When we talk about anti-inflammatory supplements, herbs, and foods, most people think about pain relief; rather than getting rid of an important underlying mechanism for many diseases—namely inflammation. Natural remedies for inflammation include weight reduction, microbiome “clean-up,” and toxin elimination. However, in this article, we’re going to discuss supplements for inflammation, components of foods, and specific foods that decrease inflammation and therefore pain, mostly via the same pathways as drugs; the COX-1, COX-2, and LOX pathways. Here’s an overview.
- Foods which decrease inflammation: Beets, Berries, Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, Fatty Fish, Leafy Greens, Olive Oil, Onions, Pomegranate, Tart Cherries, Walnuts
- Anti-inflammatory herbals: Boswellia, Chamomile, Curcumin, Rosemary
- Supplements which are plant and food derived: Fish Oil, Devil’s Claw, Green Tea, Glucosamine, MSM, Cannabis, CBD, Quercetin
- How to start
Natural Remedies for Inflammation: Foods
Before I discuss anti-inflammatory foods, be sure you are eating a diet which is anti-inflammatory by design; as it won’t do you any good to eat a diet full of fast foods and processed foods and merely add these healthy, anti-inflammatory foods. Now, let’s start with a food I recommend that you eat on a daily basis: the mighty avocado.
Avocados are a great addition to any meal because they are high in “healthy fat,” and fat is a natural appetite suppressant. Try refrigerating them after purchasing to keep them all from ripening at once.
Beets are best known for their ability to increase levels of clot-busting nitric oxide. They also help reduce oxidative stress due to their abundance of vitamin C.
They are one of the many ways we can lower blood pressure naturally.
Here’s my very favorite beet recipe straight from my Russian grandparents:
Slice and chill cooked and thinly sliced beets. Combine with thinly sliced cucumbers and red onions. Add a mixture of red wine vinegar and (A2 milk) sour cream. Season with dill weed and black pepper. It is delicious and super healthy!
Polyphenol compounds, particularly dark red pigmented compounds called anthocyanins, are anti-inflammatory when consumed. Therefore, all berries are healthy additions to your diet and tend to be the healthiest fruits to consume; in general.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
Broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower contain sulforaphane, which can block enzymes linked (mainly) to joint inflammation.
Fatty Omega-3 Rich Fish
While popular white fish such as cod, snapper, and sole are good sources of lean protein, they do not provide the same inflammation-fighting properties as the high omega-3 fatty fish. The best way to get your omega-3s (the fatty fish) is by consuming wild caught salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Don’t consume anything that is farmed, as it might be full of pesticides, amongst other unsavory additives.
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, dark romaine lettuce, and kale are delicious and easy salad ingredients that reduce inflammation. In addition, you’ll get some extra magnesium.
Olive oil helps reduce inflammation. However, studies show that only extra-virgin olive oil obtained from the “first press” of the olives is beneficial. Sadly, imported olive oil is not reliably labeled; so for now, purchase your EVOO from California. As a reminder, use your EVOO for salads, not for cooking; due to the low flash point.
Onions are a good source of quercetin, which is a potent histamine blocker. Histamine causes allergic reactions, but it also causes inflammation.
Pomegranates contain the antioxidants called flavonoids to decrease inflammation. If you have inflammatory arthritis, you’ll be happy to know that they also appear to block the production of an enzyme associated with cartilage destruction.
Tart cherries have powerful anti-inflammatory properties via the COX pathways as well as via their antioxidant capabilities.
They have anti-inflammatory properties due to their omega-3 content, and they’re a good source of antioxidants as well. They also are full of essential nutrients such as biotin, copper, and manganese.
Natural Anti-inflammatory Supplements: Herbals
Boswellia, or Indian frankincense, is an herbal extract from the native Indian Boswellia serrata tree. Out of the four boswellic acids, acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid is the most potent inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme responsible for inflammation.
Chamomile contains the antioxidant apigenin which appears to be the anti-inflammatory mechanism of action.
Curcumin: The Best Anti-inflammatory Supplement
Curcumin is one of the three major curcuminoids we find in the spice turmeric. You can either eat turmeric or take a curcumin supplement. Note, however, that while it fits into both of these two categories, it is a lot more potent as a supplement. Know that the anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin is not restricted to a single factor.
