Inflammation is the body’s normal response to infection or injury, and it is triggered when the immune system recognizes something foreign, such as a microbe or toxic chemical. This response, called acute inflammation, has a protective effect when an invader is truly threatening. Without the acute inflammatory response, infections could fester, or injuries could become deadly. In its healthy form, inflammation can be lifesaving. [This article, “7 Excellent Natural Ways to Fight Inflammation” was originally published in NewsHealthWatch]
While acute inflammation may last only a few days, chronic inflammation may last for months or even years, damaging tissues and contributing to the development of disease. Chronic inflammation happens when your body produces an immune response when you are not sick or injured. It may be a significant factor in some of the most common serious health conditions facing the public today. Three out of five people worldwide die of chronic inflammatory diseases such as stroke, obesity, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, and diabetes.
The most common causes of chronic inflammation include autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) where the body attacks its own healthy tissue, exposure to toxins, untreated acute inflammation from an infection or injury, or certain lifestyle factors. The good news is that certain adjustments to your lifestyle, diet and a number of helpful supplements can significantly reduce your risk of developing this serious and often undetected health condition.
The role of inflammation in causing disease
During the acute inflammatory process, white blood cells release chemicals into your tissues to protect the body from invaders. These chemicals increase blood flow to the affected area, causing redness. They also cause fluid to leak in and affect nerves, causing swelling and pain. When inflammation becomes chronic, it can damage healthy tissues, cells, and organs. This can lead to DNA damage, internal scarring, and tissue death. Symptoms of chronic inflammation include: redness, joint pain, fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, and muscle stiffness.
Chronic inflammation is involved in the disease process of conditions like asthma, heart disease, cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, and type 2 diabetes. Inside arteries, inflammation can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty plaque. When the body attacks these plaques as though they are foreign, a wall is formed around them in the arteries. If this wall breaks down, plaque ruptures and causes clots that block blood flow. Clots such as these are known to cause most heart attacks and strokes. One study found that men with high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biological marker of inflammation, had twice the risk of stroke and three times the risk of heart attack as men without chronic inflammation.
Lifestyle factors contribute to chronic inflammation
Fortunately, many lifestyle changes that could be made to reduce the risk of chronic inflammation are the same as those recommended for general health. Lifestyle factors contributing to chronic inflammation include smoking, high alcohol intake, poor weight management, high stress, and low physical activity. Obesity may cause chronic inflammation as fat tissue in the body contains white blood cells called macrophages that release inflammation-causing cytokines. When cells are overexposed to cytokines, this may lead to insulin resistance and eventually, type 2 diabetes. Exercise can reduce inflammation by reducing cytokine expression and overall stress levels. Simply losing weight and beginning a moderate exercise program can help to reduce your risk of inflammation and its associated diseases.
Eat an anti-inflammation diet
Studies have shown that different foods influence levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. To reduce inflammation in the body, consider foods high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols such as apples, blueberries, and leafy greens. Foods high in antioxidants can fight free radicals and help to delay or repair cell and tissue damage, while polyphenols have natural, anti-inflammatory properties.
For the best anti-inflammation diet, focus on colorful fruits and vegetables like beets and avocadoes. You don’t have to skip your morning coffee, as this popular beverage contains polyphenols and has anti-inflammatory properties. Avoid refined carbohydrates, red meats, and processed foods as these are known to raise inflammation. Sugary drinks and cereals, fried foods, and pastries are also pro-inflammatory due to the unhealthy fats that they contain.
Fish oil reduces inflammation with Omega-3s
Perhaps the most popular anti-inflammatory supplement is fish oil. The medicinal benefits of fish oils have been known to traditional medicine since at least the 1950s, when cod liver oil was used to treat eczema and arthritis. In the 1980s, scientists found that Eskimos consuming a diet high in fatty fish had lower rates of coronary disease than those consuming a regular mainland diet. To reap the health benefits of fish oils, you can consume fatty fish twice per week, or you can consume them as supplements.
Healthy fats in fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, the active component known to reduce inflammation. GPR120 is a receptor expressed by macrophages in body fat that has an inflammatory effect when turned off. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to activate this receptor, effectively stopping the inflammatory response. Fish oil supplementation can increase levels of anti-inflammatory molecules in the body for up to 24 hours. These molecules can play a role in tissue regeneration and also reduce the stickiness of platelets, reducing the risk of blood clots.
Since your body can’t make Omega-3 fatty acids on its own, you must consume them as part of your anti-inflammatory diet or as supplements. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, while alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant sources like vegetable oils, nuts, and flaxseed oil.
While EPA and DHA are the most useful Omega-3s, the body converts ALA to small amounts of EPA and DHA. The recommended does is 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA per day for adults and 1.1-1.6 g of ALA. A study following adults administered a daily dose of 850 mg combined EPA and DHA for 3.5 years reported a 25% reduction in heart attacks and 45% fewer sudden deaths. High doses of Omega-3s have also been shown to reduce depression and anxiety.
When considering adding oily fish to your diet or supplementing with anti-inflammatory Omega-3s, you should be mindful of your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio, as these two types of fatty acids compete for the same enzymes. Too much Omega-6 in your diet can limit the effectiveness of the Omega-3s you consume. The typical western diet contains a ratio of 10:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids, while the recommended ratio is 2:1.
