Natural Inflammation Remedies: Chronic Illness, Aging, and Nutrition Part 2
Natural Inflammation Remedies: Foods and Supplements
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, reportedly said, “Let food be your medicine.” This appears to be very applicable in the case of inflammation and its effects. Nutrition therapy is an emerging area of investigation as a way of dealing with inflammation. It shows that food can be excellent natural inflammation remedies.
Evidence strongly suggests eating foods consisting of plants, lean protein, and healthy fats will speed the resolution of inflammation. Consuming supplements also is a good step in helping the effects of inflammation. However, there is no specific combination of supplements suggested for dealing with inflammation. The use of these natural inflammation remedies should be individualized.
Obesity, especially abdominal obesity, has been clearly connected to low-grade inflammation. Many chronic illnesses have also been linked to obesity, the same ones that have inflammation at their foundation.
Adipokines, a form of biologically active molecule, are produced by adipose tissue that is involved in abdominal obesity. These adipokines include hormones, proteins, cytokines, and macrophages. Adipokines have multiple health effects, including regulating food intake, the use of energy, and the metabolism of glucose and fatty acids.
Proinflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-1beta are secreted due to the influence of the macrophages contained in adipose tissue. These cytokines stimulate the liver to produce increased amounts of C-reactive proteins, leading to increased inflammation.
Since foods have a very significant effect on inflammation, it’s important to know which of these foods have a proinflammatory effect. These foods should be avoided as part of a natural inflammation remediation plan.
Increased caloric intake leads to increased adipose tissue formation. This increases the risk of obesity and the likelihood of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Consuming high levels of carbohydrates also contributes to chronic diseases like obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. These carbohydrates are usually from foods low in fiber, high in sugars and starches, and high on the glycemic index.
Consuming trans fatty acids is a significant risk factor for sudden cardiac arrest. These trans fatty acids lead to an inflammatory response in cardiac tissues because of effects on cell membranes.
Saturated fatty acids have been shown to play a part in inflammation through increased macrophage production, leading to secretion of the pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-8. Research has shown that mice fed a diet with 12% saturated fat, which is the average amount of these fats in the typical American diet, resulted in increased body fat and higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines.
Over the last several decades, the amount of omega-6 polyunsaturated oils in the American diet has steadily risen. This increase correlates with an increase in the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and rheumatoid arthritis. Research suggests the best ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is 4:1. However, the increased consumption of omega-6 fatty acids has changed this ratio to as much as 20:1.
Omega-6 fatty acids are precursors to proinflammatory signaling molecules active in the inflammation process. Through chemical conversion, these molecules tend to increase proinflammatory cytokine production.
Natural Inflammation Remedies: Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Foods that decrease inflammation are also an important aspect of natural inflammation remedies.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are brightly colored fall into the anti-inflammatory category. They are possibly the most effective anti-inflammatory foods. They contain magnesium and antioxidants, along with carotenoids and lycopene.
Grapes and berries contain resveratrol. This phytochemical appears to fight heart disease. It also helps lower inflammation.
Vegetables like artichokes and garlic contain fructooligosaccharides. These are complex sugars that are not digested by the human gut, decreasing the absorption of calories and leading to fewer spikes in blood sugar levels. They also feed beneficial gut bacteria, promoting and maintaining a healthy gut.
Avocados are a great way to remedy inflammation naturally because of the high level of nutrients they contain. Numerous studies show the consumption of avocados leads to decreased inflammation, balanced blood sugar levels, lowered cholesterol, and reduced arthritis pain.
Nuts, Oil, and Grains
Nuts and seeds contain protein, fiber, phytonutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids. Snacking on them throughout the day helps keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable and provides energy. Walnuts especially contain a certain phytochemical that is hard to find anywhere else.
Olive oil contains high levels of polyphenols. These are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds and important natural inflammation remedies.
Whole grain foods, such as oatmeal, which are high in fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals, may decrease inflammation found in metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Meat and Fish
Organic meats are healthier overall than meats from factory farmed animals. Their nutritional values are higher. They also have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and lower omega-6 fatty acid levels.
Cold water fish such as salmon, anchovies, and sardines are high in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids provide a wide range of health benefits, such as alleviating autoimmune conditions and reducing inflammation. These foods are very good natural inflammation remedies.
Herbs and Spices
A large number of herbs and spices have mixtures of vitamins and phytonutrients that fight inflammation and add to overall health. They are a great source of natural inflammation remedies. Oregano, lavender, rosemary, cinnamon, and turmeric contribute to overall health and decrease inflammation.
Ginger has been used in many cultures because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Only recently has modern medicine caught up with this use of ginger. It has been shown to inhibit prostaglandin synthesis and leukotriene biosynthesis. Both of these compounds are present in the inflammation process.
The spice turmeric is high in curcumin. Studies have shown curcumin to be more effective than cortisol, the anti-stress hormone, in combating inflammation.
It has been suggested that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in reducing levels of inflammation. They contain higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which may decrease biomarkers of inflammation. EPA and DHA have been shown to decrease the production of proinflammatory eicosanoids and increase the synthesis of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids from arachidonic acid. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease the production of the proinflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-1 beta, IL-6, and IL-8. Resolvins are also produced from EPA and DHA. These resolvins inhibit proinflammatory signaling.
In addition to cold water fish, omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and canola oil. ALA is the fatty acid that is gained from these foods. It has been shown to be somewhat effective in decreasing inflammation, but EPA and DHA are more effective.
