Inflammation is at the root of nearly every health condition—eczema, obesity, asthma, arthritis, depression, allergies, bladder infections, acne, hangovers and beyond—all share the common thread of inflammation.
Current medical research focuses on chronic inflammation’s effects on health and potential preventive medical measures. While modern medicine has traditionally focused on treating symptoms of disease (e.g., treating high cholesterol with medication), the emerging medical model looks at treating the root cause of disease—inflammation.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is our necessary and natural immune response to cells or tissue that have been damaged by injury, infection, harmful pathogens (e.g. bacteria and viruses) or outside influences (e.g. alcohol, poisons, allergens). Inflammation is the process for healing acute injuries and infection. But when inflammation runs uncontrolled, it becomes chronic and can have long-lasting, damaging consequences to the body.
Acute inflammation has a quick onset, is accompanied by pain, redness and swelling and generally resolves within a few days following a complex series of repair processes for healing (and possibly the development of scar tissue).
Chronic inflammation is a continual immune response that lasts more than a few days or weeks— even years. Causes of chronic inflammation include unresolved infectious agents, foreign materials (e.g. silica dust, talcum powder, splinters), metabolic byproducts (e.g. uric acid crystals leading to gout), psychological stress, autoimmune disorders, toxins (e.g. food, air, water, tobacco smoke), obesity, overeating and diabetes. Stress, sedentary lifestyle, environmental toxins, poor diet and food sensitivities all contribute to chronic inflammation.
What causes inflammation?
Diet is a common source of inflammation. Many foods like corn, soy, dairy, refined carbohydrates, conventional meat, sugar and trans fats are inflammatory foods for humans. Other foods that may seem harmless or even healthy and nutritious (e.g., celery or bell peppers) can be inflammatory for an individual if they have food sensitivities. These food sensitivities mount immune reactions that result in inflammation in the intestines. And intestinal inflammation leads to intestinal permeability (i.e., Leaky Gut Syndrome). With a leaky gut, undigested food particles escape the normally tight cellular intestinal junctions into the bloodstream, and an immune response mounts in reaction to undigested food particles in the blood—resulting in systemic inflammation.
To decrease systemic inflammation, all food sources and materials contributing to inflammation should be removed and replaced with anti-inflammatory foods and, in some cases, nutritional supplements.
Examples of potential anti-inflammatory foods:
Apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, pink grapefruit, plums, acai berries, pomegranates, red grapefruit or strawberries
Beets, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, dark leafy greens, collard greens, kale, spinach, onions, peas, hot peppers, salad greens, sea vegetables and squash
- Healthy fats and legumes
Avocados, cold-water fish, nuts (e.g., walnuts) and seeds, beans and legumes (anasazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas and lentils)
When to supplement
When diet isn’t perfect or inflammation levels call for extra help, supplementation with anti-inflammatory agents is incredibly useful. There are several types of natural anti-inflammatories to turn to.
|Supplement Type||Why it can help||Where to find it|
|Botanical||Herbs such as ginger, turmeric and boswellia have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Try formulations with multiple herbs that can yield synergistic effects, or benefit from individual herbs like turmeric.|
|Omega-3s||Omega-3s are crucial for inflammation control. They’re a great alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents like ibuprofen because they offer potent anti-inflammatory action and provide health benefits for cardiovascular, blood sugar, brain, nervous system, circulatory, digestive and hormonal health.|
|Enzymes||Proteolytic enzymes—such as bromelain, papain, pancreatin, trypsin, chymotrypsin, serrapeptase and rutin—modulate the inflammatory response. While often used as digestive aids, these enzymes can also clear away inflammation and its byproducts when taken on an empty stomach.|
|Homeopathy||Arnica Montana is a common and helpful homeopathic remedy for resolving bruises, trauma and inflammation. Arnica oil contains helenalin, a potent anti-inflammatory for topical use (i.e., in oils, creams, gels, ointments, lotions and bathing products).|
|Green Foods||Pack your fruits and vegetables into one simple supplement for powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Green foods are also a great way to fulfill many of your daily vitamin and minerals needs and give yourself a boost of energy and vitality.|
|Quercetin||This flavonoid antioxidant is found in many superfruits and vegetables, is considered one of the most abundant antioxidants in the human diet and is an effective anti-inflammatory. Quercetin fights inflammation and has been shown to improve conditions such as prostatitis, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, asthma and hay fever, skin disorders, cancer and more.|