7 Essentials An MD Loves For Managing Inflammation
Let's talk chronic inflammation. It has become this nebulous term, but there's a reason you hear it so often in the well-being space: Chronic inflammation really is the root of many health concerns. In fact, according to a December 2019 study, chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world today.
"It's not just affecting our overall body, but it's affecting our brain. It's affecting our behavior. It's affecting our mitochondria. It's affecting our genes," says Madiha Saeed, M.D., on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. So "If we can lower overall inflammation in the body, we can optimize overall health and well-being."
Of course, tackling inflammation looks different for everyone, so there's not one master list to prescribe. However, Saeed has her favorite staples to keep in her household—here, find her go-to's:
"If you want to try to lower the inflammation, optimize your body's gut," says Saeed. That means getting your fill of gut-supporting foods (like fermented, probiotic-rich players), as well as an array of different plants. After all, each vegetable has its own unique blend of fiber that matches a specific set of microbes in your body—so you want a diverse collection to make your microbiome happy (thus managing inflammation).
That's why Saeed recommends "eating the rainbow." For some, categorizing vegetables by color is a helpful way to make sure you're consuming diverse nutrients. "Every morning, my routine is to set up an entire table of different kinds of fruits and vegetables," says Saeed, "like rainbow carrots, peppers, beans, broccoli, and cauliflower." And every time she or her kids are looking for a snack? They can pick whatever they want off the table, knowing they'll be eating vegetables packed with different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
While Saeed recommends eating a variety of nutrients for stellar gut health, she does highlight a few anti-inflammatory players. "I have a pantry stocked with goji berries," she notes. These tiny red berries are naturally rich in vitamins A, C, and E—antioxidants that can stave off free radicals and help manage oxidative stress in the body.
One animal study even found that consumption of goji juice could add additional sun protection on the skin and even reduce inflammation from sunburn. (That's not to say you should toss your sunscreen, but it's interesting to note for inflammation.)
"Let's just be realistic. Sometimes parents just don't have time," Saeed says. That's why she leans on canned fish for clean protein. "I have canned sardines, canned mackerel, and canned salmon, and [my kids] can choose whatever they would prefer."
Plus, tinned fish have a host of health benefits: They're rich in protein; vitamins B12, D, and A; and omega-3s, especially if they're housed in high-quality olive oil. And those smaller fish (think mackerel, anchovies, and sardines) may be less likely to contain mercury and other potentially harmful pollutants, as they're not feeding on other fish with these agents (a process called biomagnification).
Saeed likes to top her salads with canned fish, or she'll simply mix it up with olive oil. "One of [my kids] likes raisins in it, and he'll even eat that for breakfast," she says.
Now, on to supplements. While Saeed mentions a laundry list of healthy supplements (vitamin D, omega-3s, probiotics, et al.), she does highlight a few specifically for inflammation. First up: magnesium.
"It's involved in more than 300 enzymatic functions in the body," she notes, and when magnesium intake is low, inflammatory biomarkers such as high-sensitivity c-reactive protein (hs-CRP), interleukin-6, and fibrinogen are significantly affected. Additionally, one study found that a magnesium-rich Nordic diet reduced the pro-inflammatory protein Interleukin-1.
Of course, she's also a fan of turmeric (and its main active ingredient, curcumin). This anti-inflammatory powerhouse actually inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory genes, which blocks the inflammatory response pathway. It also has been shown to increase antioxidant capacity and help fight free-radical damage, plus a smattering of other benefits you can read about here. "I feel like everybody should have curcumin in the house to actually lower inflammation," Saeed says.
Onto aromatherapy: For the purposes of this article, we'll discuss diffusing or inhaling essential oils as well as applying them topically (so long as you patch test and dilute the solution before massaging it on your skin). While it is technically possible to ingest a select few, it's rare—and can be quite dangerous.
However, you can reap plenty of anti-inflammatory benefits by inhaling essential oils alone (especially if your chronic inflammation is stress-related). Saeed especially loves eucalyptus oil for helping relieve respiratory discomfort, thanks to its antibacterial effects and natural cough-suppressing abilities. And in terms of inflammation, one study found that eucalyptus oil reduced the expression of the inflammatory COX-2 enzyme by at least 25%.
"Oregano oil, I always have on hand. It's a powerful antimicrobial," Saeed notes. It contains phenols like carvacrol, which is antibacterial and has been shown to reduce swelling, as well as rosmarinic acid, which can help fight free radicals. That said, oregano oil also has potent antioxidant activity.
There's much you can do to manage chronic inflammation; this here list features just a few of Saeed's favorite tips. Stick to whatever works for your body and lifestyle, and you should be set.