In the human body, inflammation can be both a hero and a villain. When it is acute, inflammation takes on the hero role as it works with the immune system to address harmful invaders, infection, and injury. When inflammation becomes chronic, it turns into a villain because it can then contribute to a variety of potentially dangerous conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more. (3) Continue reading to learn more about the signs of inflammation and methods for reducing inflammation in the body.
What causes inflammation?
The inflammatory response is dependent on the nature of the initial trigger and where it takes place in the body. However, the same process is followed no matter where the inflammation occurs:
- The detrimental stimuli or circumstance is recognized.
- Various inflammatory pathways are activated.
- Inflammatory markers are released.
- Inflammatory cells are recruited. (3)
As a result, an acute injury may cause heat, pain, redness, and swelling, but will often resolve in a short time once the tissue is healed. When the inflammatory response is constantly being activated (chronic inflammation) it can lead to low-grade whole body inflammation (systemic inflammation). This low-grade inflammation can lead to tissue damage rather than healing. Unfortunately, one of the first signs of chronic systemic inflammation is often the development of an inflammatory-related illness. (2)
Systemic signs of inflammation
It’s estimated that more than 50% of all deaths in the world today can be attributed to an inflammatory-related illness. In addition to arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, inflammation contributes to autoimmune disorders, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, neurodegenerative conditions, and stroke. (7)
Individuals may experience signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation long before the development of disease. These common signs and symptoms include:
- Body pain, arthralgia, myalgia
- Chronic fatigue and insomnia
- Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders
- Frequent infections
- Gastrointestinal complaints such as acid reflux, constipation, and diarrhea
- Weight loss or weight gain (15)
Signs of inflammation in the gut
The development of inflammatory bowel disease is one of the signs of inflammation in the gut. When there is an imbalance of gut microbiota (i.e., dysbiosis), the immune system becomes activated which increases intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and can eventually lead to intestinal inflammation. (12) Some of the same factors that increase systemic signs of inflammation also increase gut inflammation, including:
- Antibiotic use
- Environmental stresses such as pollution
- Lack of physical activity
- Poor diet
- Psychological stress
- Sleep disturbances (12)
How to reduce inflammation in the body
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, getting enough sleep, and practicing stress management techniques are great ways to help reduce signs of inflammation in the body. Dietary supplements can also play a key role.
1. Eat a healthy diet
Did you know that diets high in red and processed meats, sugar sweetened beverages and desserts, fried foods, and refined grains are associated with increased inflammatory markers? (9) Combat inflammation by following an anti-inflammatory diet, which emphasizes nutrient-dense plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Research shows that the anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce inflammation and cardiometabolic risk factors. (22)
2. Get enough sleep
Research demonstrates that lack of sleep and inconsistent sleep habits may contribute to increased levels of inflammation. (5)(8) For optimal health, adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. (20)
3. Manage stress levels
Research demonstrates that stress can activate an inflammatory response in the body. During stressful periods, the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol which have immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties. (11) Manage your stress levels by staying active, connecting with loved ones, spending time in nature, practicing meditation or deep breathing, or seeking professional help when needed. (13)
4. Consider supplements for inflammation
While it’s true that there are many contributors to systemic inflammation, there are also many natural anti-inflammatory medicinal herbs and nutrients that are backed by strong scientific evidence. Summarized below are some of the many anti-inflammatory supplements for inflammation.
Curcumin is a great place to start when it comes to anti-inflammatory effects because the research is extensive. In addition to demonstrating potent antioxidant and anticancer activity, curcumin may inhibit inflammatory signaling pathways like NF-kappaB and the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines like TNF-alpha and IL-1beta. (19)
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been featured in the scientific literature extensively for their cardiovascular benefits, and one mechanism is their anti-inflammatory properties. According to a 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis, omega-3 fatty acids lowered inflammatory biomarkers in individuals with cardiovascular disease or diabetes. (14)
Ginger is an anti-inflammatory herb that appears to work similarly to curcumin by counteracting the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and inhibiting pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-1beta, and C reactive protein (CRP). (17) There have been several randomized controlled trials showing that powdered ginger can reduce the inflammation and pain associated with osteoarthritis. (1)
Resveratrol is a bioactive compound found in plants such as grapes, apples, and and raspberries that may improve inflammatory markers by significantly reducing TNF-alpha and CRP. (10)(21) As with curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids, resveratrol’s anti-inflammatory activity also positively influences the brain with studies showing it may offer neuroprotective effects and improve anxiety, depression, learning, and memory. (18)
5. Vitamins C and D
To help prevent low-grade systemic inflammation, consider vitamin C and vitamin D. Both are antioxidants that may also positively influence markers of inflammation. A 2015 randomized controlled trial found that vitamin C reduced both high-sensitivity CRP and IL-6 in patients with hypertension and type 2 diabetes. (6) As for vitamin D, low levels have been associated with increased levels of inflammatory markers including CRP. (4)
The bottom line
Adding some or all of these anti-inflammatory agents to an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle may help prevent and even reverse systemic inflammation.
If you are interested in taking advantage of the anti-inflammatory effects of these or other herbs and nutrients, be sure to consult with an integrative practitioner for further guidance to ensure they’re right for you.
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