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Inflammation has been long established as a common thread to many diseases. Some experts believe that it is a factor in almost every disease and condition that ails us. (1) It’s blamed for everything from heart disease and cancer to depression and Alzheimer’s.
As with all things science, we are always learning, but it’s clear that inflammation is a risk factor for chronic disease.
It’s important to first understand that there are two types inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is one of the body’s most powerful defense mechanisms. It is the body’s natural, physiologic response to stress from injury, irritation, or infection. The affected area becomes red, warm to the touch, and tender as our bodies send white blood cells in to start repairing the damage. These symptoms indicate that the body is working to heal the injury. Once the body heals to a normal, healthy function, the symptoms go away. (2)
Inflammation is not always a helpful response to the body, however.
Chronic inflammation is something that happens even when your body is not being threatened. When inflammation goes wrong or on too long, it can trigger disease processes. A prolonged state of inflammation can result in lasting damage to the heart, brain, and other organs. All diseases of aging have inflammation as a common root.
Uncontrolled inflammation plays a role in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and even depression. (3) That’s why researchers spend so much time trying to understand it and developing ways to counteract it.
Lifestyle Role in Inflammation
Many lifestyle factors have been shown to play a part in inflammation. A healthy lifestyle that incorporates physical activity, not smoking, stress management and maintaining a healthy weight helps to reduce inflammation.
One of the most powerful tools that we have to fight inflammation is the food that we eat every day. A diet high in processed foods that contain refined starches, sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats have been shown to turn on the inflammatory response. A diet based in nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils has been shown to reduce inflammation (4).
Scientists are also exploring the benefits of individual foods on inflammation. A plant based diet appears to be anti-inflammatory. More specifically, foods such as berries, tomato products, walnuts, turmeric, and red wine show to be especially promising. This has led scientists to look even closer at the specific components within these foods to identify which ones hold anti-inflammatory properties.
This is where supplements come into play. In the case of chronic inflammation, supplementation can help bring things back into balance. Here are several supplements that are supported in the research.
9 Most Helpful Supplements for Inflammation
Fish is the best dietary source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are vital to good health. Omega 3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids as they can’t be made by the body. They must be derived from food. Natural sources of fish oil include cold water fish such as salmon, trout, herring and sardines (5).
There are two especially beneficial types of omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahenxaenoic acid (DHA). Their intake is associated with reduced systemic inflammation and improved health outcomes in inflammatory diseases.
Many studies suggest that omega 3 fatty acids may provide some benefit to a wide range of diseases including cancer, asthma, depression, heart disease, and arthritis (6). Studies also suggest that fish oil supplements can be an effective alternative to NSAIDS for arthritic pain with fewer side effects (7).
- 600-1000 mg daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids from EPA and DHA. Be sure to find fish oil supplements with undetectable mercury content.
Alpha-lipoic acid (or ALA) is also an essential omega 3 fatty acid. ALA is made in the body and are important for metabolism and energy production. ALA comes from plant sources including chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil, and flaxseed.
ALA functions as an antioxidant, protecting and restoring cells from damage. ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in the body so it needs to be consumed in higher amounts to receive the same benefits that fish oil provides (8).
Although ALA has shown some promise fighting inflammation, EPA and DHA are more powerful in their anti-inflammatory effects for that reason.
Preliminary studies show that ALA may enhance heart health, protect against inflammation, and improve brain function (9).
- 500 mg daily of DHA and EPA is recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (10)
Check out our list of the best ALA supplements on the market.
Turmeric has been used for centuries not only to flavor, color, and preserve foods but also as a medicinal remedy. Turmeric contains naturally occurring phytochemicals called curcumin, which gives curry and mustard their characteristic yellow color.
Several studies have demonstrated that curcumin offers safe, anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to be as effective as some of the anti-inflammatory drugs without the harmful side effects (11)
Most of the studies point to curcumin’s ability to inhibit inflammation causing molecules in the body.
It blocks the molecules that trigger the inflammatory pathway. These molecules are thought to play a major role in many chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and depression. (12, 13, 14, 15, 16)
- 400 mg daily, when taken with piperine, which boosts its absorption. Curcumin is poorly absorbed when it is taken on its own.
Bromelain is a digestive enzyme derived from the stem, fruit and juice of the pineapple plant. It has been shown to reduce inflammation by lessening the spread of metabolites that promote inflammation.
It’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties make it an effective treatment for the pain, swelling and stiffness associated with arthritis. (17) It is recognized as a safe and successful therapeutic agent and is being used for ailments such as bronchitis, sinusitis, arthritis, and inflammation. It may also be an effective anti-cancer agent. (18)
- 80-400 mg/serving 2-3 times per day.
Check out our list of the 10 best bromelain products.
Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in grapes, blueberries, and other fruits with purple skin. It can also be found in red wine and peanuts.
Research suggests that resveratrol has strong anti-inflammatory properties in vitro and in animal studies. (19) It protects the mitochondria from oxidative stress and promotes the formation of new mitochondria.
A review of several studies concluded that resveratrol may extend the human lifespan by offering considerable potential to improve health and prevent chronic disease in humans. (20) Supplementation may reduce inflammation in individuals with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Although resveratrol does show to have potential disease fighting properties, the results from clinical trials is less convincing. More research is needed to further investigate the potential power of resveratrol in fighting inflammation in humans.
- 150 – 500 mg per day.
Check out our list of the best resveratrol products.
Ginger is a root that is commonly ground into powder and added to sweet and savory dishes. It has a long history of medicinal uses that date back for centuries.
Gingerols are the active content of gingers. These compounds have been shown to have antioxidants, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. (21) They work by impairing the activity of genes and enzymes that encourage inflammation in the body.
Ginger is so effective at reducing inflammation that it is a natural remedy to help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. (22) In addition to being a powerful anti-inflammatory food, ginger has been shown to have cancer prevention properties as well as lower the risk for heart disease. (23, 24)
Ginger has long been used in the treatment of nausea for morning sickness, seasickness, and chemotherapy-induced nausea. (25)
- 1 gram daily, but up to 2 grams is considered safe. (26)
Check out our list of the best ginger supplements.
Garlic has been used for centuries as a medicinal agent. Research suggests that it offers protection against infection, cancer, and heart disease. (27) Garlic contains allicin, a compound known to block enzymes that assist in bacterial and viral infections.
Aged garlic extracts stimulate proteins that prevent inflammation while suppressing the signs of inflammation. (28)
Research suggests that garlic can reduce the risk of developing cancer and heart disease by production of 2 inflammatory enzymes and may be helpful in preventing heart disease by keeping arteries healthy. (29)
- 600-1200 mg of aged garlic extract, which offers the highest level of bioavailable compounds that reduce inflammation.
Check out our list of the 10 best garlic supplements.
Vitamins C and E
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that protect against free radical damage. They have been shown to inhibit inflammation and oxidative stress through combined supplementation. (30)
- Up to 1000 mg/day of Vitamin E
- Up to 2000 mg/day of Vitamin C
In general, it is best to get your anti-inflammation nutrients from the food that you eat. However, in the case of chronic inflammation, supplements can often help bring the body back into balance.
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Sarah.
Stock Photos from Cozine / Chompoo Suriyo / Shutterstock
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About the Author
Sarah Marjoram is a Nutrition Marketing and Communications Consultant. She has almost 20 years of experience as a dietitian and is passionate about communicating science in a memorable and meaningful way. She believes all foods should be enjoyed with portion and balance. Email Sarah or check out her website here: https://nourish.marjoram.co/