There's a lot of chatter lately about inflammation. And you may be wondering what you can do about it, either through dietary changes or natural remedies.
First, a brief explanation of inflammation
On the plus side, inflammation is a part of your body's immune response, crucial to the healing process. That pain, heat, redness and swelling—known as acute inflammation—is your body's way of protecting itself after an infection or injury. It's an essential and normal process.
For instance, if you break a bone or suffer a nasty cut, a biochemical reaction occurs that brings more blood flow to the area in an attempt at healing. From there, nerve endings and other cells at the site of the injury send out molecules that signal white blood cells to fight off foreign bodies.
But there's a downside to inflammation revealed by emerging research into its role in many diseases and conditions, including: Parkinson's, Crohn's and Alzheimer's diseases; diabetes; rheumatoid arthritis; allergies and asthma; atherosclerosis; ulcerative colitis; and even cancer.
Chronic inflammation, or low-grade or systemic inflammation, causes the body's immune system to initiate an inflammatory response, even though there is no evidence to suggest there's anything to fight off. Inflammation of this type is not your friend, but rather your enemy. While it can be a good thing, too much of it is not, and it can cause permanent damage to your heart, brain and other organs.
Many studies have found anti-inflammatory effects in certain components of foods and beverages that are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols.
The Mediterranean diet, long-touted for its health benefits, includes many of these foods:
- Healthy fats like olive and canola oils
- Green leafy vegetables like kale, collards and spinach
- Nuts like walnuts and almonds
- Fruits like oranges, cherries, blueberries and strawberries
- Fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, tuna and salmon
But foods can contribute to inflammation, too
There's a flip side to food that helps reduce inflammation: foods that cause it. Steer clear of these:
- Fried foods
- Refined carbohydrates
- Processed meats
- Omega 6 fatty acids (like those found in oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, peanut and vegetable)
- Trans fat (found in processed foods, cookies, doughnuts, stick margarine and frozen breakfast products)
Other culprits in inflammation
- Excess body weight
To deal with pain associated with inflammation, many people turn to steroidal medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). These can have side effects (like gastric upset), which is why there's growing interest in going the natural route.
Natural anti-inflammatory compounds have been used for centuries and often have fewer side effects than over-the-counter or prescription medication. But it's important to note that even natural remedies can have side effects and may interact with drugs you are already taking, so always have a conversation with your health care professional before taking anything. Natural remedies include:
- Fish oil supplements
- White willow bark
- Curcumin (turmeric)
- Green tea
- Pycnogenol (maritime pine bark)
- Boswellia serrate resin (frankincense)
- Uncaria tomentosa (cat's claw)
- Capsaicin (chili pepper)