Inflammation is the body’s response to irritation, infection, and injury. Short term inflammation protects the body, while chronic inflammation can lead to long term pain and damage, such as arthritis.
Anti-inflammatory medications help to fight pain and chronic inflammation.
However, these drugs are not safe for everyone, and extended use can lead to complications and side effects.
Some natural supplements may help fight inflammation, although not all supplements work for every type of inflammation.
In this article, we describe some of the most effective anti-inflammatory supplements that people may wish to try, depending on the cause of their inflammation.
1. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fatty fish such as cod, are among the most potent anti-inflammatory supplements.
These supplements may help fight several types of inflammation, including vascular inflammation. Vascular inflammation is a significant risk factor for heart disease and heart attack.
In one study of 250 people with pain from degenerative disc disease, 59% of the participants were able to substitute fish oil for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs .
The right dosage varies with the potency of the supplement. Some products come in pill form, while other manufacturers sell omega-3s as an oil. When using these products, people should always follow the instructions on the packaging.
Like many prescription anti-inflammatory medications, omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil may increase the risk of bleeding. People with bleeding disorders and those taking blood thinners should not use this supplement.
Curcumin, which is an active ingredient in turmeric, is a plant in the ginger family. Animal studies have suggested that it may help reduce inflammation to speed up wound healing and even reduce cancer risk.
A 2011 study also found that curcumin may help reduce inflammation from obesity-related metabolic conditions. Curcumin altered several inflammatory pathways, reducing insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and hyperlipidemia.
A typical dosage of curcumin is 400–600 milligrams (mg) three times daily.
Although it is safe to take curcumin with low doses of NSAIDs, higher doses may increase the risk of bleeding. Curcumin also increases the risk of bleeding in people taking blood thinners and those with bleeding disorders
S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) is a substance that the body creates naturally. It plays an important role in the epigenetic regulation of genes.
Epigenetic factors affect gene expression and behavior, turning some genes on or off and changing the effect of others.
Doctors sometimes recommend SAM-e to manage symptoms of depression, osteoarthritis, and certain liver conditions, as inflammation may play a role in each of these.
A handful of clinical trials have suggested that SAM-e may help relieve the pain and inflammation associated with various types of arthritis — sometimes as well as NSAIDs can.
The right dosage depends on the condition a person has. For example:
- A person may take 200–800 mg twice per day for fibromyalgia.
- A person may take 800–1,600 mg twice per day for depression.
- A person may take 600–1,200 mg three times per day for osteoarthritis.
SAM-e may interact with a wide range of drugs, so people must not take it without first consulting a doctor.
At high doses, SAM-e may cause vomiting, diarrhea, gas, and nausea, so people must not exceed the recommended dose.
Some research suggests that zinc is a potent anti-inflammatory that may support the immune system and reduce several markers of inflammation.
According to a 2014 paper, zinc decreased inflammation and oxidative stress among older adults. Oxidative stress triggers inflammation and may increase the risk of a host of conditions, including cancer.
Zinc also reduced the rate of infections by 66%.
People with zinc deficiency are more likely to have arthritis, suggesting a link between zinc deficiency, inflammation, and pain.
The usual daily dosage of zinc supplements is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. Taking more than 40 mg per day can be dangerous.
Zinc may interact with calcium, diuretics, and certain antibiotics, so people must talk to a healthcare provider before trying this supplement.
5. Green tea
Doctors have long suspected that green tea may fight inflammation because people who live in regions that consume more green tea have lower rates of inflammation-related illnesses.
Research suggests that green tea may inhibit the production of certain inflammatory chemicals. It may also help slow cartilage loss, reducing the symptoms of arthritis.
Most doctors recommend drinking three or four cups of green tea per day or taking 300–400 mg of green tea extract daily.
Green tea contains caffeine, so it is not safe for those who are sensitive to caffeine. The caffeine may cause stomach problems such as diarrhea.
Some companies make decaffeinated green tea, but researchers do not yet know if this type of green tea is effective for reducing inflammation.
Boswellia serrata resin, or frankincense, can ease both inflammation and pain.
It may also help reduce cartilage loss and reverse autoimmune symptoms. It is a fast-acting supplement that may help with osteoarthritis pain in just 5 days.
The usual dosage is an extract containing 30–40% boswellic acids, which a person takes in 300–500 mg doses two to three times per day.
Combining frankincense with curcumin may increase its potency, and some research has found that people tolerate this combination better than the NSAID diclofenac.
Frankincense is typically safe, with few side effects. However, some people report stomach pain and gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea.
