Flame Thrower: Top 10 Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation

Puffy, bloated, swollen. Sound attractive? Sounds like inflammation.

On the most basic level, inflammation is the way in which the body reacts to a disturbance, be it infection, irritation or other injury. More specifically, however, the inflammatory response – which in addition to swelling can also include redness, warmth and pain – occurs when blood, antibodies and other immune system components rush to the scene of the crime to attempt to repair the damage.

In most areas of the body, the pain associated with inflammation informs you of the damage, the swelling limits injury site mobility and prevents further irritation and the increased heat, redness and occasional itching are all signs that the immune system is doing its job! However, if this inflammation goes undetected – or is ignored – it can build up in the body, causing damage to other surrounding tissues and organs. In cases where inflammation is not adequately controlled, symptoms of chronic inflammation can occur, manifesting as arthritis, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, hair loss and dozens of other ailments and conditions.

Lucky for us, small tweaks to our diet and lifestyle can help dramatically reduce inflammation. Here are 10 all-natural tips that can help us sidestep the inflammation landmine:

1. Color me happy
Chalk another one up for the health benefits of fruits and vegetables! Although many varieties have anti-inflammatory properties, green leafy vegetables, green and vibrantly-hued vegetables, and berries deliver the heftiest doses of inflammation-busting phytochemicals and antioxidants. However, watch out for vegetables from the nightshade family of plants – which include potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants – which have a chemical alkaloid called solanine that may trigger pain in some people and thus synthesize the symptoms of inflammation.

2. Hey, Fatty (acids)
For years, dieting gurus recommended cutting out fat from the diet. The upshot? People got bigger and also got sicker. The reasoning? Turns out fatty acids – and particularly Omega-3 essential fatty acids – contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Up your acid ante by adding cold water oily fish (such as salmon, tuna and halibut) or nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, ground flaxseed, grapeseed and pumpkin and sesame seeds. Still not convinced you can add these in? Try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (the best omega 3 supplements in our humble opinion) – just look for brands that contain wild fish oil and low levels of mercury (a real bonus for pregnant women looking to avoid mercury!)

3. Spice up your life
Think herbs and spices are only good for adding a little flavor to your food. Turns out many of them also contain high levels of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds that can reduce inflammation and dull pain. One spice frequently touted for its anti-inflammatory properties is capsaicin, which is a naturally occuring ingredient in chilli peppers, as well as rosemary, which has rosmarinic acid and ginger which has vanillin and zingerone. Other good sources include basil, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, dill, fennel, garlic, hyssop, oregano, pepper, sage, and thyme as well as goji, graviola, green tea extract, spirulina and willowbark, which contains salicylic acid, one of the active ingredients in aspirin.

4. Sugar free
Bread, pastry, pasta…really, just sugar in general. In addition to helping pack on the pounds, simple carbohydrates also rev up inflammation by causing surges in blood sugar that promote a chemical reaction in cells called glycosylation, or the browning effect. To avoid such surges, stick to complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic index such as apples, asparagus, beans, broccoli, blackberries, blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, green beans, leafy greens, pears, raspberries, spinach and strawberries.

5. Food fodder
Another food source you need to steer clear of? Any item that may cause an inflammatory response. For some people, this might mean wheat, eggs, gluten, dairy, soy, or some forms of nuts. To determine whether you have a sensitivity to a particular food, try eliminating it for at least two weeks and see if symptoms such as lethargy, headaches or bloating subside. Arduous? Yes. Worthwhile? Certainly, if it means living a healthier – and longer – life. Of course, you know our stance on grains, so any reduction in grain products has benefits beyond the anti-inflammatory proerties.

6. Vitamin virtue
While adding a multivitamin can help stave off inflammation, the key here is to find a high-quality supplement (another unbiased product placement ;)) with the types of nutrients you need. Specifically, you need to look out for brands that contain higher doses of folic acid and B vitamins in particular, which have been associated with lowering inflammation as well as vitamins C, D and full-spectrum vitamin E. Next, add a broad base of antioxidants like Alpha Lipoic Acid, Resveratrol, Grapeseed Extract and NAC.

7. Probiotic power
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but turns out that’s also the same route to reduced inflammation! In the gut, beneficial bacteria is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but antibiotic use, stress, and poor diet can all upset this delicate balance, resulting in an infiltration of undesirable bacteria that can lead to inflammation. Keep the good guys employed – and the bad guys out of business – by adding acidophilus, bifidus and other probiotics into your diet for a few weeks, either through live active culture yogurts or with supplements.

