8 Habits That Could Help Manage Inflammation, Naturally
Inflammation has developed a pretty bad reputation in the health and nutrition world. Because it's often deemed problematic, many people are surprised to discover that the body's inflammatory response is actually set up to heal, not harm—to an extent, that is.
Think of a swollen sprained ankle, a stinging cut finger, or a throbbing head cold. Inflammation makes its presence unmistakably known. This form of inflammation, called acute inflammation, is a beneficial and necessary part of our immune system.
When the body doesn’t heal, but continues to produce inflammatory compounds, that's when things become tricky. This type of inflammation is called chronic inflammation1, and it can lead to low energy levels, disease, and premature aging.
While it's important to speak to your doctor before making any major dietary or lifestyle changes, there are a few simple, and natural ways to manage inflammation daily.
Drink plenty of water.
Dehydration can negatively impact every organ2, including the brain, heart, bladder, and even the skin. According to research published in the BioMolecular Concepts journal, fluid imbalance may also lead to inflammation in the body.
Drinking an adequate amount of water promotes elimination (aka urine and digestion), which can aid in managing inflammation. Here: how much water you should really drink in a day.
Limit refined sugar.
Eating refined sugars, or added sugars, can increase insulin levels, spike blood sugar, and lead to inflammation3 in the body and brain. While comfort foods are OK every now and then, limiting sugar in your diet may help manage inflammatory responses and support the balance of healthy gut bacteria.
Note: natural sugars, like those from fresh or dehydrated fruits, don't have the same kind of effect.
3. Eat plenty of fiber.
"Dietary fiber intake is associated with decreased oxidation of lipids, which in turn is associated with decreased inflammation," says a study published in The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition4. Additionally, these plant-based compounds will help feed the microbes in your gut, leading to healthier digestion.
To add more fiber to your diet, opt for whole grains such as whole oats, brown rice, or quinoa, and eat plenty of high-fiber veggies and fruits.
4. Go for more probiotics.
Cultured or fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, may create anti-inflammatory effects, according to a research review published in the journal Nutrients5. Since probiotic-rich foods support a healthy gut, they may also lead to improvements in mood and immune functioning. A triple-whammy.
If you're not getting enough probiotics through your nutrition, consider adding a daily probiotic supplement to your routine.
5. Fill your plate with leafy greens.
Dark leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, kale, broccoli, chard, and collards) are packed with antioxidants, which help manage inflammation. Plus, they're rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals for a nutrient-dense base to salads, side dishes, or smoothies.
6. Don't forget your omega-3s.
Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with high levels of depression and chronic inflammation.6 Adding these healthy fats to the diet, with wild salmon, sardines, walnuts, flax seeds, and avocado, may provide anti-inflammatory benefits and support mental health.
7. Choose healthy cooking oils.
Rather than using highly refined cooking oils, which are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), consider using nutrient-dense cooking fats, such as coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil. The latter three contain free-radical-fighting antioxidants, which help manage inflammation.
8. Incorporate exercise.
Exercise promotes healthy cellular function and may reduce markers for inflammation. Any type of daily movement—whether it's a brisk walk, a gentle yoga class, or a more intense cardio class—can have a long-term impact. Research shows that by maintaining a healthy weight, building muscle mass, and lowering stress levels, exercise can be anti-inflammatory and support longevity7.
Lori Shemek, Ph.D. is a leading fat cell researcher and recognized authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health. Dr. Shemek is a Certified Nutritional Consultant and Certified Life Coach, and the creator and owner of DLSHealth Works, which helps men and women conquer their issues with weight and self-esteem. She is the nutrition expert for the Dallas Healthy Aging Institute and the NFL Houston Texans cheerleaders. She is the author of How to Fight Fatflammation: A Revolutionary 3-Week Program to Shrink the Body’s Fat Cells for Quick and Lasting Weight Loss (HarperOne; April 28, 2015).