5 Foods That Lower Inflammation


Working with a running list of foods that lower inflammation is a good idea. Because inflammation can happen anywhere in your body. It’s your body’s natural defense mechanism against a perceived threat.

The quick scoop on inflammation is that we’ve known about it since the early first century. Inflammation was identified by the Roman scholar Celsus as:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Pain [1]

While we often think of inflammation as splinter in our finger or an infected ingrown toenail, inflammation can show up any time the immune system responds to the site of injury. It does this by increasing white blood cells and other immune cells to help protect your body from further infections.

Injury - and inflammation - doesn’t just happen when we get a splinter or stub our toe. Injury and inflammation can also show up inside the body. For example, in the gut.

Gut inflammation and your microbes

The gut contains an ecosystem of microbes. This ecosystem is known as the gut microbiome, where you’ll find:

  • Archaea
  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungi

Under healthy conditions, a wide variety of microbes live in balance in your gut. This balance is known as homeostasis.

When in balance, your microbes have countless functions, which includes interacting with the immune system. Several commensal, or friendly microbes, even play an important role in preventing inflammation [2].

But the gut microbiome can fall out of balance. Some species can increase in levels, while others decrease.

This is called dysbiosis. And this imbalance can lead to gut inflammation.

Gut inflammation happens as the immune system tries to defend the body against a perceived threat. While the immune system can protect against disease and infection, a continuously activated immune system can cause real problems for the rest of the body [3].

Certain microbial species have been found to contribute chronic inflammation, including:

  • Mucus degraders: A thin layer of mucus lines the inside of the gut. This mucus helps protect it. What’s more, certain species of bacteria in our gut microbiome feed on the layer. They are known as mucus degraders. As mucus-degrading bacteria feed on the mucus lining, they help maintain the composition of the mucus. But if there is an overgrowth of mucus-degrading bacteria, it can cause the mucus layer to thin. This can lead to potential infection and even result in gut inflammation [4].
  • Hydrogen sulfide producers: Some bacterial species produce damaging by-products. One type of metabolic byproduct is hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas, with a pungent smell similar to rotten eggs. Too much hydrogen sulfide has been shown to damage the mucus layer of the gut. This can potentially leave the gastrointestinal tract vulnerable to toxins and bacterial infection, ultimately leading to gut inflammation [5], [6].
  • Hexa-LPS containing species: Hexa-acylated lipopolysaccharide (Hexa-LPS) is also called endotoxin. Hexa-LPS is found on certain bacteria, specifically on the bacterial cell wall. As it interacts with your immune system, it can trigger an inflammatory response [7].

Increased levels of Hexa-LPS-containing bacteria can increase inflammation and even be deadly [8].

All about chronic gut inflammation

While inflammation is a good way for your body to fight infections, an extended period of inflammation can be bad. This is called chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation occurs when your body is continuously stressed and stays stressed for a couple months to several years. Chronic inflammation is linked to diseases like:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Bowel disease [3]  

This is also true for gut inflammation.

During pregnancy, gut inflammation can impact the health of you and your baby. Excessive inflammation can impact the placental tissue, leading to dangerous outcomes like fetal growth restriction and preeclampsia [9].

Gut inflammation can also significantly interfere with your quality of life, causing painful symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhea and/or blood in your stool
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Abdominal pain and cramps

Gut inflammation is mediated by certain players in the gut microbiome, especially mucus degraders, hydrogen sulfide producers, and Hexa-LPS containing species of bacteria.

Physical activity can help manage gut inflammation

Fortunately, you are the best solution to adjust your gut inflammation. Research has shown that the adult gut microbiome and gut inflammation are largely shaped by your lifestyle [9].

The way you live your life can not only manage inflammation in your gut, but it can also change your gut microbiome.

A simple way to change your lifestyle is to include physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle, such as being inactive and sitting a lot, has been shown to promote inflammation [10].

Including physical activity into your lifestyle can help your gut microbiome. Physical activity, such as exercise, has been shown to change the gut microbiome composition [11]. For example, research has shown that active women have higher levels of some beneficial bacteria, such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis, and Akkermansia muciniphila, compared to sedentary women [12].

Not only does exercise change the gut microbiome, but it can also has other beneficial effects, such as :

  • Improved mood [13]
  • Decrease feelings of depression [13]
  • Increases endorphins [14]

Avoid this list of inflammatory foods

You are what you eat. This age-old saying holds a lot of truth, especially when it comes to your diet. Your diet can greatly influence your gut microbiome.

Diet is another lifestyle change you can make to help reduce inflammation. Adjusting your diet can help improve your gut microbiome and potentially reduce gut inflammation.

For example, certain foods contain components that can trigger an inflammatory response in the gut. Research has found higher levels of intestinal inflammatory markers with a greater intake of:

  • Processed animal meats
  • Processed foods
  • Alcohols
  • Refined sugars [15]

Ultra-processed food products, such as fast food, frozen meals, ready-to-go meals, and processed meats, have been associated with increased levels of inflammatory markers [16].

