Inflammation provides a necessary function in the human body, as inflammation is a natural reaction of the immune system when battling infectious agents and removing damaged cells. Though inflammation is necessary for healing the body, too much inflammation can also pose a problem.
Particularly, inflammation is a concern when the body “overreacts” or instigates inflammation even when there are no harmful pathogens present, as characteristic in many autoimmune disorders, such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Too much inflammation in the body can lead to discomfort, including redness or stiffness of the inflamed area, rashes, heat, pain, and swelling (1). Furthermore, long-term chronic inflammation has also been linked to increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain kinds of cancer.
Some foods contain components that promote inflammation, while others reduce inflammation. Consumption of these foods below containing anti-inflammatory agents may help alleviate the symptoms and discomfort of inflammation, as part of a healthy diet.
Vitamin A deficiency can increase the body’s inflammatory response and a sufficient intake of vitamin A is beneficial both in the prevention of disease and as a potent anti-inflammatory agent (2). Vitamin A is also essential in curbing night blindness and needed for proper immune system function. As carrots contain high amounts of vitamin A, eating just a small amount of carrots is sure to fulfill your recommended intake for the day. In fact, just 1/4 cup of chopped carrots contains the recommended daily value of vitamin A!
However, although sufficient amounts of vitamin A are essential for proper health, it is important not to get too much. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and excess amounts are stored in the liver. Detrimental effects caused by acute or chronic vitamin A toxicity include cracked fingernails, ulcers, respiratory infections, liver abnormalities, and intense headaches.
Ginger contains components that can reduce inflammation, as has also been known to decrease nausea and alleviate upset stomachs. It’s a great choice due to its versatility – it can be seeped in tea, cooked in soup or with fish, incorporated in salad dressings, and much more.
Broccoli is rich in the antioxidants flavonoids and carotenoids, which work in the body to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress to cells. Reducing or delaying oxidative stress caused by free radicals is important because it causes damage to cells, DNA, proteins, and genes. In order to retain most of broccoli’s nutritional value, avoid steaming or boiling it for more than 4-5 minutes.
Apart from the necessary inflammation present in the immune response, a large imbalance of omega-6 consumption versus omega-3 consumption contributes to an internal environment optimal for inflammation. This is because foods containing high amounts of omega-6 are generally pro-inflammatory, while those containing omega-3 are mostly anti-inflammatory. Flaxseed (as well as fatty fish and walnuts in particular) contains high amounts of omega-3 that are necessary in combatting inflammation.
Basil contains eugenol, a volatile oil capable of blocking the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX-2) (3). COX is part of the pathway that produces compounds called prostaglandins, which is perceived by nerve endings as pain in the human body. Thus, suppressing the activity of COX is particularly beneficial to those with rheumatoid arthritis or joint aches.
Spinach contains flavonoids, which also can decrease the activity of the COX-2 enzyme. Furthermore, it contains vitamin E, which functions as an antioxidant. As a tip, dark leafy vegetables generally contain more vitamin E than vegetables with light-colored leaves. Spinach can be easily incorporated in the diet by baking it as part of a low-fat quiche or adding a half cup of spinach into a fruit smoothie.
Used as a traditional medicine in ancient times, cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties and contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which are useful in preventing oxidative damage. Cinnamon has other therapeutic effects – it has been used as part of a remedy to treat diabetes, Alzheimer’s, gastrointestinal disorders, and has some antibacterial and anti-fungal properties (4). Sprinkle cinnamon in a hot cup of tea for a kick of flavor or bake halves of pears with honey and cinnamon at 350°F for 20 minutes, or until soft.
Turmeric is an herb that originated from Southeast Asia and has been used in India both as a spice and as part of religious ceremonies for over 4000 years (5). Its therapeutic properties of being anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial have been discovered more recently, within the past 25 years, and have been used for rheumatoid arthritis, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and wound healing (5).