Inflammation is a pressing issue that affects people from all age groups. Around 36.5 percent of U.S. adults struggle with obesity, and one of its most common health complications is chronic inflammation, as excess fat causes the body to produce more inflammatory mediators. In children 18 years old and below, 8.9 million skin allergies and 7.6 million respiratory allergies have been reported.
Common treatments for inflammation include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These medications work by blocking body processes that produce inflammation. However, they are known for producing various side effects such as unwanted weight gain, blurred vision, stomach pain, fatigue and sensitivity to light – making you feel worse than you did before.
Inflammation is a serious matter that must not be ignored. Fortunately, there are many safe, natural alternatives to help you fight inflammation instead of immediately resorting to drugs. Learn what inflammation is, how it works and what you can do to manage it properly.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a reaction by your immune system to help your body heal from injury or to remove the presence of pathogenic microbes. Without inflammation, your health will simply fail because germs or viruses will overrun your healthy cells.
Inflammation starts when your body releases cytokines that act as emergency signals, bringing nutrients, hormones and immune cells to the site of injury. To help facilitate this process, your arteries dilate and your capillaries become more permeable to allow the ‘repair’ cells to access the injured area. From there, the immune system cells do their job until the problem is fixed.
5 Common Causes of Inflammation
Inflammation may be caused by many different factors, some of which include:
Organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi may cause various diseases that result in inflammation on the affected body part.
Inflammation may occur at the site of injury, such as when you cut your skin.
• Man-made objects
Exposure to chemicals may cause inflammation.
In some cases, a person may have an autoimmune disease, causing a specific set of inflammatory symptoms.
Eating too much junk and processed foods causes your health to suffer. Some of the most well-known culprits include:
• Sweets and sweetened beverages
Foods such as sweets, soda, doughnuts and fruit juices, when regularly consumed in excess amounts, can increase the production of inflammatory markers in your system.
• Vegetable oil
Cooking oils like soy, corn, sunflower and palm oil are high in omega-6, which is an inflammatory fatty acid.
• Fried foods
Popular fast food meals such as French fries, fish sticks and onion rings are often cooked in vegetable oil and have been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Research has discovered that wheat contains specific proteins called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) that can trigger inflammation related to chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
A little-known aspect about inflammation is that it is directly tied to your gut health. The gut is made of a semi-permeable lining that fluctuates in response to outside stimuli. For example, if you’re feeling stressed, cortisol levels may rise, causing the intestinal lining to become more permeable.
As the lining becomes damaged over time, harmful organisms such as viruses, yeast and bacteria can enter through the bloodstream and cause leaky gut syndrome. Your body has a harder time digesting your food, resulting in impaired absorption of essential nutrients.
Another major cause of inflammation is cigarette smoking. Each puff you take irritates your lungs, which can eventually trigger inflammation. If you already have lung problems, smoking cigarettes can worsen their symptoms. Chronic smoking may eventually cause lung cancer, as research has identified that smoking increases certain inflammation markers.
Aside from smoking, chronic alcohol consumption has been closely associated with inflammation. Research indicates that in healthy people, your body helps keep lipopolysaccharide, a key inducer of inflammation, in check. However, alcohol consumption impairs multi-organ functions, which can disrupt health and lead to eventual systemic inflammation.
Mental health and inflammation are actually closely associated with each other. In a study published in the Hungarian Medical Journal, researchers suggest that depression is often found alongside gastrointestinal inflammation and autoimmune diseases. They believe that it is due to a dysfunction in the gut-brain axis.
What Are the Symptoms of Inflammation?
Normal, healthy inflammation caused by an injury or bacterial infection usually presents with redness, heat, swelling, pain or loss of function in the affected area. Not all of these symptoms may appear when inflammation is present however, as there are different diseases that may cause various combinations of symptoms. Below are some of the most common inflammatory conditions that are not related to wounds.
• Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is an inflammatory lung disease caused by chronic cigarette smoking. Over time, the smoke inhaled from cigarettes slowly irritates the lung linings, causing damage that may result in either bronchitis or emphysema. COPD can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing that may produce mucus.
This is a degenerative disease of the joints, normally caused by injury and overuse, being overweight or a genetic defect. This can affect joints in the hips, knees or lower back, making them sore and stiff. A clicking or cracking sound may occur when a joint bends, and pain may also appear at the end of the day.
