Fighting Inflammation: How Your Pantry Can Help
Inflammation in the body can lead to a whole host of problems, from heart disease to diabetes and worse. Inflammation comes about from a myriad of different places- pollution, sun, smoking, exercise and foods we eat- many of these sources of inflammation are unavoidable, so what’s a person to do? Head to your pantry, of course! Your pantry and local Farmer’s Market are two great sources to help you fight inflammation naturally with food.
Like other nightshade fruits and veggies, tomatoes get a bit of a bad rap. Contrary to the rumors circulating on the internet, tomatoes do not increase inflammation.
In fact, they help decrease inflammation in the body, thanks to their lycopene content.
Lycopene helps to prevent the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Lycopene also helps prevent immune cells from getting out of control by inducing programmed cell death in immune cells, another way lycopene keeps inflammation down.
This study, from 2013, found that women who added tomato juice to their diet reduced their levels of inflammatory cytokines and reduced their risk of inflammatory diseases from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, even when overweight or obese. Another study found that tomato juice lowered inflammation and also helped reduce body weight.
The Mediterranean diet has been linked to decreased inflammation, this can be partially attributed to its prolific use of virgin olive oil. Olive oil contains approximately 36 different phenolic compounds which give it its anti-inflammatory prowess.
While olive oil is especially good for rheumatoid arthritis it also has the ability to decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines throughout the body. One phenolic compound in olive oil, oleocanthal, has similar inflammation fighting abilities to ibuprofen and helps reduce joint degenerative disease, neuro-degenerative diseases and even some cancers like breast and prostate cancer.
Adding olive oil to the diet on a daily basis has a similar effect to taking a daily low dose aspirin- it has anti-carcinogenic, and heart healthy benefits.
Dietary patterns that include leafy greens have lower markers of inflammation, according to this study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Another study found that the dietary nitrates had beneficial effects and helped lower blood pressure, inhibit platelet aggregation, reduce inflammation and help keep arteries healthy.
Chronic inflammation is involved in the development of atherosclerosis. Many of the components of nuts- from magnesium to arginine and omega-3 fatty acids-help to reduce levels of inflammatory cytokines, maintain homeostasis in the body and prevent inflammation from leading to atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna are all good sources of omega-3, the fatty acid that gives fish its anti-inflammatory abilities.
There are a variety of mechanisms behind the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, they increase the production of anti-inflammatory agents, while decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory agents.
When the body is experiencing inflammation, omega-3’s help to resolve that inflammation quickly and shift the pro-inflammatory environment to a less inflammatory one.
There are also some plant based sources of omega-3 including walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
As few as ten tart cherries per day can have a positive impact on inflammation in the body, especially inflammatory diseases like gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
It also helps lessen the inflammation that occurs as a result of exercise– you know, the sore muscles and stiff joints that we all sometimes end up with after an exceptionally difficult workout.
Tart cherries are exceptionally high in anthocyanins which give them their anti-inflammatory abilities. While anthocyanins are also found to a lesser extent in blueberries and raspberries, they are highest in tart cherries.
Anthocyanins reduce markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein, reduce pain and stiffness of muscles and joints associated with inflammation and increase physical function.
The allium family includes onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions and chives.
They contain allyl sulfides and quercetin which help reduce inflammation, especially for those with inflammatory conditions like arthritis by limiting the effect of inflammatory chemicals like tumor necrosis factor.
A chemical in garlic called allicin helps to lower blood pressure, and homocysteine levels (homocysteine is a by-product of protein digestion that may indicate a higher risk of heart disease) which helps to decrease inflammation in the body.
The compounds in garlic also help to prevent the inflammatory cycle in the body, especially inflammation caused by obesity and help prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals that can lead to insulin resistance and help prevent the risk of diabetes.
Green tea contains polyphenols, the most studied of which is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which help reduce inflammation in the gut.
EGCG helps prevent the body from producing too many pro-inflammatory agents, thus helps lower the inflammatory reaction, which in turn helps prevent cell and tissue damage due to inflammation.
One 2012 study found that adding green tea to the diet not only helped reduce inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein in the blood, green tea also increased total antioxidants in the body, decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, blood pressure and triglyceride levels while raising the HDL (good) cholesterol levels. All of which help keep you healthy!
Long used in herbal medicine, ginger is rich in inflammation fighting phytochemicals.
Intense workouts can lead to acute inflammation. Yup, those sore muscles are indicative of a bit of inflammation.
Remember the signs of inflammation: redness, heat, swelling- I bet you have seen a few of those after a workout!
Don’t stop exercising though, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the acute inflammation, simply have a bit of ginger before a workout to prevent the formation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, reduce exercise induced inflammation and- bonus- it will help prevent soreness and muscle pain afterwards too.
Ginger has also shown promise at inhibiting the immune response to allergens, reducing allergic reactions.
The curcumin in tumeric is responsible for many, but not all, of tumerics anti-inflammatory powers and has long been used in ayurvedic medicine.
Turmerics ability to fight inflammation has anti-cancer implications, as well as beneficial effects on inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and even arthritis.
Remember, there is no one miracle anti-inflammatory food. Eating a balanced diet with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and healthy fats (like olive oil, nuts and avocados) and limiting highly processed foods, white flour and sugar can all help to reduce inflammation in the body.