Capsaicin is the ingredient that gives hot peppers their heat. Substance P, a key component of capsaicin, may reduce the body’s ability to feel and transmit pain.
Some research suggests that capsaicin may help with both nerve and muscular pain.
Several manufacturers offer capsaicin creams that people can apply directly to painful areas. Capsaicin supplements may also help. Again, people taking these should follow the directions on the packaging.
Capsaicin can irritate the skin and eyes, so it is essential to wash the hands thoroughly after use.
8. Cat’s claw
Cat’s claw comes from various Uncaria plants, including Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis.
Research suggests that cat’s claw may reduce various forms of inflammation. It is especially effective at inhibiting TNF-alpha, an inflammatory chemical in the body.
If using a cat’s claw tea, a person may drink a ratio of 1,000 mg of root bark to 8 ounces of water. It is also safe to consume as a powder in capsule form, in daily dosages of 20–60 mg.
Although the cat’s claw is generally safe, two case reports suggest that it may cause kidney failure in people with lupus. It may also cause nausea, though some studies suggest that it may also help stomach pain from the NSAID indomethacin.
Anti-inflammatory supplements do not work for everyone. In almost all cases, these supplements take time to reverse inflammation.
So, people who need immediate pain relief may want to try other options, either in addition to or instead of anti-inflammatory supplements. Some options include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs: Medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin can help with inflammation-related pain. They may also reduce the swelling of a recent injury.
- Prescription anti-inflammatory drugs: A wide range of prescription medications can help with inflammation and pain.
- Anti-inflammatory diet: Some people focus on eating foods that reduce inflammation, while others avoid those that may trigger inflammation. Fried foods, soda, refined carbohydrates, and red meat may cause inflammation, while nuts, blueberries, strawberries, olive oil, tomatoes, and leafy green vegetables may help fight it.
Get Your Gut Back On Track!
An estimated 110,000 people consume antibiotics daily in Ireland, between December/March. (Source: Health Protection Surveillance Centre).
We asked Nutritional Therapist Rosanna Davison for her Top Tips to get your gut back on track after an illness.
1. Take time out
Don’t push yourself too quickly. Remember your body needs time to rebuild its reserves and regain strength.
Take more rest than usual. If you need to sleep longer, go to bed earlier.
Cut back on non-essential activities; they can wait until you are feeling 100%.
- Embrace fibre-rich foods full of protective nutrients
Fresh vegetables and fruits are rich in dietary fibre, vitamins and antioxidants. Try eating seven to nine portions over the course of each day. Choose different colours so that you nourish your body with a variety of phytonutrients.
Eat a portion of complete protein at each meal, such as poultry, fish, eggs, beans, pulses or tofu.
Consume essential omega-3 fatty acids daily. Avocados, seeds (flax, chia) and oily fish (mackerel, wild and organic salmon), are naturally rich in anti-inflammatory fats.
- Go ‘fermented’
Fermented foods are rich in ‘friendly’ bacteria. Sauerkraut is simple to make at home or buy kefir or kimchi in your local health store.
- Reduce or eliminate sugary foods
Processed foods often contain refined sugars to enhance taste. Excess refined sugar and processed foods may encourage the growth of ‘unfriendly’ bacteria, so aim to buy and eat fresh food.
If you have a sweet tooth, try eating berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries). They are rich in antioxidants and naturally low in sugar.
If you need a sweetener, try Stevia which is extracted from plant leaves and doesn’t impact blood sugar levels.
Do vegans need to take supplements?
A varied, wholesome vegan diet provides almost all essential nutrients in sufficient quantities. I hear you shouting ‘Noooo! It provides absolutely everything we need!’ and you may be right, but only if you regularly eat certain fortified foods. The sad truth is that modern food production systems and lifestyles make it more difficult for everyone – vegans or not – to get all they need from diet alone. It doesn’t mean a vegan diet is unnatural or unhealthy, in fact the opposite is true. It means that how we grow, produce and consume food has changed and, with an ever-growing population, the demands on the systems that produce our food are so high that certain nutrients become harder to obtain.
I get a lot of questions about supplements and understand why people are confused. Over the years, I’ve worked on many vegan research projects and as science and population studies reveal ever more data, the guidelines and recommendations change and evolve. Hence, what we were told 10 years ago may no longer be up-to-date and that’s why different opinions arise, depending on where and when we got our information. It’s my job to keep up-to-date, so hopefully I can bring some clarity to the supplement discussion!