This is a painful swelling of the appendix, a small pouch that forms a part of the large intestine. The causes are not fully understood, but its symptoms are clear and immediately distinguishable. You may develop pain in the abdominal area, as well as diarrhoea, fever, loss of appetite and nausea.
A condition that causes intense pain on the joint in the big toe due to the build-up of excess uric acid in the bloodstream. Swelling and redness may also appear on the affected area. Gout can affect the ankles, knees, elbows, wrists or fingers as well.
In some cases, your immune system can mistake your own cells as foreign bodies, causing damage to your body.
These are classified as autoimmune diseases. Common examples include:
This autoimmune condition can affect any part of your body. As such, its symptoms can range anywhere from fatigue, malar rash and joint pain. In addition, patients who suffer from lupus may develop unexplained fevers.
• Rheumatoid arthritis
When your immune system mistakenly attacks your joints, you develop a condition known as rheumatoid arthritis.The most distinguishable symptoms are joint pain accompanied with tenderness and swelling. In some cases, more than one joint may be affected.
A chronic disease that causes inflammation in the airways. This often leads to its well-documented symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
These can be summarised as an overreaction of your immune system to outside stimuli, such as pollen, food and dust mites This can cause a diverse range of symptoms, such as a runny nose, rashes, sneezing, asthma or rashes.
• Multiple sclerosis
In multiple sclerosis, the fatty substance surrounding and insulating the nerve fibres, myelin, is attacked by your immune system. As a result, symptoms involve loss of muscle control, such as spasticity, walking difficulties, bladder problems and vision problems. Fatigue, numbness and weakness may also occur.
A skin condition that causes skin cells to grow quickly, which results in scaly and inflamed patches. Common symptoms of psoriasis include red patches that are raised while covered with a white layer of dead skin cells. Small, dot-like lesions are also classic indicators.
The Two Types of Inflammation That May Appear
Inflammation may come in two forms: acute and chronic.
• Acute inflammation is the initial response of the immune system, which appears in a few minutes and can last up to a few days.
• Chronic inflammation on the other hand, occurs when the symptoms recur after months or even years.
The main immune cells responsible for acute inflammation are neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. These are the first cells to travel to the area of infection and help with healing by consuming microbes.
Once acute inflammation sets in, the affected tissue regenerates via scarring or fibrosis. In some cases (depending on the disease), pus may form, a substance that contains neutrophils and liquefied necrotic tissue. If the underlying cause of acute inflammation is not resolved, it can progress into chronic inflammation.
In chronic inflammation, the problems may last for weeks to months, and sometimes even years. It is usually caused by a persistent infection, such as viral exposure. In some cases, chronic inflammation is caused by an autoimmune disease.
Long-term exposure from chemical agents can also cause chronic inflammation.
The main immune system cells involved in chronic inflammation are macrophages, lymphocytes and plasma cells. Macrophages are responsible for detecting and destroying pathogens in your system. It also signals the rest of your immune system (the T- and B-lymphocytes) that foreign contaminants are present in your body, travelling to the site of infection to hasten the elimination.
Lymphocytes, on the other hand, are white blood cells classified into two types: T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes. The role of the former is to help the body fight off infections, while the latter is responsible for producing antibodies.
There are also many other inflammatory diseases that may occur – apart from the ones mentioned earlier, such as:
This condition is essentially eye inflammation, which may lead to visual complications such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular edema (build-up of fluid in the macula).
An ear inflammation disease that causes the build-up of fluid behind the eardrum, causing earache, slight hearing loss and high fever.
A condition that causes chest inflammation in the area where the upper ribs meet the cartilage that holds the sternum.
People who develop tonsillitis experience tonsil inflammation, which are lumps of tissue located at the back of the throat and form a part of the lymphatic system.
Potentially life-threatening, this disease is characterised by brain inflammation caused by the herpes simplex virus, the measles virus or the chickenpox virus. Symptoms include headache, fever, drowsiness, speech problems and seizures.
Effective Home Remedies for Inflammation
Treating inflammation is possible through simple lifestyle changes. The following natural home remedies for inflammation may not seem impressive at first, but they can be effective tools for safeguarding your health.
