What Is It, What Can I Do About It?
Rima E. Laibow, MD
Medical Director, Natural Solutions FoundationThis Primer is for General Information Only
Please Consult Your Primary Care Physician for Your Medical Needs
For Dr. Rima’s Nutritional Dispensary
Inflammation, a normal function in the body, designed by nature to assist us in healing, but it often gets out of control and becomes a potent mechanism of disease and disfunction instead.
This inflammation primer is designed to help you make healthy dietary and supplement choices to regulate normal inflammation.
The Bottom Line, Right at the Top
Here are some common inflammatory conditions and the foods and dietary supplements that may help them.
- Allergy Health
- Raw honey may help seasonal allergy sufferers when taken before allergy season starts, regulating normal response to allergens.
- Horny goat weed is an herb that may regulate levels of allergy-mediated immune cells and improve response to seasonal allergies.
- Joint and Muscle Health
- Ginger may mediate pain response and improve normal function in people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Curcumin significantly regulates symptoms such as morning stiffness and joint swelling in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Bromelain may support muscle comfort and help speed post-exercise recovery time.
- Magnesium: Low magnesium levels are tied to increased inflammation.
- Lung Health
- Fish oil may regulate allergic reactions that can trigger asthma attacks.
- Boswellia may regulate airway inflammation, resulting in fewer asthma attacks and improved breathing capacity in people with asthma.
- Heart Health
- Pycnogenol, an extract from the bark of the French maritime pine, may support normalized blood pressure – due to its blood vessel relaxing, antioxidant, and inflammatory regulating properties.
- Magnesium may help regulate normal blood pressure, regulate inflammation and prevent nutrient deficiencies that can lead to heart arrhythmias in people with congestive heart failure.
- Blood Sugar Health
- Drinking tea can increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and decrease markers of inflammation; all good things for people looking to regulate diabetes risk.
- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant and inflammatory regulating agent that may help protect against diabetic complications like kidney and nerve damage.
- Bowel Health
- Curcumin has been shown to support normalizing inflammatory bowel conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Green tea may help regulate inflammation in people with inflammatory bowel disease, as well as reducing bowel cancer risk.
Inflammation is a basic and necessary process in our bodies. We respond to disease and injury with controlled, helpful inflammation so suppressing it can weaken the body’s natural methods of dealing with those challenges.
Anti-inflammatory drugs may have significant side effects associated with their use.
Natural inflammatory regulation is a useful way of offering the body support in controlling out-of-control inflammation without pharmaceutical consequences.
Inflammation results when damage occurs, such as a wound. When the body senses damage,
- Blood vessels in the area dilate, bringing white blood cells to remove dead tissue and help fight infection.
- Blood vessels become more permeable, leading to swelling.
- Specialized cells enter the wound to form a clot and
- New blood vessels develop to meet the increased needs in the area.
Anti-inflammatories pharmaceuticals like corticosteroids prevent normal healing by suppressing necessary inflammation. This helps explain why long-term corticosteroid use increases the risk of many types of infection.
On the other hand, the long-term consequences of run-away inflammation are dire and include Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegenerative conditions, atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular conditions, allergies, asthma, Crohn’s Disease, cancer, arthritic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, periodontal (gum) disease, lupus and other auto immune diseases and many more conditions.
Diet makes a major contribution to balanced inflammatory response.
Foods that increase the tendency towards inflammation include:
- High-glycemic-load foods: Foods with a higher glycemic load—like white flour, rice, pasta, bread, and sugar—can worsen inflammation. Glycemic Load measures how quickly a given amount of food can raise blood sugar. Refined foods tend to have high glycemic loads, while whole grains and vegetables are much lower.
- Dairy: People with conditions like asthma, allergic rhinitis and rheumatoid arthritis may find that dairy in their diet makes their condition worse.
- Trans fats: Fats which are solid at room temperature (used to make baked goods flakier and to fry many foods) Trans fats increase inflammation so their association with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and infertility is no surprise.
- Foods to which You are Allergic: Any food you have become sensitive or allergic to can cause inflammation in your body. Common examples include grains (especially gluten-containing grains like wheat, spelt, kamut, triticale, barley, and rye), eggs, soy, and citrus.
Some foods are helpful in naturally controlling inflammation.
- Fish: Inflammatory-regulating omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in cold-water fish like salmon, preferably wild. It is important to make sure that your fish is sourced from clean waters low in pollutants and radiation.
- Colorful fruits and veggies: Carotenoids and other nutrients in these foods act as free radical scavengers. Since free radicals are the mechanism by which most inflammation takes place, this is helpful as your body gets the inflammation back into balance.Bright and dark vegetables and fruits are your natural inflammation control friends. These beneficial foods include carrots, mangoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, watermelon, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, black beans, tart cherries, purple cabbage, collard greens, oranges, cilantro, sweet corn, oranges, kale, and bell peppers.
- Extra virgin olive oil: A staple of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is praised for its heart health benefits, such as improving blood vessel function, egulating blood pressure, preventing free radical damage, normalizing blood fats, and keeping the blood from clotting too easily (a risk factor for heart attack and stroke).
- Pineapple and papaya: Naturally rich in pain-regulating enzymes, these tropical treats may regulate inflammation leading to musculoskeletal discomfort.
- Nuts: Walnuts are particularly high in free radical–fighting polyphenols. All nuts contain these useful molecules which regulate inflammation and improve blood fats and blood vessel function. Despite their high fat content, nuts won’t make you gain weight. The less processed these foods are, the more undamaged and therefore helpful their polyphenols are.
- Magnesium-rich foods: Good food sources include pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, almonds, black beans, seaweed, dark leafy green vegetables, and cacao nibs (crunchy bits of dried cacao bean).
- Curry spices: Turmeric and ginger are both powerful inflammatory regulating culinary spices. One of the components of turmeric, called curcumin, is thought to be responsible for turmeric’s effect. Ginger can also help reduce discomfort and improve function, especially in people with arthritis.
- Raw honey: Pure raw honey possesses microbial and inflammatory regulating properties. (Pasteurized honey doesn’t retain any of its health benefits.) Honey has been shown to help improve a nagging cough better than OTC cough suppressants, improve athletic performance, support wound healing, alleviate seasonal allergies, neutralize free radicals, and enhance the immune system.
What about meat?
The question of red meat’s role in inflammation is still up for debate. According to some studies, eating red meat may cause inflammation when we form antibodies against a compound in it called Neu5Gc.
Chris Kresser, an acupuncturist in Berkeley, CA and advocate of the Paleolithic diet says that this theory is far from proven. “Red meat has been part of the human diet for much of our history and remains an important dietary element of many healthy cultures. For example, the traditional diet of the Masai was composed almost entirely of red meat, blood, and milk—all high in Neu5Gc—yet they were free from modern inflammatory diseases,” says Kresser. “If Neu5Gc really caused significant inflammation, the Masai should’ve been the first to know, because they probably couldn’t have designed a diet higher in Neu5Gc if they tried.”
Thanks to the excellent article on inflammation by Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, who received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University.