How to Fight Inflammation: The Top 9 Anti-Inflammatory Foods and Supplements

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fight inflammation with turmeric and ginger

The inflammatory response is an essential component of healing and repair — without it, scrapes and sprains would never heal, and a simple paper cut could turn into a festering infection. However, there are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. 

Acute inflammation is the localized and short-lived type that saves us from otherwise-deadly paper cuts, while chronic inflammation is systemic and long-term. When the body is chronically inflamed, a steady but persistent flow of pro-inflammatory immune cells and chemical messengers contributes to chronic diseases. Whereas acute inflammation is visible — think swelling and redness — chronic inflammation is invisible and internal, surrounding the organs and tissues.

Just about every chronic disease stems in part from inflammation — from autoimmune disorders to Alzheimer’s disease to atherosclerosis. Fortunately, there are plenty of diet and lifestyle choices you can make to fight inflammation. In this article, learn more about the top nine anti-inflammatory foods and supplements to start incorporating into your diet today. 

leafy green vegetables are extremely anti-inflammatory

Top 9 Anti-Inflammatory Foods and Supplements

1.Curcumin

Curcumin is a polyphenolic compound that gives turmeric its bright yellow hue and fights inflammation in several ways. First, curcumin functions as an antioxidant that scavenges for free radicals and reactive oxygen species that cause oxidative damage. Oxidative stress not only damages cells and DNA, but it also activates pro-inflammatory pathways. 

Secondly, curcumin inhibits inflammatory cytokines, which are signaling molecules that promote inflammation. Specifically, curcumin downregulates tumor necrosis factor-ɑ (TNF-ɑ), interleukins 1, 6, and 12 (IL-1, IL-6, and IL-12), and nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-kB), all of which are involved in inflammatory pathways. 

Curcumin has been used as a remedy for many inflammation-related diseases, including asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, neurodegenerative disease, and psoriasis, as discussed in a May 2015 review published in Molecules.

Although you can get some curcumin from turmeric, the bioavailability and concentration are low when using the spice compared to a curcumin supplement. Learn more about the different supplemental types of curcumin here

 2. Berries 

Many fruits in the berry family contain high levels of anthocyanins, especially blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Anthocyanins are flavonoid compounds that provide the berries with their deep blue, purple, or red pigments and function as powerful antioxidants. 

These compounds scavenge for damaging free radicals and reduce the activity of the pro-inflammatory NF-κB and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways. 

A study published in February 2019 in Nutrients found that adults with knee osteoarthritis (OA) who consumed blueberries for four months experienced significant reductions in the inflammatory pain, stiffness, and trouble walking that is often associated with OA.

3. Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of essential and anti-inflammatory fats that our body cannot produce on its own. The main three omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The best sources of EPA- and DHA-rich foods are fatty fish, like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and tuna. 

This group of fats is associated with supporting anti-inflammatory pathways and downregulating inflammatory compounds, like eicosanoids and cytokines. In a randomized controlled trial, older adults who took 480 mg DHA and 720 mg EPA per day for six months had significant reductions in the inflammatory compounds IL-6, TNF-α, and sPLA2. 

Although it is preferable to get omega-3 fats from your diet, supplements are a good option if you don’t consume fatty fish often. Ensure your supplement is tested for mercury and other toxins or contaminants.

4. Olive Oil

Another healthy, anti-inflammatory fat to consume is olive oil. The primary fatty acid in olive oil is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. Olive oil also contains high levels of hydroxytyrosol, a polyphenol linked to reductions in oxidative stress markers. 

Oleocanthal is another phenolic compound in olive oil that gives the oil its slightly peppery taste; this molecule has been found to reduce inflammation comparably to ibuprofen.  

A systematic review published in Nutrients in September 2015 looked at 30 intervention trials using olive oil. The combined results found that daily consumption of olive oil — ranging from 1 mg to 50 mg per day — was associated with a significant reduction in IL-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP), another marker of inflammation. 

olive oil contains several anti-inflammatory compounds

 5. Leafy Green Vegetables

The leafy green family of vegetables includes spinach, kale, beet greens, cabbage, microgreens, collard greens, swiss chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and arugula. These vegetables are well-known for providing numerous health benefits, one of which is reducing inflammation. 

Each vegetable contains different bioactive compounds, but all are anti-inflammatory. For example, the sulforaphane in broccoli is associated with reduced CRP and IL-6, as seen in a study published in the Journal of Functional Foods in October 2012.

6. Green Tea

Green tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and contains several antioxidants and polyphenols. Most of the polyphenols are in the catechin family, with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) being the most well-known. 

As discussed in a June 2017 review published in Nutrients, green tea consumption is linked to improvements in several chronic inflammatory disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, and neurodegenerative diseases. 

Similar to curcumin, the polyphenols in green tea downregulate NF-κB, TNFα, and inflammatory cytokines.

7. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is the anti-inflammatory compound found primarily in red wine and red grape skins. The most bioavailable form is trans-resveratrol, meaning a supplement with this form would be easier for the body to absorb and utilize. 

Resveratrol fights inflammation by inhibiting COX-1 and suppressing inflammatory eicosanoid production. The compound is also a potent antioxidant, as it scavenges for reactive oxygen species and increases the activity of antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase. 

Based on this anti-inflammatory activity, resveratrol may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and inflammatory injuries to the lungs, brain, and skin, as researchers discuss in a review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in April 2019.

8. Ginger

Ginger is a flowering plant whose roots can be consumed in its fresh, powdered, juiced, or supplemental form. Ginger’s uniquely spicy flavor comes from the compound gingerol, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

In a study of patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA), those who took 1.5 grams of ginger in capsule form per day for 12 weeks experienced significant reductions in the expression of the inflammatory CRP and IL-1β. As inflammation is a significant cause of pain and disability in RA patients, ginger may help relieve these symptoms.

9. Vitamin D

Lastly, adequate vitamin D levels reduce inflammation by downregulating inflammatory cytokine pathways, including IL-6 and IL-1β. 

In a February 2019 clinical trial published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, vitamin D-deficient women with diabetes were randomized to receive a supplement containing 50,000 IU of vitamin D3 twice a month or a placebo for 16 weeks. The women in the vitamin D group saw significant reductions in CRP levels and increased anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10.  

Although vitamin D is found in some foods, like fatty fish and egg yolks, the best sources of the nutrient are from sunlight and supplements. 

Key Takeaway:

  • Although the acute inflammatory response is necessary for healing injuries, chronic and low-grade inflammation is linked to just about every chronic disease. 
  • The top foods that fight inflammation are berries, leafy green vegetables, olive oil, green tea, ginger, and fatty fish.
  • The leading anti-inflammatory supplements include omega-3 fats, EGCG from green tea, resveratrol, curcumin, and vitamin D. 

Show references

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