Anti-Inflammatory Supplements: 10 That Really Work
Inflammation — pain, swelling, redness and heat — is a double-edged sword. This immunity-mediated process is crucial when you have an injury. It helps your body fight infection and clear away damaged tissue. But inflammation can become a chronic condition if your body fails to shut off this reaction, or activates it when there is no apparent trigger. Luckily, a few anti-inflammatory supplements can help save the day.
Inflammation can last for years. It can target a particular area — like your skin, sinuses, prostate, bladder or gums. (Any diagnosis that ends with “-itis” is an inflammatory condition.) Inflammation can become a body-wide condition. It has been identified as the underlying cause of many diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and neurological degeneration, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Inflammation is a big threat. That’s why it’s so important to get it under control.
The Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Supplements and Nutrients
A diet focused on vegetables, fruits, fish, olive oil, nuts and whole grains can reduce inflammation. Nutritional anti-inflammatory supplements also help. Unlike drugs, they work without causing stomach ulcers. There are plenty of natural inflammation-fighters. Here are our top choices:
1. Fish Oil
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These acids decrease the body’s production of a long list of pro-inflammatory biochemicals, including the same ones targeted by most NSAIDs — cyclooxygenase (COX 1 and 2). It also helps to reduce levels of inflammatory interleukins, specifically interleukin-1, a marker of chronic inflammation. In studies, people with rheumatoid arthritis who took fish oil were able to reduce their dosage of anti-inflammatory drugs. They also reported less pain and stiffness.
Fish oil has a synergistic effect with aspirin. It inhibits synthesis of thromboxane A2 and the highly inflammatory leukotriene B4. Fish oil is reported to help asthma, cystitis, hepatitis, pancreatitis, prostatitis and dermatitis.
Immune cells cause oxidative damage. They fight infection, and ongoing oxidative damage drives chronic inflammation. Reducing oxidative damage can help control inflammation. Antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium all help to control oxidative damage by neutralizing “free radicals.” These are the molecular renegades that cause oxidative damage and can start a chain reaction that keeps it going.
The anti-inflammatory effects of quercetin seem to come from its ability to dampen the production and activity of pro-inflammatory biochemicals such as leukotrienes and prostaglandins. They also block the release of histamine, the biochemical that causes allergic symptoms like runny nose and itchy eyes. In addition, quercetin seems to help symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and chronic, nonbacterial prostatitis.
Curcumin is a component of the yellow spice turmeric and is found in curry. It may have special anti-inflammatory properties in the eyes. A layer of yellow pigment helps to protect the retina — and especially, the macula — from the harmful effects of sunlight. The pigment actually acts as a filter. It blocks harmful blue UV light from striking the retina. Curcumin has been proven helpful for chronic anterior uveitis (an inflammation of the front part of the eye) and for macular degeneration.
This protein-dissolving enzyme is obtained from the stem and fruit of the pineapple. Bromelain seems to exert its anti-inflammatory effect by altering leukocyte migration and activation. Leukocytes are white blood cells that help fight infection but can also perpetuate inflammation. Bromelain is good for an acute injury or inflammation caused by ongoing injury, such as osteoarthritis, with its ongoing injury to joint cartilage.
Some evidence suggests that resveratrol is a more potent anti-inflammatory agent than NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or indomethacin. Injections of resveratrol into the joints of animals decreases inflammation. It also reduces cartilage destruction. Like ginger and fish oil, resveratrol inhibits a number of inflammation-producing biochemicals. Such chemicals include COX-1 and COX-2. It also seems to have a regulating effect on certain immune cells. It may reduce T cell proliferation. T cells are involved in some autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis. It also affects cells called granulocytes. These cells are associated with the inflammation produced in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, so it may be helpful in reducing the lung damage associated with this smoking-related ailment.
7. Flax Seed Oil
For some reason, flax seed seems to especially target the skin. In zoos, it’s given to hippos, elephants and rhinos to help keep their massive hides healthy. Some of the fat in flax seed oil converts to EPA and DHA. These are the same active components in fish oil. Flax seed oil can be a good addition to fish oil. It is a great add-on especially if you are on a low-fat diet or have dermatitis — dry, scaly, itchy skin.
Certain constituents of ginger, called gingerols, have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. They inhibit a number of biochemicals that promote inflammation. These biochemicals include COX and lipoxygenase pathways. Ginger has been shown to reduce pain from both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, you will need to be patient. It can take up to three months of treatment to get relief.
9. Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha lipoic acid is a coenzyme that has lots of talents. It boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection. The acid is both fat and water soluble. It can regenerate other important antioxidants like vitamins E, C and glutathione. Alpha lipoic acid provides anti-inflammatory protection in blood vessels and in the fatty tissues of the brain and nerves. It’s a must for anyone with diabetes, neuritis or neuropathy, since it also improves glucose metabolism and blood flow in nerves.
Many people take zinc to boost their immunity, but recent research shows that zinc may also be a natural inflammation fighter. Popping zinc regularly can help reduce inflammation. It also has been shown to offer immune support. Researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit, tested whether zinc supplementation decreases oxidative stress. They found that consuming 25 mg three times a day for three months decreased TNF-alpha, a cytokine that amplifies inflammation.
The bottom line is that chronic, uncontrolled inflammation has been linked to a wide range of health problems. These health issues can dramatically affect your quality of your life as you age. But research has shown that anti-inflammatory supplements can provide effective relief with virtually no side effects. Before you start taking a NSAID or other potentially dangerous drugs to deal with inflammation, why not consider some safe natural alternatives?