Inflammation and Anti-Inflammatories

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Author: Rima Martin and Adam Alonzi




We usually consume what our hearts and stomachs desire, but everyday foods can damage our health if taken in excess. Our body’s inflammatory process a wonderful part of the immune system. If your immune system and its ability to intelligently manage inflammation became impaired you would have a lot to worry about. Deadly health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are directly linked to acute or chronic inflammation. Our diet is key to reducing and eliminating it. There are thousands of different foods in the world and quite a few that can assist in this struggle. To effectively attack inflammation one should have a healthy diet generously seasoned by an assortment of spices and herbs.

Let’s examine a few foods one can find in most Western diets. These foods are processed, adulterated, refined or altered in some way. Below are the most common foods that keep the immunological fires smoldering.


It has been said sugar is natural because it comes from sugarcane. However, all the cells within the sugarcane have been eliminated by the refining process. Sugar ignites inflammation when taken in excessive amounts.  Regardless of the form it takes sugar is sugar, organic or not. Brown sugar, raw sugar, maple sugar, dextrose, glucose or fructose. Every time we consume sugar, we upset our body chemistry and disrupt homeostasis, the balance in the body needed for maintenance and repair. All of these molecules add calories and promote the production of triglycerides, esters implicated in the etiology of heart disease. Slowly cutting on our consumption of sugar can break our dependency on it. Because it adds calories and spikes insulin, sugars are strongly linked to weight gain.


Refined Grains​, Bad Fats, and Other Things 

Refined grains have been polished through the removal of the bran, germ, and the aleurone layer. This strips the fiber and many nutrients from the grains. Refined grains play a vital role in the occurrence of inflammation in our bodies. Avoid sweetened grains and refined grains in pizza, white bread, and cereals.

Vegetable oils like corn, soy, and canola that have been heated for deep frying should be avoided. They clog the arteries that block the flow of oxygen ­rich food to the heart and brain. Quality and quantity counts while consuming fats. Studies have shown that food high in trans fatty acids and saturated fats can have pro-­inflammatory effects. Trans fats increases CRP (C­reactive protein), a marker of inflammation in the body, IL­6 ( interleukin), which acts as a pro-inflammatory cytokine and TNFa ( tumor necrosis factor alpha), a cell that signals cytosine involved in systemic inflammation.

High calorie diets cause (fat) cells to make major histocompatibility complex II, a group of proteins that help the immune system fight off viruses and bacteria. In overweight mice and humans these fat cells, also called adipocytes, are issuing distress signals as if they were being threatened by infectious invaders.  This sends local immune cells into a tizzy, which leads to unnecessary inflammation

If our immune system does not agree with certain foods, discomfort results. When this inflammation persists, it becomes your enemy. Fortunately, there are many natural shields against this foe. Fortunately, most of them can be found in your kitchen or local grocery stores. By choosing the right foods, you will reduce your risk of becoming ill. Pick the wrong ones, you could accelerate the development of heart disease, cancer, major depression, dementia, etc, etc, ad infinitum.




Natural Sources of Anti­-Inflammatories

There are countless foods, herbs and spices that can fight inflammation. By adding them to your diet, you will be healthier and happier. Listed below are some of the best anti­inflammatories.

Olive Oil contains oleocanthal, which prevents the production of pro-inflammatory enzymes. For these reasons and others, it is beneficial to heart and brain health. As Beauchamp et. Al noted, “oleocanthal has a potency and profile strikingly similar to that of ibuprofen. Although structurally dissimilar, both these molecules inhibit the same cyclooxygenase enzymes in the prostaglandin-biosynthesis pathway.”

Berries​ and Cherries​­, like many fruits, can fight inflammation, but berries have anthocyanins. Cherries are perhaps the most potent. Some athletes claim cherries have reduced their dependency on anti-inflammatories and have improved their overall performance. Rat studies by Saric et. al and Tall et. al lend experimental substantiation to otherwise anecdotal reports. Connolly’s paper in the British Journal of Sports corroborates these earlier findings in animals by finding “strength loss and pain were significantly less in the cherry juice trial versus placebo.”

