Top 15 (Science-Backed) Ways to Reduce Inflammation Naturally

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What is Inflammation?

The word inflammation comes from the Latin “inflammo“, meaning “I set alight, I ignite”. It has been a buzzword in health trends recently, and for good reason.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to protect itself from harm. The aim is to remove harmful stimuli, including irritants, damaged cells or pathogens (1), (2).

Without the inflammatory response, further damage may continue to occur throughout the body and infected area. However, sometimes inflammation can become harmful.

There are two different types of inflammation. They are…

Acute Inflammation

The first state of inflammation is called irritation and it occurs when an infected area on or inside of the body becomes inflamed. This is the immediate healing process.

Acute inflammation is beneficial in situations where a knee injury is sustained (from falling, for example) and the tissues are damaged and need to be cared for.

Acute inflammation starts rapidly and can become severe quite quickly. It is usually localized to a specific site of injury. It typically only lasts from a few days to weeks.

Examples of situations, diseases and conditions that result in acute inflammation include but are not limited to:

  • Acute sinusitis (3)
  • Infected ingrown toenail
  • Acute tonsillitis
  • Acute bronchitis
  • Intense exercise (4)
  • Flu or cold

The Five Cardinal Signs of Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation can be characterized by the following five cardinal signs (5):

  • Redness: Increased blood flow to the inflamed area
  • Increased heat: Increased blood flow to the inflamed area
  • Swelling: Accumulation of fluid
  • Pain: Release of chemicals that stimulate the nerve endings
  • Loss of function: Combination of factors

These signs occur when acute inflammation happens on the surface of the body.

If acute inflammation occurs internally of the organs, not all of the signs will be apparent. For instance, there can only be pain when there are enough sensory nerve endings in the inflamed site, therefore inflammation of the lung would not cause pain.

 

Chronic Inflammation

Sometimes inflammation can become self-perpetuating. Meaning inflammation will be created in response to the inflammation that is already occurring in the body (6). This is chronic inflammation and it is long lasting.

It can also result from failure of the body to eliminate what was causing the acute inflammation or a chronic irritant that persists. However, it is not always known what causes the body to become inflamed in the first place.

A chronic inflammatory response often occurs in conditions like autoimmune diseases, such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (7)
  • Asthma
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (8)
  • Crohn’s
  • Chronic peptic ulcer
  • Chronic sinusitis (9)
  • Tuberculosis

 

Causes of Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation begins when pro-inflammatory hormones in the body call out for white blood cells that fix damaged tissue or clear out an infection. These are matched by as equally powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that move in once the threat is neutralized.

When this healthy mechanism goes wrong, it doesn’t shut off (chronic inflammation).

Chronic inflammation is a major factor in many of the leading causes of death in the United States (10).

There are several factors that can cause inflammation, such as:

  • Advanced glycation end products due to elevated blood sugar levels
  • Oxidized lipoproteins (such as low-density lipoprotein)
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Uric acid crystals

Chronic inflammation can be triggered by cellular dysfunction and stress. This can be caused by oxidative stress, excessive calorie consumption and elevated blood sugar levels.

Stress induced inflammation can remain undetected for years once triggered, propagating cell death in the body

The silent state of chronic inflammation has been coined “inflammaging” (11).

Signs of Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation can reveal itself in a variety of ways.

The symptoms listed below alone are not the grounds for self-diagnosis. It’s always important to address any health problems that you may have with a health practitioner.

However, being aware of them is invaluable. The signs of chronic inflammation are:

  • Depression: Inflammation is believed to be the cause of depression.  This claim has been backed by the scientist Andrew Miller, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory School of Medicine (12).
  • Digestive issues: Diarrhea, pains, cramps and bloating are thought to be symptoms of ongoing inflammation inside your body.
  • Fatigue: If you’re exhausted on days when you’ve gotten enough sleep, inflammation could be the culprit. Inflamed cells are sick cells and they can’t produce the energy that you need to keep going throughout the day (13).
  • Skin problems: Itching and redness on the skin are classic signs of internal inflammation. They can be caused by autoimmune diseases, allergies or liver issues. Psoriasis, a chronic skin disease, is also a sign of inflammation (14).
  • Allergies: The symptoms of allergies (redness, itching and pain) is your immune response to usually harmless substances. Watery eyes and a running nose are signs that you are chronically inflamed.

Read on to find out how you can reduce chronic inflammation and the risk of future health problems occurring.

Top 20 Ways to Reduce Inflammation Naturally

Making changes to your diet can be powerful way to spur off inflammation (15).

Since emerging research is focusing on the link between inflammation and the list of chronic diseases we previously mentioned, it’s important that you influence your health in positive ways.

Below is a list of 20 ways that can help you take control of inflammation.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids and they are necessary for optimal human health. The body cannot make them and therefore they must come from the food we eat or through supplementation (16).

Most people are aware that omega-3 fatty acids come from fish and that they have remarkable health-protecting benefits.

They are reported to have anti-inflammatory effects in humans and also thought to be useful in the management of autoimmune diseases (17).

2. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil can boost metabolism and reduce helping you lose weight over a long period of time.

It contains medium chain fats, which lead to the weight loss and reduced waist circumference (18). Visceral fat, also known as abdominal fat is the fat that tends to lodge around your organs and can cause inflammation (19).

