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Foods that fight inflammation in the body

Updated on November 12, 2014

Inflammation is the immune response of the tissues that results from bodily injury or infection. It is a protective response that helps in healing the body. Inflammation that lasts for a short period of duration of hours or days is called acute inflammation, the characteristics of which are pain, heat, redness at the site of injury and loss of function of the involved tissue. However, if the causative agent of the acute inflammation persists for a prolonged period of time, the inflammation becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation can result from a viral or microbial infection, environmental antigen (e.g., pollen), autoimmune reaction, or persistent activation of inflammatory molecules. Chronic inflammation can last for days, months and even years.

The tissue damage that occurs due to inflammation must be repaired quickly. But the repair capabilities of various tissues of the body vary greatly. For example, the neurons, cardiac cells and skeletal muscle cells have little regenerative capacity and, therefore, tissues comprised of these cells will be more vulnerable to the effects of inflammation. In contrast, the skin cells continue to proliferate throughout life and, therefore, the skin injuries heal easily.

Inflammation controls our life because it affects our health often in one way or other. Many human diseases are inflammatory in nature. Diseases ranging from allergies to neuropathy, pancreatitis, arthritis, scleroderma or stroke all have underlying inflammation.

Foods that fight inflammation –

Raisins and grapes – They are chock-full of free radical fighting anti-oxidants. Snacking on raisins and other fruits in general tend to reduce inflammation, which is indicated by a reduction in a marker of inflammation known as TNF-alpha. But keep in mind that raisins are rich in sugar. The antioxidant resveratrol found in the skin of grapes and red wine also fights inflammation and cancer.

Soy – It has great anti-inflammatory properties because it is rich in isoflavones. Consumption of soy reduces inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. High levels of C-reactive protein are linked to coronary artery disease. Soy is also a good source of protein. Several studies have suggested that isoflavones, estrogen-like compounds found in soy products, may help lower CRP and inflammation levels in women. However, avoid heavily processed soy because they may not include the same benefits and are usually loaded with additives and preservatives.

Oily fish – Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are very good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduces inflammation in the body. But one doesn’t have to make it the main event at every meal. Its consumption of two three to times a week is sufficient. In a 2009 study from the University of Hawaii, men who ate baked or boiled fish (as opposed to fried, dried, or salted) cut their risk of heart disease by 23% compared to those who ate the least.

Basil – It is rich in anti-oxidant phyto-nutrients like many other herbs and spices. Basil can also be eaten fresh. Rosemary, thyme, turmeric, oregano, and cinnamon all have anti-inflammatory properties.

Ginger and turmeric – Ginger has gained a reputation for its ant-inflammatory properties, which are due to its active compound gingerol. Studies have linked the root to lowered post-exercise inflammation and a drop in joint pain caused by the chronic inflammatory conditions osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Turmeric, the ingredient that gives curry its yellow color, works in the body by helping to turn off a NF-kappa B, a protein that regulates the immune system and triggers the process of inflammation.

Whole grains – The consumption of whole grains has been shown to reduce the levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the blood. That is because whole grains have more fiber.

Dark leafy greens – They are rich in vitamin E, which plays a key role in protecting the body from inflammation. Dark green and cruciferous vegetables also have higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron and disease fighting phyto-chemicals than light colored leafy vegetables.

Nuts – Nuts are rich in healthy fats that fight inflammation. Nuts particularly almonds are also rich in fiber, calcium and vitamin E. Walnuts have high amounts of alpha linolenic acid – a type of omega 3 fatty acid, which fights inflammation. Nuts constitute an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which particularly reduces inflammation in as little as six weeks.

Peppers – They have high quantity of ant-oxidant vitamins. Bell peppers are rich in capsaicin, a chemical that reduces pain and inflammation.

Tomatoes – Tomatoes may help reduce inflammation in many people. Juicy red tomatoes, specifically, are rich in lycopene, which has been shown to reduce inflammation in the lungs and throughout the body. Cooked tomatoes contain even more lycopene than raw ones, so tomato sauce works too.

Beets – Beets and beetroot juice have been shown to reduce inflammation. They also protect against cancer, and heart disease. This effect of beets is due to fiber, vitamin C and a plant pigment called betalains present in them in plenty.

Garlic and onions - Garlic has been shown to work similar to NSAID pain medications (like ibuprofen), shutting off the pathways that lead to inflammation. Onions contain similar anti-inflammatory chemicals, including the phytonutrient quercetin and the compound allicin, which breaks down to produce free radical-fighting sulfenic acid.

Olive oil - The compound oleocanthal, which gives olive oil its taste, has been shown to have a similar effect as NSAID painkillers in the body. A 2010 Spanish study found that the Mediterranean diet’s myriad health benefits may be largely due to its liberal use of olive oil, especially the extra-virgin kind.

Berries – Berries have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties because of anthocyanins, the powerful chemicals that give them their rich color. Studies have shown that red raspberry extract helped prevent animals from developing arthritis; that blueberries can help protect against intestinal inflammation and ulcerative colitis and that women who eat more strawberries have lower levels of CRP in their blood.

Tart cherries – They have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food. In humans, it’s been shown to help athletes improve their performance and reduce their use of anti-inflammatory pain meds.

Apples - An apple a day really does keep the doctor away. It might be because of high concentration of a flavanoid called quercetin. In a 2008 University of Michigan study of more than 8,000 American adults, researchers found a link between apples, flavanoids and quercetin and decreased inflammation.

Cocoa - The beneficial ingredient is flavanols, which reduce inflammation and blood clotting. Cocoa has a rich concentration of them. The researchers in Spain gave 42 men and women skim milk mixed with cocoa powder twice daily for four weeks. The participants had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood compared with the four-week period in which they drank plain skim milk.

Since inflammation plays a pivotal role in so many diseases, it will be wise on our part to include many of the above foods in our daily diets to reduce inflammation. It has been proved that the Mediterranean diet is very effective in reducing inflammation in the body on account of the above foods as its main constituents.

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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your nice comments. Good to know that you snack on nuts. Nuts are my favorite too.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      Great hub! I have been snacking on nuts and raisins during my lunch beak instead of eating fast food. Plus, I have learn to love leafy green vegetables for my iron.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your comments. By eating ginger cookies, you will get fewer benefits of ginger than ginger used in food cooked with healthy oil because trans fats in cookies may off-set some of its anti-inflammatory effects.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      3 years ago from San Diego California

      As a sufferer of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis I am going to attempt some of these remedies, especially the cherries. My Dad has been drinking cherry juice lately but I think just the raw fruit would be better, right? One question, if I eat an entire box of ginger snap cookies will I get the anti-inflammatory benefits of ginger? Great hub!

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for nice comments.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks. I needed the reinforcement to know that I was doing this right.

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