8. Work it out
When it comes to inflammation, exercise serves as somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one hand, a heavy workout session can cause acute inflammation, yet overall it actually reduces the risk of future chronic inflammation. As with most things, moderation is key, so embark on a fitness routine that includes moderate-intensity activities that raise your heart rate to approximately 70% of maximum heart rate, an occasional session of short anaerobic bursts and two or three weight-training workouts a week. You’ll look good, too.

9. Environmentally safe
Smog, pollution, dust, mold, even our four-legged friends…all of these can spur inflammation. While it would be impossible to eliminate them, there are things that you can do to dampen their impact. Stepping up your cleaning schedule, for example, can reduce the amount of dust and mold spores in your home environment, while you can reduce the effects of smog and pollution by exercising away from busy roads and working out outside when roads are less packed.

10. Sleep it off
Having a few restless nights not only makes you feel crappy – and crabby! – but can also exacerbate any underlying symptoms of inflammation. To ensure adequate sleep, experts recommend snoozing for between six and 12 hours nightly, with sleep requirements varying based on age, activity level, overall health and other factors.

So there you have it, 10 ways to reduce inflammation with nary a drug in site!

mamabrarian Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Foods That Fight Inflammation

Health Benefits of Peppers (10 Peppers You Need to Try)

Does Stress Turn Your Hair Grey?

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31 thoughts on “Flame Thrower: Top 10 Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation”

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  1. Good list, but I would also add a very important thing, eat GRASS fed beef…not grain fed. Also avoid any kind of grain fed eggs, chicken, meats, etc. They are overloaded with AA an omega 6 fatty acid which is PRO inflammatory. Most people’s ratio of Omega 6s to 3s(anti-inflammatory) are like 25:1 when they should be less than 3:1.

    The biggest culprit nowadays seems to be the FARMED salmon, which is depleted of omega 3s and full of AA Omega 6. Not good.

    That and also eat nuts in moderation as most have a higher Omega 6/3 ratio.

  2. Ok so my eating is basically clean–Paleo, if, no nightshades etc. As to the farmed salmon which I tend to avoid like a plague. What would you do when wild isn’t available seasonally? Would you occas have a piece of “organic farmed” or avoid fish altogether?

  3. I used to live by LAX airport and the air there was terrible, now that I have moved I can tell a major difference in the air quality. Does anyone live by the air port?

  4. Craig,
    I live by the airport. I honestly hadn’t noticed a huge difference in the air near the airport compared to the air near downtown (downtown’s worse!) but, the noise pollution is just wretched! Then again, the landlord warned me.

  5. I’m so confused: first you guys say flaxseed is useless but now you list it as a beneficial food?

    Also, I too have a question on farmed vs. wild salmon. At my local wal-mart (um, yes I just admitted to shopping at Wal-Mart *blush*), they sell “Wild Alaskan Salmon” for about 3$ a pound -not on sale either. This is crazy cheap and when I look at the ingredients list it says “Wild Caught Salmon, high in Omega 3’s, healthy” No joke!! There is only 2.5g of fat per 4 oz serving though (my old kind of salmon was closer to 14g)and the fish has no skin on it. Is this really good salmon to buy or am I buying something inferior? Does wild salmon just have less fat than farmed? Thanks for clearing this up for me you guys!!

    1. There are about five types of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. The Walmart frozen salmon are most likely Chum, also known as ‘dog salmon’ or Keta. They’re considered the least desirable for dinner, as they tend to be mushy and have a mild flavor; their flesh is more whitish, too. They have lower fat content than other varieties (King, Sockeye), and thus are popular for smoking. Very cheap, though!

  6. Charlotte: I haven’t checked Wal-Mart but both Sam’s and Costco here in Tampa, sell wild frozen Alaskan Salmon for about $10-$12 for a 2.25 pound box. I think 6 fillets. They have the skin on and are already seasoned in some sort of marinade. I figure its a good backup. I’ll have to check the box again but I know it said “wild.” I wonder if its some loophole in the labeling reqs, like “organic” or “whole” have. I’ll have to check and see if it says wild caught anywhere. Its good though. Better than have quick backup options.

    All: I thought peppers were nightshades also, but you tout them for the benefits side. Scott at Modern Forager just has a big post on nightshades:


  7. Amen to #10, sleeping it off definitely works. I’m a big sleeper, nine hours being an average amount, though I will go for more if I have the time and desire. Days that I don’t have to get up early for something I just sleep until I wake up, it’s really lovely. Days that I DO have to get up much earlier than I’d like to I find my skin is in far worse condition than when I just wake up whenever. It’s like it needs the whole 9+ hours to really recover & restore itself.

