How to Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is the hidden culprit behind dozens of health problems. Here’s the new science on how best to keep it in check.

illustration-inflammatory-foods
Photo by Marina Muun

The standard approaches for calming chronic inflammation include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs, like ibuprofen, and other medications, along with lifestyle behaviors. These include eating salmon, mackerel, and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, drinking flavonoid-rich tea, and getting adequate sleep and exercise. Now new research reveals more ways to keep inflammation at bay. Although none have yet been proven to completely eliminate your risk of health conditions like heart disease and dementia, all are beneficial strategies that will probably improve your health.

Lose a few pounds, and take vitamin D. Losing as little as two pounds can decrease adipose tissue enough to affect levels of inflammatory markers. And increasing your vitamin D intake can help even more. In a recent study published in Cancer Prevention Research, overweight women who had lower-than-recommended vitamin D levels and then lost 5 to 10 percent of their body weight and supplemented with 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily saw a 37 percent higher reduction in the inflammatory cytokine IL-6 than did those who lost weight without taking vitamin D.

Be social. Loneliness causes chemical reactions that can con-tribute to cellular inflammation—which can increase the odds of related illnesses, including cancer and diabetes—according to a recent study from the University of Chicago. Researchers tracking 141 people over five years found that when people felt lonely, levels of norepinephrine (a fight-or-flight hormone) surged, increasing the activity of inflammatory genes. “It’s as if loneliness is interpreted by the body as a threat,” says Steve Cole, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at UCLA and the lead author of the study. The study found that loneliness predicted inflammation even a year later, and inflammation also predicted loneliness. “They may help propagate one another in a vicious cycle,” says Cole.

Spice things up. Consuming a teaspoon or less of turmeric daily can reduce oxidative stress associated with inflammation, according to Chris D’Adamo, Ph.D., the director of research at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in Baltimore. D’Adamo also recommends ginger, which inhibits COX-2 and prostaglandins from being produced, and cayenne pepper.

Pop a probiotic. Adults with inflammatory conditions (including psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and ulcerative colitis) who took a probiotic supplement for eight weeks had lower levels of inflammation compared with people who took a placebo, according to a 2013 study from University College Cork, in Ireland. “Even in healthy subjects, we saw a significant shift in an anti-inflammatory direction,” says Quigley, who was on the research team. He and his colleagues found that introducing the healthy bacteria Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 into the gut can improve immune functioning and reduce inflammation.

Make it a veggie burger. Not only the amount but also the type of protein that you’re eating can affect your inflammation levels. Lower protein intake overall was associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers in a 2014 study published in the journal Nutrition. And when the intake was categorized, greater red and white meat consumption—no matter the overall amount—was linked to higher levels of inflammatory markers than was the consumption of plant proteins.

Curb your omega-6 intake. Consuming moderate to high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids—found in corn, soybean, and grape-seed oils, for example—can promote inflammation and increase your risk of heart disease. “Omega-6 initiates inflammatory processes, and omega-3 terminates them,” says D’Adamo. But it’s more complicated than just omega-6 = bad; omega-3 = good. The ratio between the two matters. “Most Americans are getting 20 to 1, when ideally it should be more in the range of 3 to 1,” says D’Adamo.