Inflammation is one of those words that pops up quite a bit when we encounter health issues. And, while we tend to have a general idea of it in the sense that we know it’s not a good thing, its actual role in our bodies can remain sort of abstract.
Here we’ll break down exactly what inflammation is, why it’s at the root of most diseases and health issues, and the foods you can eat to help reduce it. In this way, you’ll have a more concrete understanding of why it’s occurring in your body so that you can take steps to get it under control (and hopefully get some pain relief!).
What Causes Inflammation?
Although it may seem like inflammation is something that’s happening to our bodies for the sole reason of causing us pain, in actuality it is part of our body’s attempt to heal itself.
If you’ve ever had a deep cut or bruise on your skin, you’ve most likely experienced how the area around the wound swells up. This is an external view of how inflammation works: When your body is injured and is trying to protect itself and heal from the damage, certain proteins and antibodies are triggered in your immune system that flood the area, causing swelling. As the area begins to heal, swelling goes down, and your body turns off its inflammatory immune response. This is an example of acute inflammation, and it illustrates how inflammation is supposed to benefit our bodies.
However, another type of inflammation exists, and it’s the type that fuels inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and more. This is referred to as chronic inflammation, and it’s what happens when, in essence, your immune system’s inflammatory response remains turned on.
This can have many causes ranging from exposure to toxins, smoking, a bad diet, and obesity, to alcohol, environmental pollution, and even stress. Whatever the factor is, it’s presence is causing the continued release of inflammatory proteins and other compounds that are fine in the short term, but in the long term can cause DNA damage, heart disease, neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and more.
The presence of chronic inflammation is so prevalent among major diseases that many researchers have now developed a theory referred to as the Inflammation Theory of Disease, which claims that most major diseases have roots in inflammation. [*] Approaching diseases in this manner would focus on treating inflammation as a whole in order to treat common diseases.
How to Reduce Inflammation
Typically, conventional medicine prescribes all types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, to combat inflammation. However, these are linked with several nasty side effects, including developing ulcers and kidney disease. [*]
A more natural approach to inflammation involves utilizing foods that contain potent inflammation-fighting compounds, without the negative side effects.
The Top 7 Foods for Fighting Inflammation
The following foods are packed with unique antioxidants and compounds that can naturally reduce inflammation, and may even prevent it.
Turmeric is a spice commonly found in Indian curry, often lending these dishes their bright yellow color. It contains a potent anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin, which has been shown to reduce inflammation in a number of diseases, including arthritis and diabetes. When consumed with black pepper, studies have shown that just one gram can significantly reduce inflammation markers and proteins in the body. [*]
Black pepper helps with the absorption of curcumin, so be sure to add a dash to a bright curry a few times a week. You may also want to try supplementing with curcumin for a stronger effect.
2. Wild Fish
Wild fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, one of the ultimate nutrients for fighting inflammation. EPA and DHA, two long-chain fatty acids that make up omega-3, have shown in studies to help reduce the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP). [*] It has also been shown to be effective in inflammation related to metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and diabetes.
Add a few servings of wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, or anchovies to your plate a few times a week.
Ginger is a root that has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Studies show that many of its active compounds, like gingerols, may reduce and prevent inflammation by inhibiting the synthesis of certain inflammatory proteins. [*] Some patients in trials also found that ginger extract was as effective as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and ibuprofen in relieving pain. [*]
While many foods are rich in antioxidants, berries contain a special type called anthocyanins, which have shown in studies to help improve inflammatory markers. They do this by helping to increase the number of natural killer (NK) cells in your body. These cells help target and fight “invaders” before they can wreak havoc (aka: cause inflammation) in your body. [*]
Add a cup of berries to your breakfast as a side, or add a handful to your smoothies.
Not only are avocados packed with antioxidants and minerals that can help combat inflammation like magnesium and vitamin E, but research has also shown they may lower inflammation markers. One study found that people who consumed a slice of avocado with a hamburger had lower levels of the inflammatory markers NF-kB and IL-6 compared to those who just ate the hamburger. [*] Now, make that a healthy burger or a salad, and perhaps it’s not a stretch to say you’ll see even more benefits!
Add ½ to a whole avocado to your salads or other dishes as many times a week as you’d like.
Like berries, grapes also contain the potent inflammation-fighting antioxidant compounds, anthocyanins. In addition, they also contain a compound called resveratrol, which also plays a role in reducing inflammation due to aging and DNA damage.
One study found people with heart disease who consumed grape extract daily experienced a decrease in NF-kB, an inflammatory gene marker. [*]
Indulge in a cup or more of grapes several times a week.
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Yes, olive oil has made it onto another “Top Foods For __” list, and for good reason. It contains a wallop of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidant compounds found to reduce inflammation, with one study discovering that C-reactive protein and several other inflammatory markers significantly decreased in those who consumed 1.7 ounces of olive oil daily. [*]
Not to mention, oleocanthal, an antioxidant found in olive oil, has also recently been compared to anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. [*]
As you see, prescriptions aren’t the only way to combat inflammation. Indulging in these foods several times a week, while also removing processed foods from your diet, can significantly reduce extra stress on your body that could be contributing to it. And, aside from helping your body combat inflammation, they can also help fight and heal the DNA damage that results from it - a clear win-win.