America is the “Inflammation Nation.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, 7 of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States are attributed to chronic low-level inflammation. Our diet plays a large role when it comes to inflammation, but pharmaceuticals may be doing more harm than good.
As many of you know, inflammation is a natural biological process of healing in the body which is necessary for survival. When tissues are damaged by foreign bacterium or viruses, toxins, heat, trauma or other causes, damaged cells release substances that activate a swelling response to isolate the afflicted area, and also trigger a chain reaction of reparative “mediators” to the scene to heal the injury. We recognize this process by overt physical symptoms such as redness, pain, warmth, swelling and loss of function.
While fluctuations in the inflammatory process are clearly necessary to maintain a stable homeostatic existence, many individuals are afflicted by “silent” inflammation, or a chronic low-level response that doesn’t present with any of the classic symptoms. Rather, persistent low-level inflammation caused by diet and lifestyle, quietly deteriorates the heart, brain and immune system manifesting in chronic disease.
NSAID: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug
In an allopathic framework, many people take medications in order to combat the uncomfortable symptoms of inflammation. In a study done in 2010 by the American Gastroenterological Association, it was found that over 30 million people take over-the-counter nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) each day for relief from pain, headaches and arthritis.
These “household” drug names are all too familiar to most of us including Advil, Motrin, Alieve, Bayer, Excedrin, and Ibuprofen. NSAIDS are also found lingering in many of the common cold and flu medications that your friendly pharmacy technician rings up for you with a smile, as you stand there with tissues stuffed up your nose.
NSAIDs work by altering the inflammation response to decrease pain and swelling. Though previously thought to be “benign” medications, new studies have revealed that these meds may be perpetuating the destructive cycle of dysfunctional biological response. Consider the following:
- Everyone who takes NSAIDs is at some risk for developing a stomach problem. What’s more, 80% of people who have a serious stomach problem as a result of taking an NSAID have no warning symptoms.
- Recent studies indicate that NSAIDs (except for low-dose aspirin) may increase the chance of heart attack or stroke.
- According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, NSAID complications lead to 7,500 bleeding ulcers, 103,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths annually, costing more than $2 billion in medical expenses.
- Current documented side effects for ibuprofen include (but are not limited to): Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; trouble breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); bloody or black, tarry stools; change in the amount of urine produced; chest pain; confusion; dark urine; depression; fainting; fast or irregular heartbeat; fever, chills, or persistent sore throat; mental or mood changes; numbness of an arm or leg; one-sided weakness; red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin; ringing in the ears; seizures; severe headache or dizziness; severe or persistent stomach pain or nausea; severe vomiting; shortness of breath; stiff neck; sudden or unexplained weight gain; swelling of hands, legs, or feet; unusual bruising or bleeding; unusual joint or muscle pain; unusual tiredness or weakness; speech changes; vomit that looks like coffee grounds; yellowing of the skin or eyes.
Diet and lifestyle will serve to radically alter chronic inflammation responses and offer the freedom to a full life. But these types of behavior and habit alterations take patience and time. While gulping down fizzy sodas and crunching away at low-fat refined cereals, we have done a lot of damage to agitate the tissues of the body– down to the very cell. Thus, along the intricate pathway of reparative and sustainative change, we often need some additional, concentrated healing support.
There are several vital natural substances that actually have strong anti-inflammatory properties. As UCLA Professor of Medicine and Neurology, G. Cole explained to Newsweek Magazine in a Special Summer Issue in 2005:
“While anti-inflammatory drugs usually block a single target molecule and reduce its activity dramatically, natural anti-inflammatories gently tweak a broader range of inflammatory compounds. You’ll get greater safety and efficacy reducing five inflammatory mediators by 30 percent than by reducing one by 100 percent.”
3 Natural Inflammation-Fighting Supplements To Try:
1. Ginger – ginger (like many natural plant compounds) is anti-inflammatory, which makes it a valuable tool for pain relief. In 2001, research showed that ginger oil helped reduce knee pain in people with osteoarthritis.
