That red, swollen, painful feeling at the site of an injury or infection can be unpleasant – but it is also a fundamental part of the body’s mechanism for healing. It’s called inflammation.

The body’s quick and effective regulation of inflammatory responses is necessary for optimal health and survival.

Unfortunately, the mechanism of inflammation can become impaired, and may be triggered even in the absence of pathogenic threat or the need for tissue repair. This is when inflammation becomes chronic and can lead to a number of degenerative diseases including atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Thankfully, improving the diet by avoiding foods that promote inflammation and increasing consumption of natural anti-inflammatory foods can reverse such chronic conditions.

Today’s article will discuss: (click to read)

 

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the complex cascade of events involving recruitment of the immune system to help fight against injury and infection. It is characterized by a few key physical signs including pain, heat, swelling, and redness. These symptoms are what mobilize the immune system for action by recruiting white blood cells to the site of damage and initiating tissue repair and healing through rapid cellular division.

These events are regulated by the signalling pathways of various proteins, including pro-inflammatory cytokines. Once any threat of infection is removed and the tissue begins to heal, the inflammatory response is counteracted by anti-inflammatory pathways, returning the body to a state of balance and stability.

Depending on the severity of the threat to the tissue, an acute inflammatory response can last from a few hours to days or weeks. However, the state of inflammation eventually subsides once the injury from trauma has been resolved.

Failure to properly regulate inflammatory responses is the basis of chronic inflammation. This chronic condition is characterized by overproduction of proteins and related chemicals involved in inflammatory responses, as well as the infiltration of inflammatory cells in areas where they are not normally found.

These factors are destructive over a prolonged period of time, and contribute to the development of chronic diseases of inflammation. Such diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, respiratory distress syndrome and cancer.

This lack of inflammatory control by the body is in large part due to the pro-inflammatory foods that are prevalent in today’s society. These include diets high in refined starches, sugar, and trans fats, and low in antioxidants, fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The following list of natural anti-inflammatory foods provide the body with the needed nutrients and antioxidants to eliminate the chronic state of inflammation.

Natural Anti-Inflammatory Foods

#1. Wild, Oily Fish

Fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring all have something in common, which is oil in their tissues that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that omega-3s are beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma.

A study comparing ibuprofen (e.g., Advil) and fish oil supplementation found that fish oil had an equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain. Many of the patients of the study also discontinued their prescription medication in favor of continued fish oil supplementation.

The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids is further demonstrated by their ability to decrease blood levels of cytokines that promote inflammation.

#2. Turmeric

Turmeric is a yellow-orange spice commonly used in curries and Indian cuisine. Its anti-inflammatory properties have been known for thousands of years, where it was commonly used as a remedy for many ailments in ancient traditions. The potency of this spice is thanks to curcumin, a yellow pigment that is a major component of turmeric.

Research on turmeric in the past two decades has revealed its anti-inflammatory activity is due to the regulation of numerous enzymes, cytokines and other proteins involved in inflammation.

#3. Berries

The polyphenols in berries are the most notable compounds that give them their anti-inflammatory activity. One study showed the potency of blueberry extract to inhibit the activity of inflammation-related enzymes. Another study showed how raspberry extract contributed to inhibition of inflammation and cartilage damage associated with arthritis.

#4. Cruciferous Vegetables

Vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, and broccoli belong to the Cruciferous family and share inflammation-lowering properties. Specifically, the bioactive components of these vegetables are two compounds called I3C (indole-3-carbinol) and PEITC (beta-phenylethyl isothiocyanate). Their anti-inflammatory characteristics come from their ability to inhibit the levels of various cytokines involved in inflammation response.

#5. Ginger


Not only does ginger have anti-inflammatory properties, but it also has antioxidant, anticancer, and analgesic effects as well.

This amazing root acts by modulating the relevant biochemical pathways involved in chronic inflammation. One such example is the ability of ginger to reduce the levels of prostaglandins in the blood. Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds involved in cell signaling, with a diverse set of functions in the body – one of which involves the regulation of inflammation.

Ginger is a good addition to any diet, and can be added to stir-frys, stews, smoothies, and even made into a soothing and warming tea.

#6. Garlic

This pungent, spicy plant is loaded with anti-inflammatory compounds. A group of researchers identified four active compounds that help decrease levels of prostaglandins, as well as decrease the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Additionally, garlic is well-known for its antimicrobial, antioxidative, and anticancer effects. Don’t shy away from a garlic-rich meal for fear of garlic breath – the benefits of this spice are well worth it!

#7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The numerous phenolic compounds (i.e., polyphenols) are what give this oil its anti-inflammatory characteristics. Additionally, polyphenols are associated with antioxidant, anti-aging, and neuroprotective properties. Olive oil is a great addition to salad dressings and other food preparation that do not involve high heat.

The Bottom Line

There is a large array of foods with incredible anti-inflammatory properties. Their regular consumption to ameliorate conditions of chronic inflammation and overall health maintenance is highly encouraged. Because these foods have a diverse set of flavours – from the sweetness of berries, to crunchy vegetables and spices – they can be added to a variety of dishes and everyday meals.

What’s your favourite way to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet? Let me know in the comments!

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References

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Maroon, J.C. & Bost, J.W. (2006) Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg Neurol. 65(4):326-31.

Menon, V.P. & Sudheer, A.R. (2007) Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 595:105-125.

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Jean-Gilles, D., Li, L., Ma, H., Yuan, T., Chichester, C.O. 3rd, Seeram, N.P. (2012) Anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenolic-enriched red raspberry extract in an antigen-induced arthritis rat model. J Agric Food Chem. 60(23):5755-5762.

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