lemongrass: Shown for being beneficial as an anti-anxiety remedy, lemongrass can also have beneficial effects for type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, insomnia, cancer, cholesterol, high triglycerides, and vaginal yeast infections.
Sage: Known for supporting memory, heart health, and the skin.
Tarragon: Rich in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins A, B complex, and C, making it a great choice for heart health.
Rosemary: Can help protect the skin from the sun’s harmful UV radiation. It is also great for reducing anxiety, alleviating arthritis pain, and helping reduce blood sugar levels. Rosemary can also be used to simulate memory retention. Previous studies have shown that rosemary is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory herbs available. When taking a spoon full of this particular spice every day, researchers found that rosemary can be highly beneficial for the body.
White willow bark: An anti-inflammatory remedy used since ancient Egyptian and Roman times, this herb has been shown to provide comparable effects to that of aspirin, but with fewer side effects. It can be used to treat headaches.
Maritime pine bark: Derived from the maritime pine trees (Pinus Maritima) and processed into pycnogenol, this extract has been used for more than two millennia to help treat scurvy, heal wounds, and even reduce vascular inflammation. It is considered one of the strongest antioxidants on the market today. Studies have shown that Pycnogenol is 50 to 100 times more potent than vitamin E in neutralizing free radicals.
Cats claw: Also known as Uncaria tomentosa, this herb is native to Peru. It is traditionally used to treat arthritis, bursitis, and intestinal disorders. Studies have even shown that it can reduce inflammatory responses in the body and protect against the effects of gastrointestinal inflammation. Cats claw can be prepared as a tea, but is also available as a dry extract in capsule form.
Fatty fish: If you are a meat eater, try to eat as much fish as possible. In fact, it would be a great idea to substitute all red meat with fish. Fish is high in certain fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation. To get the benefits, however, you need to eat fish several times a week, and it should be cooked in a healthy way. In other words, don’t fry the fish.
Studies show that steamed and boiled fish can help reduce the risk of heart disease, one of the biggest complications of inflammation. If you’re not a fish eater, try and take some fish oil supplements. It is an ideal way to help cut down the inflammation without encountering the fishy taste.
Whole grains: Unlike refined-grain products like white bread, cereal, pasta and other flour products, whole grains have more fiber. Fiber has been shown to reduce the levels of an important inflammation catalyst called C-reactive protein.
But remember, not all products that are labeled “whole grain” are healthy. To be sure you’re getting the benefits, look for foods with a whole grain as the first ingredient, and no added sugars. In addition to helping fight inflammation, whole grains also help ease your bowels and facilitate the easy and smooth transit of waste material through your colon.
Dark leafy greens: There’s a reason your mother always asked you to eat your green veggies. But it’s important to make sure your greens are dark green. You see, dark green veggies are one of the best sources of vitamin E which plays a key role in protecting the body from pro-inflammatory molecules. Dark greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens tend to have higher concentrations of phytochemicals and minerals like calcium and iron than lighter-colored leaves and vegetables.
Nuts: These snack-time munchies are a great way to cut down on inflammation. All nuts are packed with antioxidants, which can help your body fight off damage caused by inflammation. Some of the more beneficial nuts are almonds, (rich in fiber, calcium and vitamin E) and walnuts (high amounts of inflammation fighting omega-3 fatty acids). An interesting point to note is that nuts along with my earlier anti-inflammatory foods – fish, leafy greens, and whole grains – are an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce inflammation in as little as six weeks.
Raw honey: A source of proteolytic enzymes, which are great for digestion and overall health. They are also essential for modulating the inflammatory response by breaking down proteins and cellular debris and clearing them out. Raw honey effectively reduces inflammatory symptoms of diseases such as IBS.
Coconut oil: A powerful anti-inflammatory food. According to a study, coconut oil is only effective in treating acute inflammation, such as at the site of an infection or injury, rather than more chronic forms of inflammation such as IBD.
Bone broth: By simmering bones in water for extended periods of time, the collagen and other nutrients start to break down, flavoring the water and making a broth. Bone broth can be full of anti-inflammatory amino acids and contain ample levels of gelatin that help to rebuild your gut lining to further assist your anti-inflammatory gut microbes.
Canned light tuna: An abundant source of omega-3s, helping to reduce specific markers of inflammation such as DHA. Light tuna is also a great source of bioactive fatty acids.