Research shows curcumin inhibits COX-2, a pro-inflammatory substance. It inhibits the entire arachidonic acid cascade, through both the lipoxygenase (LOX) and cyclooxygenase (COX-1) pathways used by NSAIDs. Curcumin supplements have worked as well as phenylbutazone or cortisone for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and postoperative inflammation in several well-done studies.
Curcumin is safe, even at doses up to 8,000 mg per day. Doses this high are being studied to inhibit “angiogenesis” or vascular tumor spread in cancer patients. It is considered one of the best brain supplements; with studies of cognition using doses similar to this as well. Look for a supplement which contains both curcumin, plus the other two main curcuminoids: bisdemethoxy curcumin and demethoxy curcumin.
This tasty herb has needle-like leaves and pink, blue, or purple flowers. Rosemary contains two potent anti-inflammatory substances: carnosol and carnosic acid. These two compounds inhibit the COX-2 pathway.
Assorted Supplements for Inflammation
As mentioned, curcumin is available as a supplement. Some polyphenols are also available as supplements. However, the below products are only available as supplements or “integratives” which are a type of supplement.
There is ample evidence that fish oils are highly anti-inflammatory and should be a part of everyone’s supplement regimen unless they have medical reasons prohibiting use such as a fish allergy or being on anti-coagulant medication. I recommend a combo multi-vitamin, multi-mineral plus fish oil supplement to all of my patients.
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a plant; native to Africa which has been used medicinally for decades. Its active ingredients are called iridoid glycosides. Devil’s claw also contains useful bioflavonoids and phytosterols, which are plant-based antioxidants. Supplements are formulated using Devil’s claw plus other herbals, as are creams featuring this ingredient for arthritis; as the skin easily absorbs it.
The component of green tea called EGCG reduces inflammatory markers such as CRP. Independent of this function, ECGC has been found to help prevent some types of cancer and is a great BDNF supplement for cognitive health.
There have been over 25 clinical trials, studying the efficacy of glucosamine (versus NSAIDs) for the pain and inflammation of degenerative arthritis. The majority of studies found that glucosamine “won,” and without the side effects of the NSAIDs.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a popular dietary supplement used as a single agent and in combination with other nutrients. It shows to be beneficial for the inflammation and pain of degenerative arthritis.
MSM “just caught on” in veterinary and, more recently, human medicine, based on word-of-mouth reports. Its use is widespread, but there are few studies; it’s on the list due to its reputation.
Cannabis contains a cannabinoid substance, cannabichromene, which appears to possess anti-inflammatory properties. Because this is a plant which can be made into many forms, it is being classified as a supplement.
CBD is the non-psychoactive extract of cannabis. A small number of studies involving the pain-relieving effects of CBD in (mostly) inflammatory arthritis and fibromyalgia are somewhat positive for demonstrating pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties.
Quercetin is a flavonoid we find in highest quantities in onions, apples, citrus fruits, dark berries, grapes, and olive oil. I recommend a supplement to get the quantity you need to quell inflammation, When your body is under stress, it produces cortisol which, when chronic, is inflammatory. Quercetin acts as an anti-inflammatory and a natural anti-allergy agent by suppressing the enzyme necessary for cortisol as well as histamine release.
Antioxidant substances have received numerous “mentions” in this article; to be clear, reducing oxidative stress will reduce inflammation. Therefore, the ingestion of all antioxidant vitamins (C, CoQ 10, Natural E, the carotenoids, etc.) will all help to decrease inflammation.
Where to start?
If you eat an anti-inflammatory or (even more strict) a low-lectin, anti-inflammatory diet, you’ll be eating many of these “good foods” and avoiding the “bad foods.” Add a great high-antioxidant plus good fish oil nutritional supplement, curcumin, and an ECGC-green tea supplement to your diet. Don’t forget to normalize your weight. If you are under stress, take adrenal adaptogen supplements and if you have any GI symptoms, make sure you don’t have leaky gut. Always, clear leaky gut first. Any questions?
Plant food supplements with anti-inflammatory properties: a systematic review (I).
Plant food supplements with anti-inflammatory properties: a systematic review (II).
Review of the efficacy of green tea, isoflavones and aloe vera supplements based on randomised controlled trials.
Volume 57, 2017 – Issue 13
Curcumin, an active component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), and its effects on health
Volume 53, 2013 – Issue 9
Recent Advances in Biologically Active Compounds in Herbs and Spices: A Review of the Most Effective Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Active Principles
Volume 56, 2016 – Issue 3
Fruit Polyphenols: A Review of Anti-inflammatory Effects in Humans