If you've been feeling extra pain in your joints and muscles, been having trouble losing weight, or been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, there's a pretty good chance you've got some chronic inflammation in your body. The best supplements for inflammation are those that address the root cause of the issue with few, if any, side effects. Inflammation is a healthy feature of your immune system, but when it becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on your health and lead to chronic disease. A holistic approach to your health — including an anti-inflammatory diet, reduced exposure to inflammatory toxins, and high-quality supplements for inflammation — is the best way to reduce chronic inflammation and support a healthy immune system.
Holistic vs. Conventional Approach to Fight InflammationThe conventional approach to fighting inflammation mostly includes the use of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. The main class of drugs that doctors prescribe are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Over-the-counter options include ibuprofen (Advil), acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and naproxen (Aleve). Prescription NSAIDs include meloxicam (Mobic) and celecoxib (Celebrex). These drugs have stood the test of time and scientific rigor when it comes to their effect on acute inflammation. Acute inflammation is a temporary immune response to stimuli like viruses, bacteria, injury, or temporary pain like headaches, muscle cramps, or menstrual cramps. An acute inflammatory response is a healthy, normal response to this kind of stimuli: ramp up the heat, fix the problem (kill the bug, protect the injury, etc.), then ramp back down again. Using an NSAID in this situation can sometimes feel worth the potential side effects. The side effects, however, are not ideal for many people, especially those with already compromised gut health or other digestive issues. That's because the same pathway that NSAIDs block contributes to building a healthy gut lining. Over time, the use of NSAIDs could lead to stomach ulcers and more inflammation (1). Prescription NSAIDs have a lower chance of causing ulcers, but the risk is still there in long-term use. The biggest issue with the conventional approach, beyond the side effects, is that NSAIDs don't address the root cause of chronic inflammation. Rather, they act as a Band-Aid with no prevention for future problems. A holistic approach to health takes the whole person and her environment into account. It's the opposite of a Band-Aid, in that the goal is to get to the bottom of the problem and prevent it from continuing to happen or worsen over time. Diet, lifestyle, and supplements are the three prongs of a holistic approach to just about any health problem you'll come across.
LifestyleWhen it comes to lifestyle, the best way to fight chronic inflammation is to reduce your exposure to irritants and toxins, which can create oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the result of free radical exposure, whether that's from food or your environment. Reducing your free radical exposure means switching to green household cleaners with natural ingredients rather than harsh irritants. It also means ensuring that your drinking water is free from pollutants by investing in a good water purifier. Further lifestyle adjustments include getting adequate sleep at night, reducing mental and emotional stress, and maintaining a healthy weight. Middle body weight has been shown to increase the production of inflammatory compounds like C-reactive protein, which can lead to a greater risk of heart disease and other inflammatory diseases, so regular exercise and weight maintenance (or weight loss) are good ways to keep inflammation low (2)(3).
DietAnti-inflammatory foods help reduce oxidative stress, as well, through their antioxidant activity in your body. Grass-fed beef and dairy, pastured chickens, eggs, and pigs, wild-caught fish, and organic fruits and vegetables are the best ingredients in an anti-inflammatory diet. The health benefits of humanely raised animals can't be overstated: More vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin D, A, and E), a healthier fatty acid profile (more omega–3s), and even more heart-healthy nutrients are present in these foods, which hadn't previously been thought to be heart-healthy at all (4). Furthermore, humanely raised animals are free from the toxic chemicals used in conventional agri-business, including hormones and antibiotics (5). Fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-inflammatory properties that help neutralize free radicals and keep cells healthy over time. Healthy cells communicate well with each other and function optimally to help turn inflammation on and off in the proper manner. As we said before, inflammation is a necessary and healthy part of the human immune system. It's when it becomes chronic that problems arise (6). High-fiber foods are also important for a healthy gut and for keeping blood sugar low. These two factors also influence inflammation.
SupplementsAnti-inflammatory supplements can take your efforts to the next level. While eating antioxidant-rich whole foods is critically important for a healthy inflammatory response, sometimes food just isn't enough. This is especially true if you're experiencing chronic joint pain or an auto-immune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, or a neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer's or MS. The anti-inflammatory effects of herbs and supplements aren't regulated by the FDA, but there are loads of studies supporting their efficacy in promoting a healthy inflammatory response and helping quell the fires of chronic inflammation.
Omega–3 Fatty Acids (ALA and Fish Oil)There are three types of omega–3s, and each type does its own work to aid in the fight against chronic inflammation. The three types are alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA actually converts to EPA and DHA in the human body — both of which are well-known inflammation fighters — but new findings are now showing that it offers its own unique cardio-protective and neuroprotective benefits as well (7). You can supplement ALA in capsule form, but it's also present in chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts. EPA and DHA are the omega–3s found in fish oil supplements. Fish oil is a terrific dietary supplement for inflammation for this reason. In fact, one study showed that fish oil can be as effective as NSAIDs for addressing arthritic joint pain (8). Pretty impressive! Importantly, if you're taking any blood thinners, talk to your doctor before starting this supplement, as there might be a contraindication.
ResveratrolResveratrol is the antioxidant compound that put red wine on the healthy food list. While the majority of the research on this powerful antioxidant has been done in test-tube and lab studies, the results are promising. One study showed that supplementing resveratrol counteracted the negative effects of eating too many calories in middle-aged mice. This means that the mice lived longer and experienced health benefits from this active ingredient (9). That being said, the verdict is still out as to whether or not these effects can be extrapolated to humans. A meta-analysis showed that resveratrol can be unstable and difficult for the human body to absorb. (And no, we don't think that means you should just drink more red wine.) The verdict is still out, but this supplement could be a powerhouse once more studies are completed (10).
ProbioticsGut health is critical for a healthy immune system. The microbiome (all the non-human microscopic creatures living in your gut) is responsible for a huge part of a healthy immune response. It's also responsible for a healthy gut lining, which prevents your partially digested food and potentially harmful bacteria from leaking out of your gut and into your bloodstream. This means that when your gut health is out of whack, it's almost certain that your immune system is too. Probiotics are healthy bacteria living in your gut, and you can boost those bacteria by ingesting billions of them each day in a single supplement. Several studies have shown that supplementing healthy bacteria in subjects with "gastrointestinal symptoms and multiorgan inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis" has helped reduce inflammation (11). Probiotics can be taken in supplement form and often need to be refrigerated. You’ll either find bacterial probiotics or yeasts, which are antibiotic-resistant. Both are great options, and the yeast strains don’t need to be refrigerated. Importantly, eating foods rich in probiotics is also important. This includes raw sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha.
HerbsThere are a number of anti-inflammatory herbs that you can find in supplement form, each with its own phytonutrient compounds to help fight inflammation. These include:
- Black pepper
- Green tea