Apples: High in fiber, helping provide your gut bacteria with the fuel they use to function properly. They are also great for promoting proper digestion. Apples are full of pectin, a natural fruit fiber, which a previously published study found supports the growth of beneficial bacteria Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
Berries: These small fruits contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. Packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, they have anti-inflammatory effects that may help to reduce the risk of disease. There are dozens of varieties of berries, but some of the most common are, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.
The body produces natural killer cells (NK cells), which help to keep your immune system functioning properly. Studies have shown that those who consume berries every day produce significantly more NK cells than those who do not. Research has also shown that overweight men and women who eat strawberries had lower levels of certain inflammatory markers associated with heart disease.
Broccoli: Everyone knows that broccoli is extremely delicious. In fact, we are all told from a young age to eat our broccoli, but studies now show exactly why it is so important to get our daily dose. Research shows that eating a lot of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer. This could be related to the anti-inflammatory effects of the many antioxidants that broccoli contains. It is rich in sulforaphane which is an antioxidant that fights inflammation by reducing the level of cytokines and NF-kB in the body which drives inflammation.
Avocadoes: Although there are many superfoods out there, avocados may be one of the few truly worthy of the title. They are packed with carotenoids and tocopherols, which are linked to reduced cancer risk. They also contain magnesium, fiber, potassium, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Studies have shown that when people consume one slice of avocado with a hamburger, they had lower levels of the inflammatory markers NF-kB and IL-6 than participants who ate the hamburger alone. In additional studies, it has also been shown that one compound in avocados may reduce inflammation in young skin cells.
Mushrooms: Mushrooms are very low in calories, but rich in selenium, copper and all of the B vitamins. They also contain phenols and other antioxidants that provide anti-inflammatory protection. While there are many types of mushrooms, a special type called lion’s mane may potentially reduce the low-grade inflammation seen in obesity. One important fact to keep in mind is that cooking mushrooms lowered their anti-inflammatory compounds significantly, so it is best to eat them raw or just lightly cooked.
Dark chocolate and Cocoa: Chocoholics can rejoice as we now know that it is not only delicious, rich and satisfying but is also packed with antioxidants that reduce inflammation. Flavanols are the antioxidants that are responsible for chocolate’s anti-inflammatory effects that keep the endothelial cells that line the arteries healthy. Just be sure to choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa in order to benefit from the anti-inflammatory benefits.
Tomatoes: Well known as a nutritional powerhouse, tomatoes are high in potassium, vitamin C, and lycopene, an antioxidant with impressive anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that lycopene may be beneficial for reducing pro-inflammatory compounds related to several types of cancer. It is important to note that cooking tomatoes in olive oil can maximize the amount of lycopene that is absorbed in the body.
Cherries: Although there are different varieties of cherries, and tart cherries have been studied more than others, sweet cherries also provide health benefits. All varieties are rich in antioxidants such as anthocyanins and catechins which fight inflammation. Research has shown that those who consume 280 grams of cherries per day for one month see their levels of the inflammatory marker CRP decreased even up to 28 days of not consuming cherries.
Consuming the above anti-inflammatory foods and spices will definitely help protect your body against inflammation, but at the same time, it is important to stay away from foods that cause inflammation.
Sugar: The biggest culprit is sugar. It is the food item we most ignore when it comes to our health. Our body is not designed to break down as much sugar as we consume. Too much sugar can alert the body to send out molecules called cytokines into the blood that bring on inflammation.
Hydrogenated oils: The next big culprit is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils that are found in most processed foods. These trans-fats can induce inflammation by damaging the cells in the lining of the blood vessels.
Refined flour: This type of flour has been stripped of their slow digesting fiber and nutrients. This means that your body will break down foods made with refined flour very quickly, absorbing the glucose it contains much more quickly, causing faster blood sugar spikes that raise insulin levels. A diet rich in whole grains can lower the concentration of similar inflammatory markers found to increase during refined flour consumption.
Fried foods: Often found to be processed foods fried in vegetable oil, they contain high levels of inflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs), compounds that form when products are cooked at high temperatures, pasteurized, dried, smoked, fried, or grilled.
Artificial sweeteners: Commonly used instead of real sugar, these enhance the risk of glucose intolerance by altering the bacteria found in the gut. Additionally, bad bacteria in the gut associated with type 2 diabetes were found to increase in number. Diabetes can lead to improper glucose metabolism, causing a greater release of inflammatory cytokines. The use of artificial sweeteners on top of this can disrupt the gut flora by decreasing good bacteria known for helping counteract these inflammatory compounds.
By cutting out processed foods, we can avoid a whole load of sugar and unhealthy fats, omega-6 fatty acids, and foods containing MSG.