Natural remedies for inflammation
Inflammation is part of the body’s response to injury and illness. In the short term, it helps the body heal. However, long-term inflammation can cause or worsen chronic health conditions.
Written by Zawn Villines.
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to illness. It causes blood vessels to dilate, which allows more white and red blood cells to reach areas of the body that are damaged.
In the short term, inflammation is helpful. Acute inflammation helps the body heal from things such as injuries or infections. However, in the long term, inflammation can be harmful.
Chronic inflammation is involved in numerous health conditions, such as arthritis, autoimmune conditions, and inflammatory bowel disease. According to one 2020 article, chronic inflammatory diseases are a leading cause of death worldwide.
It is possible to reduce inflammation naturally. However, the extent to which natural remedies work can depend on the cause of the inflammation.
For example, someone with a recurring infection will have inflammation as a result of the infection. Natural remedies may help reduce the symptoms, but they will not address the underlying problem.
If a person is concerned that inflammation is affecting their health, they may benefit from speaking with a doctor about their symptoms.
One of the main ways that people can reduce inflammation naturally is through their diet. A diet that contains a lot of saturated fat and refined sugar is linked to higher rates of inflammation. Foods with a high glycemic index, such as refined carbohydrates, may also contribute.
These foods are common in the typical Western diet. However, it is possible to begin an anti-inflammatory diet by making simple swaps. For example, start by reducing the amount of processed, sweetened, or fried foods in the diet and introducing more:
- Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are important sources of vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants, which may protect against inflammation.
- Nuts and seeds: These foods are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Almonds, in particular, are linked to a lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Fiber: According to the 2020 article, fiber is associated with lower levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which is an inflammatory cytokine. People can increase their fiber intake by eating foods such as beans, legumes, and whole grains.
- Herbs and spices: Many herbs and spices, such as turmeric, are anti-inflammatory. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a compound that has positive effects on people with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, according to one 2018 review.
- Polyphenols: Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant. People can get polyphenols from black or green tea and berries.
- Healthy fats: Anti-inflammatory fats — such as those present in fish, olives, and avocados — are healthy alternatives to saturated fats. Oily fish contains omega-3, which is associated with lower levels of inflammatory compounds such as TNF.
Another way that diet can reduce inflammation is by helping people reach or maintain a moderate weight.
Obesity is a risk factor for inflammation that is independent from a person’s diet. This is due to the substances that fat tissues in the body release, some of which affect inflammation levels. This means that even if someone eats a balanced diet, excess body weight may still affect their inflammation levels.
Many aspects of a person’s lifestyle can influence inflammation levels. These include:
- mental health
- environmental factors, such as pollution
- drinking alcohol
- hormone health
The following may help someone lower their inflammation levels:
Giving up smoking can help reduce inflammation. It also lowers the risk of many inflammatory conditions and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adds up to 10 years to a person’s life expectancy.
Getting regular exercise
Regular exercise works to reduce inflammation in several ways. For example, it can help people maintain a moderate weight, benefit their mental health, and directly reduce the amount of inflammatory chemicals in the body.
One 2017 study also suggests that getting just 20 minutes of moderate exercise may be enough to reduce TNF levels. The authors note that this may benefit people with low grade inflammation.
Looking after mental health
Stress is a risk factor for many mental health conditions, and it can also increase inflammation. However, lowering stress can be challenging.
Depending on a person’s circumstances, they may wish to try:
- being mindful of when stress arises
- noticing situations or thoughts that often cause it
- thinking about ways to manage the triggers, such as asking for help, delegating tasks, or talking with a friend
- creating time for relaxing activities, such as yoga, meditation, creative hobbies, or being in nature
- speaking with a therapist or counselor, particularly if chronic stress or anxiety is having an impact on daily life or physical health
Getting quality sleep
Sleep disruption also affects inflammation levels, as well as mental health.
However, because many things can cause sleep disturbance, getting better sleep may look different from person to person. For example, it may mean:
- setting a regular sleep schedule
- creating time to wind down before bed
- making the sleep environment dark, quiet, and cool
- avoiding screens and blue light in the evening
- addressing underlying sleep or mental health conditions that could be preventing quality sleep
Parents and caregivers may also benefit from getting help caring for infants who wake in the night.
Supporting hormone health may also help regulate inflammation levels. Sex hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, have an impact on the production and secretion of inflammatory molecules in males and females.
Quality sleep, a balanced diet, stress management, and regular exercise all have a positive effect on sex hormones. However, people with underlying conditions — such as polycystic ovary syndrome — may need additional help from a doctor to address hormonal imbalances.
For many people, making dietary and lifestyle changes has a significant impact on inflammation levels.
However, for people with chronic inflammation or inflammatory health conditions, taking certain supplements may help deliver a concentrated dose of an anti-inflammatory substance.
People may wish to try:
- Omega-3: People can find omega-3 in fish oil supplements or algae oil supplements.
- Vitamin D: One 2011 review notes that vitamin D inhibits the production of inflammatory substances in the body. People can get more vitamin D from safe exposure to sunlight or from dietary supplements.
- Magnesium: According to one 2020 article, magnesium is one of the most anti-inflammatory nutrients. However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) say that many people in the United States do not get the recommended amount. Taking magnesium supplements may help with this.
- Curcumin: Curcumin is a compound in turmeric. According to one 2018 review, there is evidence to suggest that curcumin may have a beneficial impact on a number of chronic illnesses, such as metabolic syndrome, arthritis, certain inflammatory digestive conditions, and premenstrual syndrome. However, larger studies are necessary.
Speak with a doctor before beginning any new supplement, as some can interact with existing conditions or current medications.
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