One of the biggest myths ever told is that all inflammation is bad.
Inflammation is a natural process that plays an important role in keeping you healthy, fighting off infections, supporting your immunity, and helping with recovery.
But, like many things in life, it's easy for a little bit of a good thing to become very bad if your body has more than it can handle.
If inflammation gets out of control, here's what you can do to help keep it in line to make sure your body feels the way you want.
Dietary Supplements and Inflammation: What They Can (and Can’t) Do
There are a lot of products out there claiming to have medical superpowers. Particularly when it comes to anti-inflammatory supplements, it’s difficult to separate facts from clever branding.
While some studies confirm the benefits of certain herbs in fighting inflammation (source), it’s still unclear what each specific supplement can do for you.
In general, while supplements can alleviate the symptoms of chronic inflammation, they are not to be taken as a definitive treatment. And always consult your doctor first, to make sure there are no drug interactions.
To better understand the effects of supplements, we should understand what chronic inflammation is and what problems it can cause.
Inflammation is a part of the body’s defense system. If you catch a certain bacteria or prick your finger on a thorn, the body will launch white cells to fix the issue. This healing process is usually followed by pain, redness, and swelling.
This is how we recognize acute inflammation. It usually lasts a few days and is a crucial part of our immune system’s response to pathogens.
However, inflammation can sometimes persist and turn into a chronic condition. In this article, we will focus on some common causes and symptoms of chronic inflammation.
What Causes Inflammation to Occur?
Chronic inflammation is often caused by autoimmune or autoinflammatory disorders. Sometimes, the cause is prolonged exposure to an irritant or an allergen.
Some risk factors that increase chronic inflammation include obesity, stress, smoking, sleep disorders, or an unhealthy diet.
Chronic inflammation can both be a cause and a result of some life-threatening conditions, such as cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, ulcers.
Problems Caused By Inflammation
Remember, not all inflammation is equal. Recent research in the Journal of Applied Physiology can to an important conclusion:
Although inflammation has historically been viewed as detrimental for recovery from exercise, it is now generally accepted that inflammatory responses, if tightly regulated, are integral to muscle repair and regeneration.
Inflammation can help with recovery -- as long as it's controlled. If not, then you could find yourself with sore muscles, reductions in strength and endurance, trouble sleeping, or difficulty with digestion and feeling like your normal self.
Most short-term issues with inflammation can be resolved with a few basic steps (more on that in a moment).
But, if inflammation exists for a long period of time, it can lead to more frustration health issues.
So how do you know if you suffer from chronic inflammation? If you are disease-free but still experience symptoms like body pains, chronic fatigue, insomnia, mood disorders, bowel issues, weight fluctuations, high blood pressure, or frequent infections, it might be time for a visit to a doctor.
The worst thing you can do is leave chronic inflammation untreated. Not only can it be a sign of an underlying disease, but it could also lead to the development of cancers, COPD, or cardiovascular diseases. Some studies even found that chronic inflammation could affect the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s disease (source).
But, most inflammation is not chronic. And, part of the way to keep inflammation in check is to follow three basic rules that will keep your body on the right track.
Natural ways to reduce inflammation
Before you decide on the best anti-inflammatory supplement, it’s a good idea to consider some lifestyle changes that contribute to reducing and preventing inflammation.
Numerous studies have found that lifestyle changes can reduce chronic inflammation and even remove inflammation triggers altogether. In this extensive study, weight loss and a healthy diet were found to be the most effective tools for combating chronic inflammation (source).
If we take a look at the risk factors most commonly associated with chronic inflammation, we see that a poor diet, stress, and sleep disorders play a big role. Emotional and physical stress have an established connection with the inflammatory cytokine release, but stress can also lead to poor sleep quality and sleep disorders (source).
One of the best ways to naturally reduce inflammation is a well-balanced diet. Physical exercise is another important tool for combating inflammation, and researchers have found that it can lower pro-inflammatory molecules and cytokines, even if you don’t lose that much weight (source).
As a general rule of thumb, try to exercise at least 3-4 times per week (at any intensity) for a minimum of 30 minutes. This can even mean, at a bare minimum, going for a walk. But, higher intensity exercise will help manage inflammation (it will increase it in the short-term, but then help it return to good levels).
In addition to a well-balanced diet, physical exercise, and plenty of stress-free, quality sleep, there are some supplements, vitamins, herbs, and foods that are generally recognized as useful in fighting chronic inflammation.
If you've checked all of the boxes above, there are extra steps and natural supplements you can take to keep inflammation down and help your body feel great.
The Best Supplements for Inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids comprise eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These acids can help reduce inflammation, but our bodies can’t produce them by themselves. It is therefore important that we eat fatty fish (e.g., salmon and tuna), as well as nuts and different oils.
However, taking fish oil supplements seems unnecessary unless prescribed by a doctor (source). Your best bet is to enrich your diet with omega-3 rich foods.
Resveratrol is a component found in grapes and red wine. Researchers at Georgia State University found that resveratrol reduced inflammation in conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) (source), and some studies confirm that it can help with cardiovascular diseases (source).
Depending on your case, a glass of red wine with lunch might be enough to feel the benefits of this substance.
Bromelain is a compound derived from pineapples with a proven effect on intestinal inflammation (source). It’s also been shown to combat cancer, but a general rule of thumb is to avoid this supplement unless you need it. Some side-effects include nausea and vomiting, and it could also cause an allergic reaction (source).
Probiotics are well-known as a co-therapy for antibiotics, as they help maintain the balance of gut flora. The researchers also found that probiotics can lower general levels of inflammation (source). Greek yogurt is a great source of probiotics, but any supplements you take should be discussed with a doctor.
Vitamins such as C, D, and E are necessary for the optimal functioning of our immune system. All three of them are effective in reducing inflammation, but taking too much of these vitamins could have adverse effects on health.
Before you jump on the vitamin bandwagon, make sure to check your vitamin levels and choose your supplement based on that.
Herbal supplements such as curcumin, black pepper, boswellia, cat’s claw, and black cumin oil are age-old anti-inflammatory agents. Curcumin’s medical benefits are well-documented (source), as are the anti-inflammatory properties of black cumin (source).
While herbal supplements are mostly safe to use and they do indeed help with inflammation, your mileage may vary. Depending on your condition, a sprinkle of black pepper might be all you need.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods: What’s the Role of Your Diet?
As stated before, a healthy and balanced diet can do wonders to fight inflammation. A diet rich in fiber, fatty fish, curcumin, and fruits and vegetables will not only fight inflammation but improve other conditions and. your general well being.
For example, flaxseed is rich in Omega 3-acids and can be a great addition to your diet if you are battling rheumatoid arthritis (source). Similarly, blueberries are one of those superfoods that have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (source). Ginger is another nature’s powerhouse that positively impacts a variety of conditions (source).
In conclusion, while there are many foods and supplements that can help reduce inflammation, it’s hard to say which one could work for you without a medical check-up. Some of these supplements can have negative side-effects, so always make sure to talk to your doctor before choosing one.