Inflammation has a bad rap, but not all types are negative. Take catching a cold, for example. Naturally, the body will respond by getting inflamed to fend off any threats to the immune system and eventually help with healing. So, though it may be surprising (even to us), inflammation is actually a healthy immune response to injury, illness, or infection. That said, there's a big difference between regular inflammation and chronic inflammation. According to nutritionist Brooke Alpert, chronic and systemic inflammation is when there's an unhealthy reaction that can be caused by poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, chemical exposure, injuries, or biological conditions.
And while lifestyle habits—namely proper nutrition, sleep, and stress management—may help with decreasing inflammation, natural anti-inflammatory supplements might up the ante and may be quicker. To learn about the supplements we should be taking for inflammation, we tapped registered dietitian Tamsin Jordan in addition to Alpert.
Meet the Expert
Below, check out the best anti-inflammatory supplements, as recommended by nutrition experts.
Fish oil is normally touted for promoting heart health, but Alpert says it can also function as an effective anti-inflammatory supplement (specifically omega-3 fish oil). And, science reflects that. One study, in particular, asked arthritic participants to self-report changes in wellbeing after taking omega-3 fish oil supplements for four months. Sixty percent of the participants stated that their joint pain, as well as "overall pain," was improved. "The anti-inflammatory action of fish oil comes from its polyunsaturated fatty acid content," says Jordan. "Specifically, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are fatty acids that reduce the production of certain proteins, called cytokines, that trigger inflammation throughout the body."
When it comes to choosing a fish oil supplement, Jordan recommends doing your research. "The fish oil should be sourced sustainably, be free of harmful contaminants, and provide at least 500mg of EPA and DHA each, per serving," she says.
One of the most widely-known supplements for inflammation is curcumin. It's a compound that occurs naturally in turmeric and happens to be its most active constituent, giving it medicinal properties (which explains why the herb is so lauded in the wellness world). Alpert names it one of the top supplements to take for chronic inflammation, explaining that "it can reduce inflammation in diabetes and heart disease." One study published in 2017 shows its effects on being able to manage chronic inflammation associated with diseases like asthma, bronchitis, colitis, and arthritis, among others.
Your post-workout matcha or nightly cup of green tea may just be a habit, but as it turns out, green tea actually contains biologically active compounds that can seriously help ease inflammation. Among these compounds is epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG), which according to the Arthritis Foundation, is a type of polyphenol touted as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Like turmeric/curcumin, ginger is another well-known anti-inflammatory supplement. It's all thanks to its chemistry, which has anti-inflammatory effects, possibly preventing the onset of oxidative stress and certain diseases (even cancer). Alpert references breast cancer specifically. "Studies have shown that ginger root can help lower inflammation in breast cancer patients, but any supplement that helps with lowering/reducing inflammation will have a systemic benefit for the whole body," she explains.
Jordan agrees, adding that "the main health-promoting property of ginger is from a compound called gingerols." And even though it's easy enough to incorporate ginger into your diet (our favorite ways to incorporate it is through tea, wellness shots, and smoothies), a ginger supplement will ensure you're getting an effective dosage. Plus, taking a capsule is much easier than ingesting pure ginger for someone who might not be partial to the bitter taste.
CBD (otherwise known as the non-psychoactive component of marijuana that's derived from hemp) isn't just a buzzy wellness trend with no merit. According to Alpert, it has real substance and efficacy, especially when it comes to chronic inflammation. "CBD is gaining traction as one of the best anti-inflammatory supplements that you can find," she notes. "It’s amazing for so many conditions from inflammation, anxiety, stress reactions, and more. In fact, after studying the incredible benefits of CBD and becoming certified as a cannabis practitioner, I created my own CBD powder to be able to provide my clients with the best CBD out there," she says.
Wine lovers may recognize the ingredient resveratrol, which is a plant-based compound found in the skin of grapes. "Studies have shown that resveratrol can improve symptoms of ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease," says Jordan. "It does this by inhibiting several steps in the inflammation pathway, thus reducing damage to the intestinal cell lining." A suggested dose of 10 to 200 milligrams daily seems to be the magic number—above this level, side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and liver problems.
Though resveratrol can help heal inflammation, Jordan notes that at very high levels, it has been found to interact with certain enzymes in the body. "This can impact the metabolism of certain drugs, examples include tamoxifen, used to treat breast cancer," she says.
You may have heard of zinc already, as it's an essential mineral in our body (and largely found in oysters—who knew). As Jordan explains, zinc is required for the normal development and function of immune cells, specifically white blood cells, that provide a defense against invading pathogens. "Our cells continually generate free radicals as part of their normal, healthy function, and our bodies have developed an efficient way of detoxifying these by-products with the production of antioxidants." But if free radical production outpaces antioxidant neutralization, she explains, our cells can get damaged and this can lead to, yep, inflammation. Long-term, this can be detrimental to our health, but zinc supplements can help regulate our inflammatory response through its role in supporting our immune system.
That hot kick you get out of chili peppers? You can chalk that up to capsaicin. According to Jordan, capsaicin is an effective pain reliever and may have some anti-inflammatory properties, helping with relief and prevention of migraine headaches along with improved digestion and arthritis. She recommends that pregnant women avoid capsaicin, as it may cause gastrointestinal irritation. "Similarly, it should also be avoided during breastfeeding, as it can pass into breastmilk and cause the milk to have an unpleasant taste for infants," she warns. "Those who suffer from heartburn should also stay clear as capsaicin can exacerbate symptoms."
You know that green hue your smoothie turns after adding in a spoonful of spirulina? That's because spirulina is "a blue-green microalgae that typically grows in water," explains Jordan, noting that it has a high nutritional value, containing carbohydrates, protein, fatty acids, essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals and phytochemical. But beyond being a helpful addition to your diet (and contributing to healthier aging—major points there), studies have shown that spirulina can help with lowering inflammation levels in those with diabetes, and can actually increase the hormone associated with leveling out blood sugar.
If you suffer from chronic inflammation, boswellia, a centuries-old Ayurvedic herb that has multiple medicinal uses, may help. Though more research is needed, it's been found to help treat inflammatory-inducing conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, to name a few. According to some research, the herb can keep leukotrienes (inflammation-causing molecules) from forming in part thanks to its four powerful acids. Bear caution if you menstruate or plan to get/are pregnant, however, as boswellia may promote blood flow in the pelvis and uterus, and may lead to miscarriage and heavier menstrual flow.
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Arthritis Foundation. Best drinks for arthritis.
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