Excessive alcohol intake has also been shown to have inflammatory effects on your body [17]. Specifically, alcohol has been shown to cause gut inflammation and even alter the gut microbiota [18].

Consider reducing these inflammatory foods in your diet to potentially help reduce gut inflammation.

Five foods that lower inflammation

Anti-inflammatory diets are a style of eating that encourages adding foods that can potentially decrease inflammation.

Foods that lower inflammation can also increase levels of commensal gut bacteria - which are neither harmful or beneficial - while decreasing gut bacteria that are involved in inflammation, such as the ones mentioned above [9].

Certain foods have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. The following are just some potential foods that have anti-inflammatory properties.

1. Berries

Berries come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Shades of reds, blues, and purples. Apart from their beautiful colors, eating berries can have potential health benefits, specifically reducing inflammation.

Berries contain several bioactive compounds, including:

  • Phenolic acids
  • Anthocyanins
  • Flavonols
  • Tannins
  • Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) [19]

These bioactive compounds are responsible for the health benefits of berries. The individual or combination of these bioactive compounds help to reduce inflammation [19].

Fun fact: anthocyanins also give berries their red, purple colors. They occur naturally in certain fruits. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that bind to and neutralize free radicals, which help reduce inflammation.

In laboratory studies, anthocyanin extracts from strawberries were shown to have antioxidant and anticancer activities [20], [21]. Research has even shown that eating strawberries can reduce certain inflammatory markers in individuals with metabolic syndrome  [22].

Some examples of berries with anti-inflammatory properties, include:

  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Elderberries
  • Goji berry

2. Green leafy vegetables

The perfect addition to a green smoothie are green leafy vegetables. They are packed with nutrients. Green leafy vegetables are high in dietary fiber, as well as minerals and vitamins.

Green leafy vegetables have a bioactive compound called quercetin. Quercetin is an antioxidant that has the ability to neutralize free radicals. It also has anti-inflammatory potential [23]. A study of 50 women with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disease, found that women who took 500 mg of quercetin experienced significantly reduced early morning stiffness, morning pain, and after-activity pain [24].

Apart from making a good salad, green leafy vegetables have anti-inflammatory potential. A recent study found that a diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables is associated with decreased inflammatory markers, as well as a decreased risk of chronic inflammatory diseases [25].

Some examples of green leafy vegetables, include:

  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Beet Greens
  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Arugula
  • Bok choy

3. Fatty fish

All the seafood enthusiasts can rejoice, fatty fish have potential anti-inflammatory properties. Fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. The main omega-3 fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties include:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the molecules involved with inflammation [26]. Dietary patterns that contain fish are associated with lower levels of opportunistic bacteria, endotoxins, and inflammatory markers in stool [15].

For example, a study found that individuals with ulcerative colitis (UC) who ate 600 grams Atlantic salmon had improved UC symptoms and levels of inflammatory markers [27].

Omega-3 fatty acids have even been shown to decrease bacterial endotoxin (hexa-LPS) inflammation [28].

Consider adding some of these fatty fish into your diet:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Trout
  • Anchovies

4. Whole Grains

Whole grains are a common food shared across cultures around the world.

Whole grain is made up of three parts:

  • Germ
  • Endosperm
  • Bran [29]

Research has shown that increasing whole grain consumption is associated with decreased inflammatory markers [30].

Not only do whole grains have anti-inflammatory properties, but they also are rich in nutrients that suppress inflammatory processes, such as:

  • Antioxidants
  • Phytic acid
  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium
  • Dietary fibers [29]

Whole grains are also high in dietary fibers. Dietary fibers remain fairly undigested throughout the digestive tract. Once dietary fibers reach the large intestine, the gut microbes are able to ferment them and provide several health benefits [29].

Some common examples of whole grain foods, include:

  • Whole wheat
  • Whole rice
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Millets
  • Sorghum
  • Canary seed
  • Fonio
  • Farro
  • Wild rice

5. Spices

Turmeric is a traditional Asian spice, also known as the golden spice. It is fluorescent yellow and full of flavor.

Turmeric has a bioactive compound called curcumin. Curcumin has a unique chemical structure that provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties [31]. Curcumin has also been shown to have beneficial effects against several diseases.

However, eating turmeric by itself does not provided all of the benefits, as curcumin is:

  • Poorly absorbed
  • Rapidly metabolized
  • Rapidly eliminated  [32]

One way to help absorb turmeric is by adding black pepper. Black pepper has a bioactive compound called piperine. Combining piperine and turmeric with curcumin can increase bioavailability by 2000% [32]. Daily consumption of 1 gram of curcumin combined with piperine from black pepper has been shown to significantly decrease inflammatory markers in those with metabolic syndrome [33].

Cinnamon is another anti-inflammatory spice. Cinnamon is obtained from the bark of Cinnamon trees (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). Its use dates all the way back to the spice trade on the silk road.  

In laboratory and animal studies, cinnamon has been shown to reduce inflammatory responses [34].


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