Fighting the Flares of Illness: Best Supplements for Inflammation
The more we learn about our body, the more we know about its enemies. Whether from poor dietary choices, smoking, stress or otherwise, it’s now clear that inflammation is a major problem. So it makes perfect sense you’d be looking for an advantage — the best supplements for inflammation — and we’re happy to help steer you in the right direction.
However, first it’s important to better understand inflammation from the inside out. Because guess what, it’s not all bad. In fact, without inflammation you’d probably be dead right now!
What is inflammation?
Any attempt by the human body to defend itself against threats (real or perceived) or to heal itself is an inflammatory process — and also a function of the innate immunity. In other words, inflammation is often quite necessary and often a sign that you have a strong immune system.
Burns are a vivid example. Redness. Warmth. Tenderness. And yes, excruciating pain. At the cellular level, your body is desperately trying to remove and replace the outer skin, while protecting the layers underneath and even making natural analgesics to soothe your pain. Thanks, inflammation!
Another classic example is infection from bacteria and viruses. Again, heat is a common result, whether in a localized area of tissue (cellulitis) or the whole system (fever).
In the best case scenario, your armies of immune cells surround and destroy the invaders. In the worst case, the infection proves too strong, overwhelms your defenders, shuts down vital organs and you die. Or, in rare cases, your immune response itself is too strong. It generates a perfect storm of inflammation. Vital organs shut down. You die. Again, worst case! Not likely to happen, just possible …
In the grand scheme of things, just understand that inflammation:
- Is a normal and very beneficial immune response, most of the time.
- Has a lot of moving parts, but basically involves a cellular distress signal followed by waves of help coming to the rescue.
- Can be a problem if the distress signal was a false one (autoimmune).
- Can also be a problem if the helpers are overbearing (cytokine storm) or they just hang around too long (chronic).
Acute vs. chronic inflammation
Burns, infections, hornet stings, punches in the face — these are all causes of acute inflammation. Chances are, if you came here looking to find the best supplements for inflammation, this is not the type of inflammation you’re most concerned about.
Instead you’re likely concerned about chronic inflammation — as we all should be! Chronic inflammation is the slow burn that, given the right conditions, can become a raging inferno of health problems. After all, chronic inflammation is associated with a whole host of unwanted conditions.
- Arthritis (inflammation of the joints)
- Periodontitis (inflammation of the gums and teeth)
- Colitis (inflammation of the colon)
- Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Neuritis (inflammation of nerves)
- Dermatitis (inflammation of skin)
And anything else with the suffix “-itis” for that matter! Granted, many of these illnesses can be acute or chronic. However, the acute ones can sometimes become chronic and the chronic, if poorly treated, can trigger yet another chronic disease. For example, acute pancreatitis can develop into chronic pancreatitis, which can lead to diabetes or even pancreatic cancer.
As with most health problems, the earlier you intervene the better. This goes for drugs and medical procedures, but is especially true when it comes to nutrition — because, while hugely important, it just doesn’t work as fast. So just bear in mind that even the best nutritional supplements for inflammation may only be effective if the inflammation is still under relative control.
Anti-inflammatory vs. antioxidant
An anti-inflammatory disrupts or dampens the inflammatory cascade. Drugs like NSAIDS (Ibuprofen) work by blocking some of the key inflammatory signals. Others, like corticosteroids (prednisone) work by mimicking anti-inflammatory hormones and by suppressing your immune system.
Unfortunately, their benefits may come at the expense of some nasty side effects. Certain foods, herbs and nutritional supplements can fight inflammation by similar means — with only minimal or zero side effects — yet their impact tends to be far less dramatic.
Next, let’s examine another routine but potentially harmful process called oxidation, which overlaps with inflammation in many ways. Oxidation occurs when a molecule or single atom loses an electron. Electrons are incredibly small, electrically charged particles that are critical to maintaining biochemical stability.