Dark Greens​­ are a no­-brainer. Vitamin E plays a major role in protecting the body from pro-­inflammatory molecules called cytokines. These are found in dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli and spinach.

Healthy Nuts like almonds and walnuts are rich in fiber, vitamin E, polyunsaturated fats, magnesium, and calcium. Most of the nuts are also full of anti­oxidants, which, when consumed in appropriate amounts, keep the foe at bay.

Garlic and Onions​­: as much as these pungent vegetables are avoided by some people, they are excellent sources of desirable compounds.  Onions, like garlic, contain similar chemicals, like quercetin and allicin, which produce free radical fighting sulfenic acids. Thiacremonone is one of several sulfurous compounds that fight inflammation through the inhibition of NF-κB.

Incorporating these foods will help, but there are other means of taking anti-inflammatories in the form of supplements. Let’s look at some of the best out there.



Top 10 Natural Anti­Inflammatory Supplements

Omega­3 Fats ​­are among the most commonly used supplements in the world. Omega­3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are three main types of omega­3 fats. ​EPA​(eicosapentaenoic acid), which is used to form signalling molecules called eicosanoids, ​DHA ​(docosahexaenoic acid ) is a 22 carbon long omega 3 fatty acid. Its role is to serve as a structural component in cell membranes. ​EPA​ and ​DHA ​are mainly found in seafood and fatty fish. ​ALA (alpha­linolenic acid) is an omega­3 fatty acid and is found in chia, flax seeds, and walnuts. If you can’t get enough omega­3s from your diet, supplementing with fish oil is a good option. Omega­3s fights inflammation throughout your body.

The literature is vast, but one of the most widely cited papers is by Simopoulos et al. She and her colleagues concluded that fish oil supplementation for “chronic inflammatory diseases reveal significant benefit, including decreased disease activity and a lowered use of anti-inflammatory drugs.


Vitamin C ​­Ascorbic Acid is a natural water soluble vitamin. The need for vitamin C varies from person to person. It helps to produce collagen ­ the building block for skin, cartilage, carnitine, ligaments, blood vessels, and assists in hormonal function function. So make sure you replenish your supply of Vitamin C regularly. Some athletes may benefit from supplementation. Serum cortisol levels were lower in marathon runners who took vitamin C than those who did not. Similarly adrenaline levels, a wonderful hormone with an important when secreted in brief spurts, were also lower.


Vitamin E ​­belongs to a group of powerful compounds, tocopherols and tocotrienols, each of which has a slightly different activity in the body. These compounds works as antioxidants. Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant that prevents the production of ​ROS​(reactive oxygen species) that’s formed during the process of oxidation of fat.  In recommended quantities, vitamin E helps prevent heart disease by slowing the release of inflammatory substances that damage the heart. It also might be effective for easing lung inflammation related to allergies. Supplementation is only advisable if a deficiency has been established by a blood test.

(Editor’s Note: please see our previously published article, which, among other things, explores the dangers of excessive antioxidant intake).

Borage or Starflower Oil ​­is from the Boraginaceae family and has name of Borago officinalis. Borage is also known as the Bee plant and Bee Bread because the blue purplish star shaped flower that attracts bees. It has Essential Fatty Acids ­ ​EFA​,which improves nail and hair growth. It also has high levels of ​GLA​­(Gamma Linolenic Acid). Borage is often used to restore adrenal glands to their natural balance. It’s loaded with salicylic acid, calcium and magnesium, which is why some athletes use it to alleviate joint and muscle pain. It’s also used to treat multiple ailments, internal inflammation and various cellular functions.

Curcumin ​­and Curcuminoids are closely related. Turmeric contains desmethoxycurcumin and bis­desmethoxycurcumin. It halts DNA mutations, related to cancer formations. This has been used extensively for hundreds of years for fighting cancer, arthritis and asthma. It also assists in gallbladder function and aids in minimizing oxidative stress. This spice capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, curcumin’s potential as a neuroprotective nutrient and supporter of overall brain health should not be overlooked.