So what’s needed? The trio of nutrients to keep a close eye on are vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine. You may not need to supplement with all these, all year long, but it depends on several factors. Read on…
Vitamin B12 naturally comes from bacteria in the soil and both people and animals would traditionally have got it from eating unwashed plants. However, we not only wash vegetables before we eat them (and for good reasons), but food production is now so sanitised that most vegetables are washed in chlorine, or other sterilising solutions, so there’s not a trace of B12 left.
People are not generally aware that most farmed animals are given B12 supplements and this is how the vitamin eventually ends up in their flesh. So, the argument that meat is a natural source of B12 doesn’t really stack up as meat-eaters essentially consume B12 supplements recycled by the animals that were given them!
It is absolutely necessary that we have a reliable source of vitamin B12 for our bodies. We need it to make red blood cells, for a healthy heart and circulation, and it’s essential for the nervous system. It takes years to develop a B12 deficiency, so on one hand, you don’t need to worry about not having taken B12 for a while. On the other hand, you do need to pay attention, as when symptoms develop, it’s usually serious.
To ensure adequate intake, you should have at least 5µg (micrograms) daily from supplements or fortified foods. The B12 used in both foods and supplements is produced commercially by growing bacterial cultures in large vats – and it’s always suitable for vegans.
There are two forms of B12 in supplements – cyanocobalamin (cheap) and methylcobalamin (expensive). Cyanocobalamin is the stable ‘inactive,’ form of B12 and is used in supplements and to fortify foods and drinks. Once ingested, it’s activated by your body so it can be used. Methylcobalamin is the ‘active’ form of vitamin B12 as it does not require any metabolic reactions to be activated. It costs more and is not so stable.
So which one to choose? Unless you’re a heavy smoker, have kidney failure or any other serious condition affecting your metabolism, cyanocobalamin – the cheap form of B12 – is perfectly fine. Intakes up to 2,000µg a day are safe and you can take either a lower dose daily or a higher dose a couple of times a week.
We need vitamin D for healthy bones, teeth and muscles and it also performs other essential functions in our metabolism. It is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight and this is the main source of vitamin D for most people. However, if you always use sun-block, cover most of your skin or live in a country, like the UK, where we don’t get enough sunlight over the winter, you need a supplement, whether you’re vegan or not.
The UK Government now recommends that we all take a supplement from October to April and, if you protect your skin ferociously over the sunnier spring and summer months, you should take a supplement all year long. Otherwise, just 20 minutes of sunlight on the face and arms is all that is required by the body to manufacture sufficient vitamin D.
Fortified breakfast cereals, bread, plant milks and vegan margarines can be useful sources if exposure to sunlight is not practicable, but may not be enough. When it comes to supplements, there are two types and your body can use both, but it’s advisable to check the source – vitamin D2 is always vegan, but vitamin D3 can be of animal origin. Many vegan foods are fortified with vitamin D2 and labelled so, but if not specified, especially on cereal products, vitamin D tends to be of animal origin. If you choose to supplement your diet, there’s a range of quality and affordable vegan supplements with vitamin D2. There are also those made from algae or mushrooms that contain D3 and these are recommended if you need a higher dose. When deciding on your dosage, 10µg per day is enough and you shouldn’t go above 25µg.
Iodine has been a hot topic lately, especially with plenty of tabloid ‘experts’ warning that vegans are missing out. This mineral is necessary for thyroid function and helps to regulate how energy is produced and used in the body.
The amount of iodine in plants depends upon the iodine content of the soil in/on which they are grown. The closer to the sea, the more iodine and therefore vegans can get enough from plant foods, but there’s no guarantee. Seaweed, which of course grows in seawater, is always a good source and includes nori, laver, dulse and the kelp family (kombu, arame, wakame). But be warned – kelp absorbs far more than other seaweeds and you can get too much iodine from it. So, while seaweed consumption is encouraged, kelp should be used only sparingly.
It’s best to use a kelp supplement so you know exactly how much iodine you’re taking – it’s cheap, reliable and you don’t have to worry about taking too much. The recommended daily intake is 140µg and intakes up to 500µg are considered safe. In many countries, iodised salt is commonly used to ensure iodine intake, but it’s not the norm in the UK.
The dairy industry has been boasting about the iodine content of cow’s milk. What they don’t tell you is that it’s not a natural component of milk, but comes from iodinated cattle feed, supplements, iodophor medication, iodine-containing sterilisers of milking equipment, teat dips and udder washes. Cow’s milk is neither a natural nor the best source of iodine, so we can happily leave all that dairy out of our diet.
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