    I realize how weird that probably sounds, but on good sleep days my skin is smooth, dewy & evenly toned, and on bad sleep days my skin is a bit dry, slightly broken out & just overall “meh” looking. Since knocking it off with the grains my skin has been looking better, which I’m sure has helped, but I have noticed a difference depending on my sleep lately. Really makes the phrase “beauty sleep” mean something to me now.

    Craig, I don’t live near the airport, but I feel bad for anyone who does. I know I couldn’t stand it. I live on a mountain in Virginia where the wind blows a great deal of the time, and I definitely notice how fresh the air is. There’s absolutely nothing to do out here, but the longer I live here the more I’m grateful not to live in a city anymore.

    Charlotte, I think the deal with flaxseed is that it takes more for people to convert it into the good kind of fatty acid chain whereas the other options like fish oil are ready to go. So take the better stuff when you can, and flaxseed is an ok substitute if you’re vegetarian or something. I could be wrong about that though, so anyone feel free to correct me.

    I’m also curious about Charlotte’s question on salmon. Been wondering if it’s better to opt out of fish (or any meat) altogether if it’s been turned into junk by human methods.

  8. Great question about flaxseed, Charlotte. To clear up any confusion let’s take a look at was has been said. Mark said in a recent post:

    “Go for wild, fatty fish like wild salmon and sardines. Likewise, look for omega 3 supplements that are purified. One last note: flax seed and flax oil are sometimes touted as a vegetarian alternative, but flax and other plant sources (with the exception of certain algaes—more on this later), don’t contain DHA, and not enough of their ALA is converted to DHA to make it an acceptable alternative to fish or fish oil.”

    And then in the response to this comment from surplusj:

    “I know this is a tangent to the main point of the article, but this is the first I’ve heard that flax oil isn’t a viable replacement for fish oil. I’m a vegetarian, and not about to start taking fish oil. Is flax not even worth it, or just not as amazing?”

    Mark added:

    “Flax is NOT as good as purified fish oil. It’s an OK fallback or substitute if you are vegetarian, but here’s the issue: We are looking for the most beneficial forms of Omega 3 DHA and EPA, both of which are present in the fish oil, but not in the flax. Your body will take some of the ALA (the form of omega 3 that’s in the flax) and enzymatically convert it to EPA and/or DHA, but the body doesn’t always have the tools or the inclination to perform that task as effectively as we’d like. That’s why I recommend you go straight for the fish oil. Still haven’t convinced my vegetarian son of that though…”

    In this article our Worker Bee states:

    “Turns out fatty acids – and particularly Omega-3 essential fatty acids – contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Up your acid ante by adding cold water oily fish (such as salmon, tuna and halibut) and nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, ground flaxseed, grapeseed and pumpkin and sesame seeds. Still not convinced you can add these in? Try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (the best omega 3 supplements in our humble opinion) – just look for brands that contain wild fish oil and low levels of mercury (a real bonus for pregnant women looking to avoid mercury!)”

    I think with all that put together it is pretty clear that we always recommend fish and fish oil supplements first and foremost, and that flaxseed and other nuts aren’t a good replacement or alternative to fish oil. We never say flaxseed oil is useless – just that it isn’t as good. I suppose the confusion could come from that little “or” in this article. It would probably be better changed to “and,” or “in addition to your regular consumption of,” or something else to this effect. You have quite the keen eye, Charlotte! Thanks again for the comment!

  9. Nice article. Eating the right foods are always a great way to improve your health. There are also all natural Antioxidants that also do a good job or resupplying your body with it needs and helps fight free radicals.

  10. I’m a little late to this party…

    I have read convincing articles that flaxseed IS an acceptable substitute for fish oil when taken in greater amounts. I’m not a scientist, and I don’t keep a well-documented trail of references for my beliefs, but upon reading said articles, I switched from fish oil to flaxseed and continue to experience the same inflammation-reducing benefits

    I’m sure someone will step up shortly with some ‘zinger’ to ‘prove’ me wrong, but you’re going to also have to reproduce my sore joints to do so convincingly.

    Mark, I’m surprised that your son won’t capitulate to your obviously well-researched and well-documented facts. It’s probably because he’s been brought-up to know when he’s right and not let the naysayers change him…

  11. For a vegetarian alternative to fish oil, there are now EPA/DHA supplements derived from algae (which is where the fish get it in the first place). These would be superior to flax, which as noted is inefficiently converted to the longer chain fatty acids (EPA/DHA). Still, whole flax is a good source of fiber and lignans and I would think that the ALA it contains would still help balance the ratio of O-3 to O-6 fats in the diet.

