Inflammation and the Body
Inflammation is an immune system response that supports healing. Although it causes symptoms like swelling and redness, it's a helpful process. But when inflammation becomes chronic, it can cause symptoms that include:
- Pain in muscles and joints
- Troubled sleep
- Depression and anxiety
- Digestive problems
- Frequent infections
Inflammation is found in many chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and Parkinson's disease. It's a factor in some forms of dementia and many cancers.
Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation
You can reduce chronic inflammation with good lifestyle choices, including healthy foods. Foods that fight inflammation include fruits, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, nuts, and fatty fish. Foods that increase inflammation are usually highly processed. Sodas, refined carbohydrates, and fried foods are all possible triggers. Red meat can also cause inflammation.
Herbs and spices with anti-inflammatory qualities are a good addition to a healthy diet. These ingredients can also make your food more delicious.
Spices and herbs are low-cost and safe. Researchers have studied the active components in these ingredients and how they affect inflammation, but more research is needed.
Ginger as an Anti-Inflammatory
Ginger is a root used in many foods, including drinks, candies, and baked goods. The plant originated in China, where it is important in traditional medicine. Ginger is available in supermarkets in root form or as a ground powder. Historically, it has been used as an aid to digestion. Today researchers are interested in its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger shares many properties with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). One study seems to show that ginger affects the pathways along which inflammation travels.
Another study looked at five trials involving people with osteoarthritis. The study subjects had a reduction in pain and disability after taking ginger.
Ginger is generally safe. In large doses, it may cause heartburn, irritate the mouth and throat, or cause digestive distress.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a tree bark with a colorful history. The ancient Egyptians used it for embalming because of its antibacterial properties. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the cinnamon trade triggered several wars. Today, cooks prize it for its aroma and the flavor it adds to baked goods.
One study of women with rheumatoid arthritis found that cinnamon improved their symptoms. Those who took cinnamon capsules daily showed less swelling and tenderness in their joints. Two lab tests, C-reactive protein (CRP) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF), confirmed the reduction in inflammation.
Cinnamon is generally safe. One type that comes from the cassia tree could harm the liver if taken for a long time.
Turmeric as an Anti-Inflammatory
Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family. Cooks use it as a fresh root or in dried and powder form. Noted for its bright yellow color, turmeric is a primary ingredient in many curries. It has been used for several medicinal purposes.
Curcumin, which gives turmeric its color, has anti-inflammatory qualities. One analysis of clinical trials found that curcumin is helpful in the treatment of arthritis. Arthritis medicines often have adverse effects. Curcumin is safer and can be used for longer periods.
One problem with curcumin is its low bioavailability, which means the body has trouble using it. Piperine, an ingredient in black pepper, improves the bioavailability of curcumin up to 2000%. Adding black pepper when cooking with turmeric could make it more effective in fighting inflammation.
Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic, a member of the lily family, is famous for its pungent smell and unique flavor. Ancient doctors prized it for its medicinal qualities. Today it is considered an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory qualities.
One study analyzed 83 human trials and found that garlic shows promise for the treatment of many conditions. It reduced inflammation in those with kidney disease, high blood pressure, and obesity-related inflammation.
It's probably safe to eat garlic in food. Garlic supplements may interfere with some medications, such as blood thinners.
Ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and garlic have been used in human studies and have demonstrated anti-inflammatory qualities. Other spices and herbs may fight inflammation but may not have been tested on humans. They may have been tested with animals or in the lab instead. These promising medicinal plants include:
- Black pepper
If you are interested in taking spices and herbs as supplements, check with your doctor. Cooking with herbs and spices is unlikely to harm you. Supplements can contain amounts large enough to impact your health. Herbs and spices come from nature, but that doesn't mean that large doses are natural for the human body. Also, supplements are considered food and are not regulated as prescription drugs are.