by Marcelle Pick, NP OB/GYN
Preventing or reducing inflammation is all about listening to your body. Here you will learn what increases and what reduces your inflammatory response as your try these natural, anti-inflammatory healthful habits. Remember to try our approach in stages that feel right for you. You’ve got a lot of options for choices to reducing inflammation, but don’t feel overwhelmed – just take the pieces that feel right for you. Here’s what we recommend:
An Anti-inflammatory diet
- Add essential fatty acids to your diet: Take a daily EFA fish oil supplement high in omega-3s to balance out your diet. Many are derived from fish oil, but vegetarian sources are also available. Just be sure your EFA supplement has been tested and proven free of mercury and other heavy metals — otherwise it can do you more harm than good. Some practitioners also recommend adding an omega-6 supplement called gamma linolenic acid, or GLA, if you have rheumatoid arthritis. These essential fatty acids restore the right amount of arachadonic acid in your blood. Include a small handful of nuts and seeds in your diet daily, especially walnuts and flaxseed, which are good sources of omega-3s. Use olive oil liberally. It’s high in oleic acid, an omega-9, and has significant anti-inflammatory properties.
- Avoid refined sugar and carbohydrates with a high glycemic load, as well as processed and convenience food as much as possible. Steer clear of known allergens and be aware of increasing food sensitivities. Wheat, eggs, dairy, soy and nuts are the most common dietary irritants. We recommend following an elimination diet (avoiding a substance for two weeks, then introducing it for a day or two) to identify your sensitivities.
- Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and wild seafood/fish. Despite the health benefits of fish, most species have astronomically high levels of mercury and PCB’s. Severely limit or avoid all Atlantic varieties, and only eat wild Pacific or Alaskan salmon (never farm-raised!). The lower on the food chain the better, so sardines, anchovies and shellfish are still good choices. Add a portion of vegetables to every meal and snacks for their fiber and natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Many herbs (like oregano) and foods like garlic, green tea, blueberries, and ginger contain flavinoids and polyphenols that limit free radical production.
Anti-inflammatory natural supplements
- Add a high-quality daily multivitamin: Vitamin E lowers levels of CRP in the blood. Vitamin D also has an anti-inflammatory effect. Vitamins C and the B vitamins are powerful agents against free radicals. Supplementing your diet with a good multivitamin ensures you get the right level of nutrients when your body needs them most. To learn more, read our articles on health and vitamins.
- Other supplements are available for joint inflammation like glucosamine, sulfur, and chondroitin. Ask your medical practitioner about including them in your plan. However, these are felt to act principally on delaying the progression of and are really for alleviating symptoms of joint inflammation, and don’t have as strong an impact on addressing the underlying causes of inflammation, as the do the other steps recommended on this page.
Evoking natural anti-inflammatories
Adopt healthy habits and get some physical activity every day. Fuel your body with anti-inflammatory agents by exercising every day. Start slow with a five-minute walk and build your stamina. We recommend 20-30 minutes of activity, five times a week. Exercise is a great way to counteract stress, especially when combined with deep breathing — as with yoga or Pilates. These exercises are appropriate and great for all levels of stamina.
Go out and play! Find some time to relax. If you live with chronic stress, investigate meditation or biofeedback therapies to learn the relaxation response. Talk therapy is very successful in helping people navigate through their emotional minefields. See our articles about alternative therapies for help. Often your local religious institution or YWCA will advertise support groups or community-building events. This is a great way to begin to sharing your emotional burdens (and we all have them!) with willing listeners.
Get plenty of rest — it’s great anti-inflammatory medicine. You need to sleep between seven and nine hours a night to give your body enough time to heal from the previous day’s demands.
Reducing the causes of inflammation
Break your bad habits. Substances like alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and marijuana places a heavy burden on your system, so eliminate them or moderate your intake. The fastest way to reduce inflammation is to stop smoking and using stimulants. Try quitting for a week or two and see how good you feel. That will encourage you to quit forever. If that doesn’t work, find a support group or professional help and keep trying until you quit.
Examine your surroundings and make them as “green” as possible. Use natural cleaning products and detergents. Limit your reliance on dry cleaning and air fresheners. Test your air and water and, if necessary, get high-quality filters. Bring in lots of houseplants to help filter air. If you work in a “sick” building, you have the right to object. OSHA has a toll-free number for inquiries: 1-800-321-6742; or go to their website, www.osha.gov.
Practice a gentle detox or cleansing program a couple of times a year. It’’s impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to environmental toxins, so it’s a good idea to periodically detoxify. For more information on how to do this, read our articles about detoxification.
Investigate alternative therapies to deal with pain management. Because of the confusion about the long-term effects of pain medication and steroids, we only recommend using anti-inflammatory drugs for short periods during acute crises. Many people have found significant pain relief through acupuncture, massage, water therapy and other mind-body treatments which reduce pain and inflammation naturally without having to use drugs. For more on this, please read our articles on alternative health care and how to make it work for you.
Pay yourself first
Calming the inflammation fire is a constant process, much like maintaining our natural hormonal balance. But it can be done if we remind ourselves how quickly inflammation can speed out of control and how important reducing inflammation is for our health. Just as we need to make healthy choices to support our hormones, we need to do the same to sustain the natural checks and balances of our immune response. After all, your body is the only permanent home you have — it only makes sense to heed your inner smoke alarms.
As we learn more, we continue to see that taking care of ourselves naturally is the best way to prevent and correct worrisome health conditions. Our bodies are wonderfully complex and resilient, but they need our nurturing. If we start paying ourselves first by keeping watch over our internal fire, we’ll reap untold rewards.