    As far as wild vs. farmed salmon: According to USDA data, both contain comparable amounts of Omega-3 fats BUT the farmed salmon also contain very high levels of arachidonic acid (an inflammatory O-6 fatty acid) due to the diet of fish meal and vegetable oils that they are fed. If the anti-inflammatory benefits are what you’re after, it would appear that farmed salmon is a wash.

    1. I’m curious about why turmeric and curcumin supplements were not included on the spice list. It is my impression that curcumin is one of the best anti-inflammatory compounds around, and readily available in inexpensive turmeric. I just drink about a teaspoon a day (more if inflammatory symptoms are evident) in water. Cook with it as well, of course. Really good with egg scrambles, fritatas, etc!

      1. yes to turmeric–especially the fresh whole root–incredibly efficient at reducing even severe inflammation–I have put myself, and suggested to several others with arthritis, on a dose of 1/2″ piece of root daily and the difference in arthritic joints, including small joints like knuckles is noticeable in an hour or so.

  12. A little concerned about this study of Folic Acid effects. Any suggestions Mark?

    March 10 (Bloomberg) — Men who take a daily folic acid supplement have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer, renewing skepticism about the value of supplements in the fight against cancer, a University of Southern California study found. The men who took 1 milligram of folic acid each day, more than twice the amount that most multivitamins contain, had 2.6 times the risk of developing prostate cancer than those given a placebo, according to research published online today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The researchers, led by Jane Figueiredo, said the risk assessment should be interpreted with caution because of the small number of cancers seen.

    1. Everyone should be taking methyl-folate, 60% (maybe more) of the population has one of two gene mutations (c677t or A1298c) that don’t allow us to breakdown (regular folic acid). That goes for b12 also, everyone should be taking methyl b12 and b6 in the form of P5P.

  13. Beans? I thought those were classed as inflammatory and off limits?

  14. I also find fasting to help with inflammation. Like with blood sugar spikes, if I wait it out w/o food, my body releases sooner than if it was trying to also deal with new food influx. I had an allergy thing happen the 1st of the year and it caused a blood sugar spike into the 200’s. I waited it out. By mid afternoon, my BG was 79 again. Then I ate. Had I eaten when my blood sugar was still that elevated, it only would have gone higher. I’ve seen ‘bloating’ or inflammation go the same way. I did extra fasting today and I can already tell – I’m peeing every 5 minutes, and my puffy is going away. I use the time I’m not eating to move, lift, and/or meditate. It’s been amazing to see these things work in my body and know I can trust the process. 😀

  15. Readers should be aware that, in general, optimal health (and mortality) for *most* people consists of sleep periods of about 7 hours.

    As with all things biological, YMMV. I encourage anyone interested to look into credible sources of information on this topic.

  16. Don’t forget, Drink lots of WATER. Best thing in the world to bring down inflammation. Probably number 1, for me.

  17. Mark, you’re a great wealth of information. Please don’t ever recommend Folic Acid! Folic Acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin Folate. Folic Acid does not naturally occur in foods and is associated with cancer due to all the government mandates of enriching processed foods. Health care practitioners commonly interchange Folic Acid with Folate and it is a gross error.

  18. Inflammation sounds like one of the problems I was having. Especially the aches and pains. It also explains why I’m having so much less of it since getting rid of grains and sugars.

  19. Forgive me if someone’s already mention this, but you can reduce inflammation markedly by doing a couple of things beyond those on the list.

    Take enteric coated proteolytic enzymes on an empty stomach. Wobenzym is the gold standard, but there are somewhat cheaper knock offs that work.

    And take 5-Loxin, which will inhibit 5 liopoxygenase. See lef.org.

  20. Since the article was regarding inflammatory alements, you might check out Anatablock as many are reporting excellent results. Product from Star Scientific and available at GNC stores.
    not cheap but you will thank me later…

    1. It’s my understanding, after doing some research, that Anatablock only works as long as you’re taking it. Therefore, it addresses symptoms but doesn’t eliminate the cause of chronic inflammation. At close to $100 for a 30-day supply, Anatablock is pretty expensive for what amounts to a “band-aid” approach.

  21. What about meat being a highly acidic food? Doesn’t that contribute to inflammation?

  22. Love the site. Almost everything is so correct. Just a typo in today’s post: I think that you may have meant “glycation” instead of “glycosylation.”

  23. The only thing that I don’t agree that beans are anti inflammatory foods
    otherwise this article is nice and informative.