That swollen feeling in a joint or part of your body that makes it tender to move or touch, and sometimes gets red and hot to the touch is called inflammation. And it is a common denominator in all leading death diseases (1). Not to mention about 90% of life complaints (source: me and my observations mixed with a bit of imagination probably)!
What is inflammation?
The scientific definition is: “Inflammation is the body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens – and begin the healing process.” (2)
That sounds like a good thing! Well, in the short term it is a good thing. It is proof that your body is trying to heal itself and that your immune system is working.
Inflammation has an important role in keeping body parts protected; however, it is often at the root cause of conditions (although usually not alone). It dives in to protect us when it senses a toxin, virus, or damage nearby, surrounding it there to protect the rest of the body’s cells.
How exactly should inflammation work?
Step 1: Problem Identification.
The immune system recognizes the presence of a harmful stimulus, such as bacteria, viruses, or damaged cells. Immune cells release signaling molecules called cytokines to initiate the inflammatory response.
Step 2: Increased Blood Flow.
Blood vessels in the affected area dilate (widen), leading to increased blood flow. This results in redness and warmth at the site of inflammation. Blood vessel walls become more permeable, allowing immune cells and proteins to enter the affected tissue. This helps deliver immune cells to the site of injury or infection.
Step 3: Immune Cell activation.
Immune cells, particularly white blood cells called neutrophils and macrophages, are attracted to the site of inflammation. These cells help identify and eliminate pathogens and damaged cells.
The immune cells engulf and digest pathogens, cellular debris, and other foreign substances through a process called phagocytosis. They can also release additional cytokines and chemical mediators that amplify the inflammatory response and attract more immune cells to the site.
Step 4: Tissue Repair and Healing.
Once the harmful stimuli are neutralized, the body begins the process of tissue repair and healing. New cells are generated to replace damaged ones, and the wound healing process begins. As the healing process progresses, anti-inflammatory signals are released to resolve the inflammation and return the affected tissue to its normal state.
In acute inflammation, the process is typically self-limiting and helps the body eliminate the threat and repair the damage.
When does inflammation turn “bad”?
However, in some cases, inflammation can become chronic, persisting even when the initial cause has been removed. Chronic inflammation is associated with various health conditions, including autoimmune diseases, allergies, and certain chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Short-term or acute inflammation examples are bronchitis, sore throat, appendicitis, a scratch or cut on the skin. But, when inflammation becomes chronic, or long-term, it can eventually cause diseases including some cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, heart disease, periodontitis, and more.
Inflammation can become long-term or chronic when we don’t eliminate the cause or when we have a persistent irritant in our body. Some causes of acute inflammation could be allergies to things that we eat or drink, or they could be things that happen frequently such as exposure to a toxin.
If you are having pain in your joints, redness, swelling, or stiffness that occurs daily or often, you could be dealing with chronic inflammation.
Natural Food Remedies for Inflammation
Anti-Inflammatory herbs are great for supporting your body when inflammation that can flare up from low immunity or an illness as well as to help calm the body, reduce inflammation, and provide immune support.
I would love to say that it is easy. But, I can’t. It takes work figuring out what all your body reacts to so you can eliminate toxins. It takes dedication and persistence to stick to a healthy plan of attack. It also requires motivation to keep doing what helps you every day, all day. There are no magic pills or cures in this world. There are many ways to get help though!
Turmeric (often referenced as its component curcumin) has major anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It can be consumed as a spice in food or taken as a supplement. It is made more available to our body when consumed with fat in a meal as well as when joined with its activant, black pepper. I use 2-3 Earthley’s Turmeric and Black Pepper Capsules daily. You can use it regularly in foods, capsules, pastes, tinctures, or teas.
Ginger has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory powers. It can be consumed fresh, powdered, or in supplement form. I use 2 Earthley’s Turmeric and Black Pepper Capsules daily and a dropper of Earthley’s Anti-Inflammatory Herbal Tincture.These are great in juices, teas, tinctures, and capsules – it is one of my favorite kombucha flavors too!
Echinacea is known for its immune-boosting properties, and may also have anti-inflammatory effects. I use Earthley’s Anti-Inflammatory Herbal Tincture. Tinctures are my go to for echinacea, but it can be used in capsules and teas also.
Green tea contains polyphenols, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which have anti-inflammatory effects (3). I like Earthley’s Greens Capsules and the powder in a smoothie. It is well known for its easy use as tea too of course!
Boswellia (Frankincense) is an herbal extract that has been used in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. I haven’t used boswellia internally, but I do use it aromatically with Earthley’s Rustic Essential Oil Blend (they use it in their soap, deodorant, and even beard tamer too). It can be used though in capsules, tinctures, or pastes as well as essential oils.
Bromelain is found in pineapples and is an enzyme with anti-inflammatory effects. It can be eaten as part of your diet or added by capsule for supplement.
Resveratrol is a compound found in grapes, berries, and red wine and has been associated with anti-inflammatory benefits. These foods are great to add to your diet because they also bring along plenty of antioxidants! If you struggle to keep fresh fruit around, try Earthley’s Super Food Powder! While it isn’t (probably) high in resveratrol the berries in it are accompanied with many other super foods!