Ginger contains anti-inflammatory properties that make it an ideal home remedy for muscle and joint problems. In addition to drinking ginger tea, you can also use it to soak inflamed joints. Ginger is one of the best pain killers in the world having analgesic properties like the popular ibuprofen, only better. It contains a quartet, gingerols, paradols, shogaols, and zingerone which are active ingredients to reduce pain. Ginger reduces pain-causing prostaglandin levels in the body. A study by researchers found that when people who were suffering from muscular pain were given ginger, they all experienced improvement.
In 2013, a study also found that women athletes taking three grams of ginger or cinnamon daily (that’s less than one teaspoon) had a significant decrease in muscle soreness. Ginger has even been found to be as effective as ibuprofen in relieving pain from menstrual cramps in women.
The pain-relieving potential of ginger appears to be far-reaching. Along with help for muscle and joint pain, ginger has been found to reduce the severity of migraine headaches as well as the migraine medication Sumatriptan – with fewer side effects.
Another recent study, which was presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference, found that adding ginger compounds to isoproterenol, a type of asthma medication called a beta-agonist, enhanced its bronchodilating effects. Because ginger enhances bronchodilation, it may provide a much safer alternative, or at least complement, to current asthma medications on the market.
2. Rosemary – For centuries, one of the most common medicinal uses for rosemary has involved improving memory, not just for the flavor it adds to food. This herb, especially the flower tops, contains antibacterial and antioxidant rosmarinic acid, plus several essential oils such as cineol, camphene, borneol, bornyl acetate, and α-pinene that are known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties.
Most recipes call for a few teaspoons of rosemary. The same amount provides 16% of the daily value of vitamin A for free radical-zapping antioxidant properties, vision protection, healthy skin and mucus membranes, and increased protection from lung and mouth cancers. Mostly renowned for fighting infection, the vitamin C content synthesizes collagen, the protein required for optimal blood vessels, organs, skin, and bones.
Manganese, another of the more prominent minerals in rosemary, plays such a critical antioxidant role in the body – specifically aided by its cofactor superoxide dismutase – that it’s associated with lowering the risk of cancer, specifically breast cancer.
Rosemary also contains iron (part of the hemoglobin inside red blood cells, determining how much oxygen the blood will carry) and potassium (a component in cell and body fluids which helps control heart rate and blood pressure). There’s also fiber, copper, calcium, and magnesium, and an abundance of B vitamins, such as pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, folates, useful for DNA synthesis and for women just prior to conception, which helps prevent neural tube defects in newborns.
Being concentrated, the dried version of rosemary provides a bit more of everything: 93 calories, 12 grams of fiber and 45% of the daily value in iron, 35% of the calcium, 29% of the vitamin C and 18% of the vitamin A needed each day.
3. Turmeric – This spice actually doubles as a powerful anti-inflammatory. In cultures that are thousands of years old, there tend to be deep traditions of cooking daily meals with medicinal roots and herbs. Turmeric is one such medicinal root that has made its way into many Indian recipes.
Research shows that turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and antioxidant properties. Inflammation, if left untreated, can become a chronic health issue. And unlike aspirin or ibuprofen, turmeric’s curcumin reduces inflammation naturally, without damaging the liver or kidneys.
Healthier Talk reports:
“It has been found especially helpful in treating conditions like arthritis, sports injuries, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, tendonitis and various autoimmune diseases. Some research even suggests that curcumin may also help those suffering asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and, yes, even cancer.”
Many patients turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and analgesics, like Tylenol, for pain relief, but the regular, chronic use of these types of medications is associated with significant, and very serious, side effects such as cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal harm and kidney and/or liver damage. Curcumin may be able to provide safe, natural pain relief, provided it is absorbed.
Other Potent Anti-Inflammatory Spices
An earlier study published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods found a direct correlation between the antioxidant phenol content of spice and herb extracts and their ability to inhibit glycation and block the formation of AGE compounds (advanced glycation end products), making them potent preventers of heart disease and premature aging.
Here, cloves were ranked as the most potent of 24 common herbs and spices found in your spice rack. In all, the following were found to be the top 10 most potent anti-inflammatory herbs and spices:
- Jamaican allspice
- Apple pie spice mixture
- Pumpkin pie spice mixture
- Gourmet Italian spice