Therefore consuming coconut oil will reduce your belly fat and in return lower the levels of inflammation in your body.

 

3. Eat a Diet Low in Omega-6 Rich Foods

Omega-6 Fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fats. An imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet causes chronic inflammation (20).

They can be found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, soybean and safflower. Unfortunately these oils are found in almost every food we eat, prolific in the modern Western diet.

An easy way to cut omega-6 out of your diet is by reducing store bought fries or restaurant cooked meals you eat.

 

4. Identify and Address Food Sensitivities

In this lifetime food allergies and sensitive and increased dramatically, with as many as 15 million Americans suffering from food allergies (21).

An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system and this releases antibodies and triggers inflammation. The symptoms can be both dramatic and acute, ranging from:

  • Sneezing (22)
  • Itchy eyes
  • Coughing
  • Skin rash (23)
  • Watery eyes
  • Anaphylactic shock

Removing the food that you are allergic to or have a sensitivity towards will help you in identifying the cause of your inflammation. Once the food is removed, your symptoms should subside and then you will know how you should change your eating habits in order to remain healthy.

The key is to know your body well enough so that you are able to tell the signs and then respond appropriately.

 

5. Sleep

7-9 hours of sleep a night is considered the normal sleep duration for adults (24). This varies based on age, activity level and overall health.

A loss of sleep causes physical changes in our bodies and brains, with the levels of inflammatory markers in the blood like C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) increasing.

Getting this amount of sleep per night is crucial in avoiding long term inflammation (25).

 

6. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a nightshade vegetable and they contain a lot of nutrients. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, copper, folate biotin and much more (26).

They are rich in lycopene, which has anti-inflammatory properties (27). Eating actual tomato produce instead of taking lycopene supplements have shown to reduce inflammation more (28).

 

7. Turmeric

Turmeric is delicious yellow spice. It is common in Indian cuisine and you can find it in almost every grocery store.

It has received a lot of attention for containing the powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient, curcumin. Since it is able to reduce inflammation, it has anti-diabetic activity (29).

Eating it with black pepper enhances its effects. Black pepper boosts the absorption of curcumin by 2000%, as it contains piperine (30).

 

8. Peppers

Peppers, including chili peppers and bell peppers, are low in calories and fat.

Peppers are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, which has anti-inflammatory effects (31). Chilli peppers also contain capsaicin. Capsaicin reduces a Substance P. Capsaicin, which is a specific pain transmitter in your nerves. This may relieve arthritis.

Cayenne pepper is derived from peppers and can be made at home in a few steps (32).

 

9. Berries

Antioxidants are substances that reduce inflammation and delay or prevent some types of cell damage (33). Berries contain antioxidant properties (34).

There are over a dozen of varieties of berries, some of these include:

  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Strawberries

Berries contain anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory effects and activity. They also have the potential to protect against disease (35).

 

10. Garlic

Garlic is used in many cuisines around the world to add flavor. It has also been used as a natural remedy for colds and other illness for years.

Studies have shown garlic to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects (36). Garlic also contains sulphuric compounds that help reduce inflammation (37).

For the most benefits, consume garlic raw. You can simply eat it on its own, but it’s best not to chew it while doing so.

 

11. Avocados

A study showed that if an avocado is eaten with a hamburger, the inflammatory response was limited in comparison to eating the hamburger without the avocado (38).

Avocados are a great source of phytosterols, alpha-linolenic acid, healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber. A compound found in the avocado has also been shown to reduce inflammation in young cells (39).

Avocados can be consumed in supplement form – avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) are natural vegetable extracts made from avocado and soybean oils. ASUs may prove to be an effective treatment option for symptomatic Osteoarthritis (40).

 

12. Onions

Onions have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (41). They are also loaded with healthy compounds that help fight inflammation in arthritis.

Onions are a source of flavonoids, in particular the flavonol Quercetin, which exerts anti-inflammatory effects (42).

Onions exhibit antimicrobial activity against a range of fungi and bacteria.

 

13. Green Tea

Green tea is loaded with polyphenols, which may protect against some inflammation causing diseases and also boost the immune system (43)(44). Polyphenols are plant-derived compounds.

While white and black tea also contains polyphenols, Green tea has the highest polyphenol content (45).

Improvements in diseases such as colitis and arthritis in Asia have been contributed to the consumption of green tea.

 

14. Dark Chocolate

So many of us love chocolate. The good news is, a certain type of chocolate is anti-inflammatory – dark chocolate. It contains flavanols, which are responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects (46).

The amount of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties in dark chocolate depends on the processing. Always choose unprocessed cacao, which is unsweetened and natural.

 

15. Exercise

Healthy dieting alone may not be enough to avoid inflammation. Regular exercise reduces markers of generalized, systemic inflammation such as C-reactive protein (47). C-reactive protein is a blood test marker for inflammation in the body.

However you do not need to take part in intense exercise to feel the anti-inflammatory effects of exercise. Studies have shown that individuals who walk more present a low inflammatory status (48).

 

Conclusion

These are just a few of the many science-backed ways that can help you reduce inflammation naturally. It’s important that you try a variety of these, and see what works best for your body and health.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with a little inflammation as it’s your body fighting off things that don’t belong in it. However when it starts to affects you chronically, you know it’s time to take action and seek out medical help.

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