Getting Quality Sleep Is Important for Better Health
The amount of sleep you get plays a big role in the management of inflammation. In a study published in Best Practice & Research: Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, sleep loss has been found to increase inflammation mediators that are otherwise seen in healthy individuals. While the changes are small at first, chronic sleep loss may eventually lead to the development of metabolic syndrome disease.
In the same manner, too much sleep can also increase inflammatory markers, so striking a balance is essential for optimal health. Ideally, adults should get around seven to nine hours of sleep. If you’re having trouble achieving this number, here are some tips that may help you sleep better:
• Sleep in complete darkness
Get rid of every source of light in your room when you sleep, such as night lights and your digital clock. The tiniest glimmer of light may block your serotonin and melatonin production, which can disrupt your sleep cycle. You can use blackout shades for your windows. If this is not possible, an eye mask can help.
• Go to sleep between 9 and 10 p.m.
Try your best to be asleep as early as possible because your body does the majority of its recharging between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. Furthermore, your gallbladder removes toxins during this period, and if you’re awake during this time, the toxins can go back up into the liver and create health problems down the line.
• Establish a pre-bedtime routine
Cultivate practices that will allow you to fall asleep more easily such as practising meditation, deep breathing or inhaling essential oils. Try various methods to help you feel relaxed so you can get to sleep quickly.
• Avoid caffeine
Caffeinated drinks like coffee help boost your mood and energy, so avoid them before bedtime.
• Do not watch television before sleeping
TV can stimulate the brain, preventing you from falling asleep at your intended time, so if possible, remove the television from your bedroom.
Regular Exercise Is Key to Improving Sleep Quality
Getting regular exercise can help boost your health in many ways, such as reducing your risk of chronic diseases, helping you shed excess weight and boosting cognitive function. But did you know that exercising may also help improve sleep quality?
One study published in the Nature and Science of Sleep suggests that exercise can reduce feelings of stress, which may directly lead to improved sleep quality and overall health. This information may benefit those who are suffering from insomnia, as exercising has been reported to help enhance overall sleep quality.
Aromatherapy Is a Convenient Method for Helping With Inflammation
Aromatherapy is the practice of utilising essential oils distilled from plants to help improve your mood and overall well-being. This tradition has a rich history going back to ancient cultures, and it strongly continues today. Currently, there are four main methods to using essential oils:
A few drops of essential oil, along with water, are placed in this machine to help the scent evaporate through the air easily.
• Dry evaporation
This method is more direct, and is enacted by pouring a few drops of an essential oil into a cotton ball, then sniffing it.
This approach may work for those who do not have diffusers. It is done by placing a couple of drops of essential oil into a bowl of hot, steaming water, allowing the scent to evaporate. Be warned that this method may be potent, so use one or two drops of the oil only, and children under the age of 7 should not try it.
Mixing an essential oil and water inside a spray bottle can help spread the scent or create a mood in a room.
An Effective Diet Can Reduce Inflammation
Another important natural remedy that can help fight inflammation is a healthy diet. When you eat unhealthy foods, you can wreck your health and cause a host of problems to appear. Conversely, eating healthily can help fight and reverse common inflammatory conditions. Try incorporating the following foods into your diet regularly:
Tomatoes contain various compounds that may benefit your health, particularly lycopene, which has been studied extensively for its health benefits. Research indicates that lycopene may help inhibit inflammation related to various cancers, as well as cardiovascular disease.
They may be small, but they pack a powerful punch of antioxidants that may help fight inflammation. Berries are known for their high anthocyanin content, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory characteristics. In a supporting study, blueberry consumption helped raise anti-inflammatory cytokines in human test subjects.
• Fatty fish
Wild-caught salmon, sardines and anchovies contain generous amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to have effective inflammation-fighting properties. Studies have found that omega-3 consumption may help fight obesity-related inflammation, as well as reducing the production of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), an inflammatory marker.
This vegetable belongs to the cruciferous family, which includes other nutritious members such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale. These vegetables are highly regarded for their antioxidants that may benefit your health. Broccoli, in particular, is rich in sulforaphane that may help fight against oxidative stress.
Avocadoes are well-known for their diverse mix of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats. Avocadoes contain carotenoids that may help lower NF-kappa B, a known inflammatory pathway.
Bell peppers and chili peppers are rich in various antioxidants that may help ward off inflammation. In one study, bell peppers were discovered to contain phenolic compounds and flavonoids that had anti-inflammatory effects in carrageenan-induced pleurisy in mice. Chili peppers also contain capsaicin, which has been studied and discovered to help ease inflammation. Researchers learned that capsaicin works by inhibiting specific target pathways of inflammation.