There are already many scientific papers about curcumin and the number is still growing. As one extensive review reads, “research shows curcumin is a highly pleiotropic molecule capable of interacting with numerous molecular targets involved in inflammation.” In other words, turmeric should not only be of interest to cooks and gourmands, but also pharmacologists! This might be why more than one group has used curcumin as the payload for nanoparticle delivery systems designed to kill cancer cells.




Boswellia: ​­the resin of the boswellia species is used as incense in religious cultural ceremonies but also has medical properties. Boswellia Serrata (Salai/Salai Guggul), is a branching tree of family Burseraceae that grows in dry and mountainous regions of India and North Africa. The oleo gum resin which contains resin, essential oils and polysaccharides, is extraced for use. This is one of the top anti­-inflammatory pain killers. Boswellia is great for muscular pain including fibromyalgia. Boswellia has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for a whole host of ailments.

Milk Thistle ​­(Silybum marianum ) is a herb used for thousands of years for liver inflammations and is also a medicinal plant. According to folk traditions, it’s violet and white veined flowers come from the Virgin Mary’s milk. It’s active component is silibin, derived from its seeds. It also consists of Silymarin, a complex form of biological compounds (flavonolignans ), which are known to be antioxidants. It’s great for tissue scarring and works as a toxin blockade agent, by inhibiting the binding of toxin to liver cell membrane receptors. It’s also excellent for allergies, immune dysfunction, and lethargy.

Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone ) ​­this is a naturally occurring quinones found in aerobic organisms across the tree of life, from bacteria to mammals. It was first identified in 1940 and isolated from the mitochondria of beef heart. It is most commonly known as Vitamin Q10 nowadays. CoQ10 is essential for the health of all human tissues and organs. It is beneficial in treating gum inflammation, heart disease, high blood pressure, and in the protection of LDL cholesterol. Because of its effects on cellular energy within the mitochondria itself, Q10 is also taken to enhance athletic performance.

The levels of the marker TNF-α was significantly lower in statin-prescribed coronary artery disease patients who were give COQ10 than the control group. This confirms earlier studies done with rats and baboons. Yes, baboons. Odd choice, right? No, it’s not a typo.

Devil’s Claw, ​­also known as Harpagophytum, which means “hook plant” in Greek. Its name comes from the small hooks on the plant fruits and has been used to treat pain. It also contains anti-inflammatory agent, harpagoside, which is a high concentration of iridoid. This has proved effective in improving lower back pain, decreases inflammations and swelling. Although some users have claimed relief from migraines, tendinitis and menstrual problems, Whitehouse et. al found no evidence for its usefulness in the treatment of arthritis.

Bioflavonoids are a diverse group of plant derived compounds that can lower one’s risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Bioflavonoids, or flavonoids, are a large class of antioxidants .They are compounds abundant in the pulp and rinds of citrus fruits and other foods containing vitamin C , such as soybeans and root vegetables. Other major sources of bioflavonoids include tea, vegetables such as broccoli and eggplant,flaxseed , and whole grains. They also have antiviral and antifungal properties.



Non­steroidal Anti­-inflammatory Drugs

These natural anti­-inflammatories can be very effective to guard yourself against inflammation, but be advised to consult your GP if you are taking any medication.  Some non­steroidal anti­inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS ) are:

Naproxen or Aleve ​­is a common OTC medication for inflammation. Although sometimes effective, it has been known to increase the risk of stomach bleeding and life threatening heart conditions. Ibuprofen or Advil ​­commonly known as Advil or Motrin, has a few advantages over aspirin. It’s slightly stronger, depending on the type of pain you are harboring. It is a type of painkiller which affects the chemicals in your body called prostaglandins, which cause pain and swelling (inflammation). But it has similar side effects to Naproxen. Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid, was developed by Bayer in 1897. Apart from inflammation, it is used to treat minor body pains, is considered to be generally the best drug for pain relief and migraine headaches. Aspirin thins out platelets, the cells responsible for blood clots, but can have unwanted side-effects like heartburn, dyspepsia, and nausea.