Free radicals: the ‘bad guys’ in our system
An atomic structure with either too few or too many electrons may be called a free radical. You’ve probably heard this free radical is a bad actor, and most of the time it is, banging into other molecules like proteins, fats, cell membranes — and worse, DNA itself — like a reckless driver, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. At a systemic level, this condition is known as oxidative stress.
Like inflammation, over time oxidative stress can lead to full-blown disease. What’s more, oxidative stress can cause inflammation, and vice-versa! Thus it’s probably no coincidence that many supplements for inflammation are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Some of the other culprits for oxidative stress, and in turn inflammation, include:
- Environmental toxins
- Radiation (sun, X-rays, etc.)
- Lack of oxygen
- Poor diet
Pretty much all the fun stuff, right? Antioxidants to the rescue! Indeed, antioxidants such as those present in fruits and vegetables can play a valuable role in reducing oxidative stress and the damage it causes. What makes antioxidants like vitamins C and E unique is they have electrons to spare, enabling them to pacify free radicals without themselves becoming unstable.(1)
That being the case, it’s natural to assume that the more antioxidants we take on board — whether from food or supplements — the better. If only it were that easy! Research has shown that antioxidants taken in supplement form can do more harm than good, in fact they may inhibit the body’s ability to fight cancer.(2,3)
To lower your risk of disease from oxidative stress, the best approach is to reduce the number of stressors from the previous list. Then boost your intake of antioxidant-rich vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices.
Inflammation and heart disease
Over the years science has painted a much clearer picture of how and why heart disease comes about. The biggest issue is atherosclerosis or narrowing of the arteries, which is driven by a number of physiological mechanisms — chief among them inflammation, oxidative stress and insulin resistance (diabetes or pre-diabetes).(4)
First the the endothelium or inner lining of blood vessels becomes damaged — often from a circulatory system under too much pressure (hypertension), jam-packed with too many bad actors (LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, etc.), or both. Free radical damage from smoking is another known cause. Once this damage occurs, the immune system kicks into gear, sending monocytes and T-lymphocytes.
These cells embed themselves in the endothelium, while also creating space for other particles to gather there, namely low density lipoproteins (LDL cholesterol). The immune cells ultimately gobble up the LDL and transform into fattened foam cells, which eventually harden into atherosclerotic plaques.
Plaques can slowly – but surely – damage artery functions.
Plaques make the arteries stiffer, hindering their ability to dilate (expand) and lower blood pressure. At the same time the arteries also become narrower, which further increases pressure. Under these conditions chunks of plaque may break off and lodge elsewhere, such as in the brain causing a stroke. Otherwise the arteries continue to narrow over time until the blood flow becomes completely stopped, which may also cause a stroke or heart attack.(5,6)
So there’s no debate that both oxidative stress and inflammation are major drivers of heart disease. However some experts have gone farther in the assertion that emotional stress may be the true root of the problem.
In his book The Healing Self (2018), Dr. Deepak Chopra asserts, “The chemical story is complex, but the chain of damaging events is clear.” He explains that, above all, stress causes inflammation — which in turn causes atherosclerosis, which causes heart disease. (Interestingly he omits hypertension, which seems to fit nicely between stress and inflammation.)
His solution? A “whole-system” approach that includes diet and exercise, but also lots of meditation and other stress-management techniques.
We certainly won’t argue with that, in fact it’s a perfect segway to get to the next section…
3 steps to prevent and treat inflammation
Fortunately, we can help our own system function better with a series of small (yet effective!) habits. Integrating these activities in our daily lifestyle can not only reduce inflammation, but they will also improve our overall health and wellbeing.
STEP 1: Fix your diet
- Non-starchy vegetables (anything except potatoes, corn and peas)
- Fresh fruit
- Lean meat and fish
- Nuts and seeds, natural nut butters (no added sugar or oils)
- Fermented/Probiotic foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc.)