These small and succulent fruits are rich in anthocyanins, which are a type of antioxidant that may help reduce inflammation. In a study in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers note that grapes contain stilbene compounds, which are natural antioxidants found in grapes that may help protect against oxidative stress and aging-related diseases.
• Dark chocolate
Real, organic dark chocolate is rich in various compounds that may help fight inflammation. Research suggests that flavonols found in dark chocolate may help modulate inflammatory markers related to atherosclerosis.
Avoid These Foods That Cause Inflammation
Eating unhealthy foods can cause inflammation, especially when consumed in excess amounts. Over time, your health may suffer and you may have a hard time getting back on track to optimal health. Avoiding these foods can go a long way in helping prevent unwanted chronic inflammation:
This is one of the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation. According to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, sugar consumption increased the levels of inflammatory markers among test subjects. In another study, researchers suggest that sugar intake activates the innate immune system as a response to the higher production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
• Trans Fat
Foods cooked in trans fat vegetable oils such as soy, corn, sunflower and palm oil contain high amounts of omega-6. According to the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, which may increase your risk of chronic inflammatory diseases in the long run.
• Fried Foods
Aside from being high in omega-6, unhealthy fried foods such as French fries, fish sticks and onion rings contain advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These substances are known to increase oxidative stress in your system, leading to inflammation in the long run.
• Artificial Sweeteners
The main ingredients used in artificial sweeteners, particularly sucralose, have been linked with an altered gut microbiome that can result in inflammation. Researchers have found that sucralose-enriched bacterial pro-inflammatory genes that may lead to eventual tissue inflammation.
• Refined Grains
In one study, the consumption of refined grains has been associated with increased plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1) and C-reactive protein (CRP), which are inflammatory markers.
• Red Meat
Excess consumption of red meat may increase your risk of developing chronic inflammation. As evidenced in one study, a higher consumption of red meat was associated with an increased chance of developing diverticulitis. However, substituting at least one serving of red meat with fish or poultry helped lower the risk.
Supplements That May Help Manage Inflammation
If a healthy diet is not helping you meet your health goals, you may try dietary supplements. There are many supplements sold in the market today, so it’s important to be selective about which product you choose. Select supplements made from natural sources to help minimise possible side effects and health complications. Some of the best you can choose from are:
supplement is derived from the bark of the maritime pine tree (Pinus pinaster). Research has shown that it may help manage inflammatory conditions, particularly asthma. In a study published in The Journal of Asthma, pycnogenol supplementation helped asthmatic patients reduce their dependency on inhalers for respiratory treatment.
• Krill oil
As the name implies, krill oil is a supplement made from krill harvested from the ocean. Similar to fatty fish, krill oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may work to your advantage if you’re looking to increase your omega-3 consumption.
Many studies have been conducted regarding the benefits of krill oil, and results indicate that one of its most prominent uses is in helping reduce inflammation. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, krill oil had an inhibiting effect on the production of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, as well as helping reduce symptoms of arthritis.
For those who do not like the taste of turmeric but still want to gain the benefits of curcumin, a supplement may work in your favour. Research indicates that a curcumin supplement also has similar health benefits as its whole food counterpart.
In one study, curcumin capsules were observed to help mitigate oxidative stress brought on by osteoarthritis. In another study, curcumin was found to help reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Similar to curcumin supplements, ginger supplements may work for those who do not like its taste but still want to gain the herb’s potential health benefits.
In one study, patients who were administered 1,600 milligrams of ginger over 12 weeks had reduced fasting plasma glucose, C-reactive protein and other inflammatory markers. In another study, ginger extracts helped reduce fructose-induced kidney damage in rats.
A naturally occurring antioxidant found in grapes, researchers have found that resveratrol may benefit your health. Taken as a supplement, it may help reduce inflammation brought on by ulcerative colitis. Other possible applications include managing atherosclerosis and gastritis. Patients suffering from inflammation brought on by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) may also benefit from resveratrol supplementation.
In its original state, spirulina is a blue-green algae, which also has a high nutrient density. It is rich in protein, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium and various vitamins. Aside from boosting your overall wellbeing, spirulina may help fight inflammation, too. One study indicates that spirulina supplementation helped reduce inflammatory markers in diabetic patients.