Stress and Inflammation

In one study on the effects of compassion meditation on the subject at hand, IL-6 responsiveness was reduced in the high practice mediation group versus the low practice one. Psychoneuroimmunology is a rich, old, and expanding field.

Try yoga and Pilates and build stamina. Make your surroundings as green as possible. Go out and play and be close to nature. Use high quality water filters. Above anything else, get plenty of rest. Getting the right amount of sleep is a great for a lot of things. Massages, water therapy and some mind-­body treatments are fantastic ways of dealing with stress, which besides unnecessarily activating one’s immune system, has its fair share of other unwanted side-effects.

Although many of us opt for NSAIDs, some foods and herbs can be quite effective too. Adopt a healthier diet. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and incorporate an omega­3 fats source in your diet. Add a high quality multi­vitamin. Exercise daily, which actually stimulates our bodies natural defenses against this wicked foe. Listen to your body and what it’s trying to tell you. Our bodies are incredibly resilient and taking care of ourselves is the best sort of prevention and prevention, as it has been said, is the best medicine.



Works Cited:

Ban, Jung O., et al. “Anti-inflammatory and arthritic effects of thiacremonone, a novel sulfurcompound isolated from garlic via inhibition of NF-κB.” Arthritis research & therapy 11.5 (2009): R145.

Beauchamp, Gary K., et al. “Phytochemistry: ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil.” Nature 437.7055 (2005): 45-46.

Bisht, Savita, et al. “Polymeric nanoparticle-encapsulated curcumin (“nanocurcumin”): a novel strategy for human cancer therapy.” J Nanobiotechnology 5.3 (2007): 1-18.

Connolly, D. A. J., M. P. McHugh, and O. I. Padilla-Zakour. “Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage.”British journal of sports medicine 40.8 (2006): 679-683.

Green, Gary A. “Understanding NSAIDs: from aspirin to COX-2.” Clinical cornerstone 3.5 (2001): 50-59.

Jacobs, Bradly P., et al. “Milk thistle for the treatment of liver disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” The American journal of medicine113.6 (2002): 506-515.

Julie, S., and M. T. Jurenka. “Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent.” Alternative medicine review 14.2 (2009).

Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K., et al. “Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice.”Psychosomatic medicine 72.2 (2010): 113.

Malik, Vasanti S., Matthias B. Schulze, and Frank B. Hu. “Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 84.2 (2006): 274-288.

Lee, Bor-Jen, et al. “Effects of coenzyme Q10 supplementation (300 mg/day) on antioxidation and anti-inflammation in coronary artery disease patients during statins therapy: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Nutr J 12.1 (2013): 142.

Lopez-Garcia, Esther, et al. “Consumption of trans fatty acids is related to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction.” The Journal of nutrition 135.3 (2005): 562-566.

Peters, E. M., et al. “Vitamin C supplementation attenuates the increases in circulating cortisol, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory polypeptides following ultramarathon running.” International journal of sports medicine 22.7 (2001): 537-543.

Šarić, Ana, et al. “Improved antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential in mice consuming sour cherry juice (Prunus Cerasus cv. Maraska).” Plant foods for human nutrition 64.4 (2009): 231-237.

Siddiqui, M. Z. “Boswellia serrata, a potential antiinflammatory agent: an overview.” Indian journal of pharmaceutical sciences 73.3 (2011): 255.

Simopoulos, Artemis P. “Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 21.6 (2002): 495-505.

Yudkin, John S., et al. “Inflammation, obesity, stress and coronary heart disease: is interleukin-6 the link?.” Atherosclerosis 148.2 (2000): 209-214.




Post Author: Adam Alonzi

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