Arnica is an herbal remedy available in topical creams or gels that may help reduce inflammation and ease muscle pain. You can use this recipe for a DIY: Simple Arnica Salve or try Earthley’s Arnica Salve or Magic Muscle Ease. It can be used in lotions, salves, homeopathy, or infused oils as well.
Garlic contains allicin and other compounds with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects. I love using it with these DIY: Fermented Garlic Honey Cloves. It can also be used in your daily diet or capsules.
Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which may have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects (5). This is especially helping with digestive problems as well. Best in teas, tinctures, or capsules. It can be found in Earthley’s Natural Balance, Lunamore, Eye Serum, and Thyroid Support.
Other Remedies for Inflammation
Heat and Cold Therapy – applying a heating pad or warm compress to the affected area – can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Cold therapy with ice packs can also reduce swelling.
Regular Exercise can have anti-inflammatory effects. Activities like walking, swimming, and yoga/qigong can be beneficial. It helps to promote the lymphatic system to encourage inflammation to move along.
Stress Management. Chronic stress can contribute to inflammation, so practices like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness may help.
Healthy Diet. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables (minus big inflammatories like nightshades and cruciferous), whole grains (gluten free if that is one of your triggers), protein, and healthy fats can support overall health and reduce inflammation.
Adequate Sleep is essential for overall well-being and can play a role in reducing inflammation. Read more in The 5 Key Nutrients that Promote Quality Sleep.
Supporting Lymphatic Drainage. Lymphatic fluid is how the inflammation moves around in our body. When there is inflammation building up, sometimes that can cause congestion in the fluid on its own. If the inflammation is in the chest, that can sometimes result in us breathing less deeply – which further stresses the lymphatic congestion. The lymph system does not have its own pump – it depends on our diaphragm during breathing and our muscle movement to keep it flowing well. The upper half of our body drains into the veins just above our chests (in the area where it is just a little squishy below your collarbone.
Read more about the lymphatic system:
Every response to natural remedies can vary, and what works for one person may not work for another. You should listen to others’ experiences, but don’t lose hope just because what worked for them, didn’t work for you – or feel pressured to try something because of someone’s insistence that it is the only way. Sometimes, it can take a while to find the right combination of what works best for us. It is worth it to never give up though!
I want to share with you, Kate Tietje’s — the one and only original Modern Alternative Mama– thoughts.
Kate’s Anti-Inflammatory Protocol:
For years, I ate healthy food and did everything “right,” but when I exercised, I would end up gaining weight. Everyone told me this wasn’t possible, because eating less and moving more would *obviously* result in weight loss, so I must be lying.
But now I know why. If you’re in this boat, this is what’s really going on….
Chronic inflammation can happen in anyone and be caused by many different things. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of a diagnosis (but it can).
Things that can cause inflammation:
- Poor diet (sugar, PUFAs, processed foods)
- Eating foods you are sensitive to (might be a whole food that you don’t suspect)
- Health conditions
- Acute illness
- and more
For most people, especially with low-level inflammation, it’s one of the first three. You could be sensitive to something you wouldn’t expect…like almonds or red peppers.
When you exercise or under eat, this creates stress on your body…which leads to *more* inflammation. Any attempt to diet/exercise creates increased inflammation which leads to your body either gaining weight or holding onto weight. The harder you try, the more stress your body experiences and the worse the weight issues are. (Yes, even if you are eating anti-inflammatory foods or herbs. This doesn’t overcome the low-level chronic inflammation caused by constant exposure; it just might slightly lessen it.)
If you want to solve this….
#1: Identify your inflammatory triggers
Is it stress? Is it food? Take a test to see what you’re sensitive to and start avoiding those foods/environmental things. Work to reduce your stress and support your adrenals — deep breathing, adrenal cocktails, adaptogenic herbs.
#2: Don’t exercise, detox
Spend at least two weeks avoiding exercise completely. Flood your body with nourishing food (avoiding things you are sensitive to!). Rest as much as you can. Get extra sleep. Take detox baths. Drink lots of water (sometimes with a pinch of salt and lemon). Consume probiotic foods to rebuild the gut.
When your inflammation goes down — you may notice your body feels better, moves easier, and your hands may feel like they have more strength when you make a fist — you’re ready for the next step.
#3: Light exercise
Now that inflammation is down (and it may take more than two weeks), move your body more. Focus on walking or other light/low-impact exercise. You want your lymph to move, but you don’t want to raise your heart rate enough to create more inflammation. Lifting can be helpful here too, but again, light weights focused on toning, NOT heavy weights that will tear muscles and cause inflammation.
#4: Continue adding more exercise/stay on diet
This becomes a lifestyle. Avoid things that trigger inflammation for you. Find alternatives that work for you so you don’t feel deprived. Retest to see if sensitivities have changed; reintroduce foods slowly if you’re able. Move more often as it feels good for your body.
This is NOT a quick or simple process. It is a lifestyle shift. But it does work. It’s what I have been doing for 2 months now and I have lost 10 lbs (and I’m not moving enough yet) and I typically feel better.
There is no magic. But understanding inflammation is the key.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything. If you have questions, please do your own research or seek advice from a health professional.