Limiting processed foods is a good start toward improving your ratio, as Omega-6 fatty acids are found mainly in the refined vegetable oils added to these foods. However, as high doses of Omega-3s can cause blood thinning or may contain toxic levels of vitamin A, it’s best not to overdo it. According to the FDA, doses up to 3,000 mg per day of Omega-3s are considered safe.
Sea moss: a great plant source of Omega-3s
If you are looking to supplement a plant-based diet with healthy Omega-3s, you will find that most vegetarian options contain the less helpful ALA. Fortunately, you can find a rich source of EPA and DHA in sea moss, a type of red algae also known as Chondrus crispus or Irish moss. The EPA and DHA found naturally in oily fish originate from the algae that these fish consume, so supplementing with sea moss for Omega-3 fatty acids is a way of returning to the source. A diet rich in Omega-3s can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and blood clots.
In addition to anti-inflammatory Omega-3s, sea moss is also rich in the anti-inflammatory vitamins A, C, and E. This red algae contains beta-carotene, a potent antioxidant that can also be found in green, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables. As a good source of iodine, sea moss may help support thyroid function; however, too much iodine is harmful to the thyroid, so you should consult your physician if you believe you have a thyroid condition. Four grams per day of sea moss is generally considered safe. Perhaps a lesser-known benefit of this plant product is that it promotes weight loss with a compound called alginate that binds to fat cells, preventing them from being absorbed by the body.
You can find sea moss supplements in stores or online, but as dietary supplements are largely unregulated, it is best to choose a reputable brand that practices high standards of quality and ethical sourcing. Buie Holistic Herbs, a Maryland-based supplement company founded in 2018, sells sea moss in both capsule and gel form. Sourced from St. Lucia, this product comes in reasonably priced bottles of 60 capsules or a 16 oz. gel container.
Turmeric: another anti-inflammatory secret
Turmeric is an ingredient commonly found in curry powders; it is used in a wide variety of Indian and Asian dishes. However, the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are not as well known. Curcumin, the active component in turmeric and a potent antioxidant, lowers levels of inflammatory enzymes in the body. It has been investigated as a therapy for rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, certain cancers, diabetes, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One study of people with rheumatoid arthritis showed that curcumin had more beneficial effects than an anti-inflammatory drug.
While the curcumin content of turmeric is only about 3% by weight, most studies use an extracted form of curcumin in quantities over 1 gram per day. Supplements are recommended to achieve a therapeutic effect, as it would be extremely difficult to reach this level of the active compound simply by adding the spice to your foods. The most effective curcumin supplements contain piperine, a component of black pepper, which increases their bioavailability by up to 2,000%.
The healing properties of green tea
Green tea is made from the leaf and bud of the plant, Camellia sinensis. Used for centuries as a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Green tea contains polyphenols that fight inflammation-promoting free radicals in the body. Green tea contains the notable polyphenol, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which suppresses the expression of inflammatory cytokines and certain inflammatory enzymes. The anti-inflammatory properties of EGCG have been shown to reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. For example, one study showed that patients with ulcerative colitis receiving EGCG treatment improved symptoms by 58.3% compared with no improvement in a placebo group.
Black seed oil: a little-known anti-inflammatory ingredient
Black seed oil is extracted from the seeds of the Nigella sativa plant, which is native to southern Europe, southwest Asia, and the Middle East. It has a range of medicinal benefits, mostly derived from a compound called thymoquinone, a known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Research has shown that consuming black seed oil increases blood levels of antioxidants and reduces markers of inflammation. Furthermore, animal studies have found that black seed may reduce neuroinflammation, or inflammation of the brain, which may be a causative factor in the development of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Black seed oil has even been studied as a treatment for acne, as one investigation found that patients who applied a black seed oil lotion to the skin had significantly fewer lesions after two months. This lesser-known anti-inflammatory product has even been investigated as a weight loss aid, as one study of overweight or obese women taking 2,000 mg black seed oil daily for eight weeks demonstrated reductions in appetite, body weight, body fat, and waist circumference.
Buie Holistic Herbs sells high-quality black seed oil sourced from Bangladesh and enriched with Omega-3s. With 4% thymoquinone, this product promises purity at a reasonable price. Black seed oil from Buie Holistic Herbs is available in 8 oz bottles. You could also try Zhou Organic Black Seed Oil or Sweet Sunnah Black Seed Oil for a product that is both pure and affordable.
Get healthy: make simple changes
Chronic inflammation wreaks havoc on the body, damaging cells and tissues over time and accelerating the disease process. While nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin can lower inflammation in the short term, they may cause gastric irritation and increase the risk of conditions such as peptic ulcer or kidney disease when used long-term.
Fortunately, you can easily reduce your risk of chronic inflammation by adjusting your lifestyle, modifying your diet, and using helpful supplements. In doing so, you are dramatically reducing your risk of chronic disease and disability. When you adopt simple habits that actively promote healing, you are taking perhaps the most important step towards a healthy, productive life.
Johns Hopkins Medicine, Healthy Eating Tips to Ease Chronic Inflammation
The Washington Post: Chronic inflammation is frightening. Here’s what you can do about it.
National Geographic: The end of inflammation? New approach could treat dozens of diseases.
[This article, “7 Excellent Natural Ways to Fight Inflammation” was originally published in NewsHealthWatch]
Important Note: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional in order to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.