Inflammation is an important part of our immune system. It defends against outside invaders—killing off pathogens…guarding against infections…repairing cuts, sprains and other injuries. Each and every cell in our body is continuously checked by the immune system to see if it belongs or not. If a cell appears foreign, the battle begins and inflammation is the first step. When you catch a virus, inflammation is what causes your temperature to rise—viruses don’t like high temperatures. When you accidentally cut yourself while shaving, inflammation sends white blood cells to the injured area to fight bacteria that may have snuck in and to initiate the tissue-repair process.
In the short term, this protective response keeps us healthy and thriving. But over the long term, persistent or excessive inflammation can be damaging.
Many of us are under tremendous amounts of stress—not just the stress that comes from career, relationship and financial pressures, but the kind our bodies experience when we eat sugary and processed foods…carry unhealthy amounts of weight…skimp on sleep…smoke…read scary news stories…inhale environmental toxins…and feel isolated from loved ones. We may not realize that these behaviors are stressful, but our immune systems do. They interpret these things as foreign invaders and mount an inflammatory response to protect us.
Under these conditions, your immune system begins to fuel chronic inflammation in an attempt to protect you from your stressful lifestyle choices. When inflammation kicks into overdrive, it can attack parts of the body as if they themselves are the invaders. Result: Needless wear-and-tear on the body and an array of head-to-toe inflammatory conditions, most of which end with the suffix -itis (which means inflammation)—arthritis, tendonitis, gingivitis, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis and more. Chronic low-grade inflammation also is at the root of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic diseases.
Bottom Line Personal asked Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, holistic physician, and leading researcher in the field of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, how to reduce the inflammation that is damaging your body.
How to Curb Inflammation
Fortunately, you can prevent, control and even reverse chronic inflammation. Here are some proven strategies that give your body the edge it needs to thrive…
Go heavy on produce. Fruits and vegetables are highly anti-inflammatory, thanks to their antioxidant content. Antioxidants balance out cellular damage incurred by inflammation and can prevent damage. Best antioxidant sources: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leafy greens, berries, tomatoes, grapes, apples, cantaloupe, beets and bell peppers.
Rule of thumb: Eat seven to 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. The more colorful a fresh fruit or vegetable is, the better it is at fighting inflammation. Sweet potatoes, for instance, are higher in antioxidants than white potatoes are. A 2021 study in Antioxidants found that fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash (acorn and butternut) and other dark yellow and orange veggies, are key components in an anti-inflammatory diet.
Eat the right fats. Fat from oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and trout is rich in inflammation-calming omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken also are high in omega-3s. The majority of your fat intake should come from these anti-inflammatory fatty acids.
But the Standard American Diet overflows with products high in inflammation-promoting omega-6 fatty acids—corn, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils…trans fats (in store-bought baked goods, chips and other processed foods)…margarine…and grain-fed beef, chicken and pork. In fact, while our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a diet with a healthy two-to-one ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, the average person today consumes a ratio of 15-to-one. Recent finding: Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to be beneficial in treating various inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and multiple sclerosis. For instance, these fatty acids may reduce the number of swollen and tender joints in patients with RA.
Rule of thumb: Aim for three to four servings of omega-3–rich fish each week. If that is too ambitious, consider taking a fish oil supplement. Most supplements on the market are shockingly low in omega-3 fatty acids. (The oil is loaded with non–omega-3 saturated fats, which reduces bioavailability and causes it to go rancid.) Good fish oil brands: Nordic Naturals and Eskimo-3. Or you can try the Vectomega brand* ($47.95 for 60 tablets, TerryNaturallyVitamins.com/vectomega)—one capsule a day provides the same amount of EPA and DHA in eight conventional supplements.
Try a curcumin supplement. More than 1,000 studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory power of this immune-strengthening antioxidant, found in turmeric, an Indian spice often used in curries. Research is underway to see whether curcumin can be used as an adjunct therapy for inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Also, findings from Alzheimer’s experts at University of California, Los Angeles suggest that the low rates of the memory-sabotaging disease in India may be due, in part, to high turmeric intake.
Curcumin itself is poorly absorbed by the body—you need high amounts to reap the benefits. It should be combined with turmeric oil for enhanced absorption. (Black pepper also increases absorption.) Try CuraMed brand* ($87.96 for 120 capsules, available at my website, EndFatigue.com)—one capsule has the effectiveness of seven curcumin capsules.
Caution: People taking the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin) should not take fish oil or turmeric supplements.
Do things that bring you joy. When you’re stressed, your body produces pro-inflammatory substances called cytokines that, among other activities, communicate with the brain, negatively influencing thought patterns, emotions and behavior. Sustained, low-grade inflammation has been identified as a potential cause of, or contributor to, depression. Depression also is common among patients with preexisting autoimmune diseases and inflammatory conditions.
Recent study: Positive emotions—contentment, pride, amusement, excitement, calm—can favorably influence inflammation, per a 2018 study published in Emotion. Using data collected from 175 adults ages 40 to 65, researchers found that people who regularly experienced a wide range of these emotions were more likely to have lower circulating levels of inflammatory blood markers.