Herbs That May Be Used Against Inflammation
There are plenty of other elements you can add to your daily regimen to help fight off inflammation. One of those options is the use of herbs. They’re a great way of managing inflammation naturally because they’re rich in anti-inflammatory compounds without the dangers of steroidal medication.
A household spice made from the dried inner bark of the cinnamon tree, it is commonly sold whole or ground into powder. Studies have found that cinnamon contains compounds that can help inhibit inflammatory activity.
This popular plant is commonly grown in outdoor gardens, but it contains potential for benefiting your health as well. According to a study published in the Libyan Journal of Medicine, essential oils extracted from rose geranium exhibited anti-inflammatory effects against paw oedema in mice, suggesting that the plant may benefit humans in the same way.
Turmeric is a widely used spice due to its unique flavour and strong anti-inflammatory properties. Research has shown that turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which is the source of the herb’s beneficial characteristics. In one study, curcumin has been suggested to be effective against inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, arthritis and chronic anterior uveitis.
This green herb is popular in various cuisines thanks to its aroma, and potential medicinal qualities. In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Lipid Research, scientists discovered that carvacrol (a component found in thyme oil), can help inhibit cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an enzyme associated with inflammation.
The leaves of this herb are used as a seasoning ingredient, but have also been applied for therapeutic purposes. Recent research confirms this hypothesis, as scientists have found that rosemary essential oil helped reduce carrageenan-induced paw oedema in rats.
Researchers discovered that oregano essential oil has the potential to reduce various inflammatory markers, namely chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP-1), vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1) and intracellular cell adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1), among other examples.
Essential Oils That May Help With Inflammation
As mentioned earlier, essential oils contain various compounds that may help manage inflammation, and they can be utilised in various ways. There are many oils sold on the market, and it can be confusing to choose one, as many possess anti-inflammatory properties.
To make your search easier, you need to turn to published research to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. In a study published in the Journal of Lipid Research, the following essential oils helped reduce cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an enzyme that plays a role in inflammation:
To maximise the effectiveness of your essential oils, make sure that the product you use is made using high-quality ingredients. Also, be sure to follow the instructions carefully to prevent injury or irritation.
Drinking These Teas May Help Fight Inflammation
Another option you can try to help fight inflammation is drinking tea. Not only is tea easy to make, it’s also easy on your wallet. The challenge, however, is to find an inflammation-fighting tea that you will like. Luckily, there are several that you can choose from:
• Green Tea
Green tea made from the Camellia sinensis plant is quite possibly one of the healthiest beverages you can consume. Research indicates that green tea contains beneficial compounds called flavonoids, which may help fight various inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and various forms of cancer such as stomach, breast, prostate and oesophageal cancers.
• Ginger Tea
Ginger is a popular herb used in Indian cooking as well as various Asian cuisines. Historically ginger has been used to treat various inflammatory diseases. In a study published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, ginger has been found to have some beneficial (and safe) effects against osteoarthritis.
• Turmeric Tea
Turmeric is another popular cooking ingredient that may help fight inflammation. Research has shown that it contains curcumin, an active compound that has beneficial effects on your health. In a study published in Alternative Medicine Review, curcumin has been found to be helpful against pancreatitis, arthritis and certain forms of cancer.
• Sage Tea
Sage is a plant belonging to the Lamiaceae family. Studies has shown that it contains various compounds, such as ursolic acid, that contribute to its well-known anti-inflammatory reputation. In one relevant example, mice and rats that were fed with tea made from common sage helped improve the antioxidant profile in their liver.
• Oregano Tea
Scientists have found that oregano contains carvacrol, a phenolic compound that contains anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer activities. This is evidenced in a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, wherein researchers found that carvacrol helped reduce paw oedema in mice.
There Are Many Natural Alternatives to Managing Inflammation
As you have learned, there are many methods to managing inflammation that don’t involve going to the nearest pharmacy.
A healthy diet combined with exercise is already a potent solution in managing chronic health issues in a safe and cost-effective manner.
You also have other affordable approaches at your disposal, such as aromatherapy and inflammation-fighting teas. Last but not least, you have to be disciplined in committing yourself to achieving better health, as this allows you to be consistent in living a healthy lifestyle.
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