Vitamins C and E
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) from foods is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates the activity of natural killer lymphocytes in the innate immune response. It also reduces tissue damage at inflammation sites.
Vitamin E from foods like seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils is present in the form of gamma-tocopherol. This chemical decreases proinflammatory NF-kB and TNF-alpha activity. Vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocopherol has the ability to scavenge free radicals and prevent lipid oxidation.
Some studies investigating the relationship between vitamin E and measures of inflammation have yielded mixed results. It’s possible this occurred due to these studies instead examining alpha-tocopherol, which decreases the levels of gamma-tocopherol and reduces its anti-inflammatory properties. These alpha-tocopherols were also from supplements and not food-based.
Polyphenols are found in foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, chocolate, coffee, and tea. These substances have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and are good natural inflammation remedies. Research and clinical studies suggest polyphenols prevent free radical formation, decrease proinflammatory cytokine production, and block proinflammatory signaling systems. However, the true effects of dietary polyphenols on inflammation require further study due to wide variations in the polyphenol content in food.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics are nondigestible and nonabsorbable substances that ferment in the gut of humans. This fermentation promotes the growth of beneficial microflora in the gut, leading to improved gut health. Foods like chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, and onions contain prebiotics. These foods are good natural inflammation remedies.
Probiotics, another food source of natural inflammation remedies, are bacteria. These bacteria are a normal part of your gut flora and ferment lactose. Cultured dairy foods like yogurt and kefir contain probiotics.
Both prebiotics and probiotics lower the activity of proinflammatory cytokines and NF-kB while increasing anti-inflammatory TGF-beta in the gut mucosa. However, mixed results have been found in research studies regarding their effects on inflammation in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Several supplements can also be beneficial in reducing or avoiding inflammation.
Aloe vera has been used for many purposes, and its effects on inflammation are noteworthy. Two substances, campesterol and bradykinin, are the active substances in aloe that fight inflammation. Campesterol has been shown to lower cholesterol and actively decrease inflammation. It also helps generate new cells to repair the damage done by inflammation. Bradykinin helps increase blood flow by dilating blood vessels.
However, some cautions are in order regarding aloe supplements. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid taking aloe by mouth. Aloe supplements may lower blood sugar, so hypoglycemia is a possibility. Consult with your healthcare professional before taking it if you have diabetes. Aloe latex is a bowel irritant. Don’t take it if you have Crohn’s disease or any other GI illness. High doses of aloe latex have been linked to kidney failure.
Bilberry and Blueberry
The flavonoids found in bilberry have been shown to be effective natural inflammation remedies. Studies conducted in Finland show consuming bilberries (similar to blueberries) significantly reduced the biomarkers associated with metabolic syndrome. The mechanism for this reduction appears to be the polyphenols, especially anthocyanins, contained in bilberries.
Be certain to discuss the use of bilberries with your healthcare professional if you know you are allergic to any part of bilberry. Some medications interact with bilberries. If you’re planning to become pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding, be sure to consult with your healthcare professional before using them. Also, a consultation is needed if you’re taking any medications, herbal preparations, or dietary supplements. If you’re diabetic, this consultation is a necessity.
Boswellia is said to have a beneficial effect on inflammation. This supplement has only recently been researched as a natural remedy for inflammation, but it has a long history of use throughout the world to reduce the effects of arthritis. Used in combination with turmeric, it appears to have a beneficial effect on the inflammatory aspects of arthritis. Very few side effects have been reported with Boswellia.
Cat’s claw has been reported effective for reducing inflammation and boosting your immune system. It has been used for many years in South America as a way of dealing with ulcers, inflammation, dysentery, and fevers. It may stimulate the immune system and has antioxidant properties.
Cat’s claw appears to have few side effects other than transitory GI issues that go away with continued use. However, cat’s claw should be avoided by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and by people with autoimmune diseases, TB, or who have had transplants. If you have low blood pressure or leukemia, avoid cat’s claw. If you have kidney or liver disease, consult with your healthcare professional before taking cat’s claw.
Echinacea has been reported to have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as immune stimulatory effects. Laboratory and animal studies suggest that echinacea has properties that boost immune function and fight inflammation.
Side effects include a wide range of possible allergic reactions. If you have asthma and allergies, you’re at an increased risk of developing an allergic reaction. Upset stomach, nausea, and dizziness have been reported. If you’re taking any prescription medications, be sure to consult with your healthcare professional before taking echinacea.
Goldenseal has been said to reduce inflammation. It stimulates bile flow and digestive enzymes regulating liver and spleen functions. It contains numerous vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Goldenseal has antibacterial properties, likely due to berberine. This substance allows it to decrease inflammation.
If you are pregnant, likely to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, avoid taking goldenseal.
Spirulina, a ‘superfood’ in the blue-green microalgae family, has proven anti-inflammatory properties. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have been investigated in several research projects. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is very high in this food. GLA is a precursor to prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes, all of which are chemicals that modulate inflammatory and immune reactions.
A low-grade fever may come with this supplement, along with dizziness and nausea. Taking spirulina may lead to thirst and constipation. For this reason, be sure to drink plenty of water when taking this supplement. Stomach ache may also be experienced.
It is evident from research and clinical experience that inflammation is a serious health issue. With inflammation, aging increases in both rate and severity. The importance of this comes to the fore when the number of people over 65 years of age in the U.S. is considered, along with the rising cost of healthcare for this population. Taking measures to reduce or eliminate inflammation can have a big impact on long-term quality of life. Natural inflammation remedies may be the best way to attack this problem.
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.