- Healthy oils (olive, avocado, flax, coconut)
- Whey protein powder
- Whole grains (rice, quinoa, oats)
- Water (purified if possible)
- Sodas and sugar-sweetened drinks
- Fruit juice
- Baked goods and breads
- Sugary cereals
- Fried foods
- Processed meats (hot dogs, bologna, sausages)
- Fatty meats (ribs, bacon, marbled steaks, chicken with skin)
- Processed snack foods (chips, cheese puffs)
- Fast food
STEP 2: Modify your lifestyle
- Deep, slow breathing
- Outdoor activities
- Crafts or hobbies
- Whatever makes you happy!
- Watching TV
- Anything that makes you stressed, worried or angry
STEP 3: Add supplements, if needed
In order to choose the best supplements for inflammation, these are the main factors to consider:
- Ask your doctor (MD) or a registered dietitian (RD) for advice
- Follow expert advice (i.e., this article and others like it), not marketing jargon or anecdotal stories
- Do research — search PubMed using terms like “[supplement name] and [health condition]” or “natural remedies for [health condition]”
- Look for products certified by an independent third-party, such as USP
- Take one supplement at a time, trying to keep your diet and lifestyle factors as constant as possible — to best assess any positive or negative effects
- Be wary of very cheap products, such as those sold at dollar stores
Naturally, the market is filled with products with more or less positive effects. If you’d like to see our recommendations on the best supplements with real, proven benefits, let’s have a look.
The best supplements for inflammation
Herbs have been the pioneers of medicinal cures, so it’s no wonder that they hold their spot on our product list against inflammation. Fortunately, today it only takes one capsule to reduce unpleasant symptoms like pain or stiffness – all while improving immunity and increasing our daily amount of energy.
Although best known for settling a queasy stomach, ginger has gained prominence a means of fighting painful inflammation. Studies suggest it may help ease post-workout pain in athletes, as well as target knee and other joint pain from osteoarthritis. (7,8,9)
Some research also demonstrates a positive vasoprotective effect — in relaxing and protecting blood vessels from oxidative damage. This, in addition to ginger’s mild antithrombotic or blood thinning capability. (10) Because ginger may thin the blood, it’s especially important to discuss with your doctor if you take other blood thinners or are planning to have surgery.
- Improves blood circulation and enhances heart functions
- Reduces unpleasant symptoms caused by long-term inflammation
- No artificial ingredients or genetically modified substances
- Some customers reported acid reflux when they don’t get hydrated enough
Spirulina is an algae long renowned for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. The active substance in this product, called phycocyanin, reduces the production of molecules that signal inflammation to the body, thus reducing chronic inflammation that harms the body on the long run. Furthermore, studies showed that spirulina can also increase red blood cells, thus reducing anemia and improving energy levels. (11)
- Naturally sourced and manufactured from clean waters
- Formula is easily digested and absorbed by the system
- Rich in essential amino acids and nutrients that increase immunity
- The recommended dose is of 6 tablets per day and some people may forget to take them all
While the spice turmeric has been a culinary staple in some parts of the world for millennia, it’s extract curcumin has only recently taken a meteoric rise in popularity — and for good reason. It’s been among the most widely studied natural compounds over the past decade.
This formulation also contains bioperine (black pepper extract), which greatly increases absorption. Numerous customers claim it helps with their chronic pain, especially from arthritis. Curcumin is known to be very safe, even at high doses.
- Increases immunity by fighting against bacteria and viruses
- Powerful antioxidant that purifies the body from toxins
- Natural formula free from genetically modified ingredients
- Some customers say that you may need to increase the recommended dose for maximum benefits
As we mentioned earlier on, inflammation is a perfectly normal immune response of our body – which can, however, have a negative impact on the long run. Most diets and lifestyles nowadays don’t provide us with enough nutrients, which leaves us exposed to harmful factors that can lead to inflammation. A dietary supplement is a safe way to control the quantity required by the human system – and these are the top vitamins with proven effects.
Vitamin D is like the Morgan Freeman of dietary supplements — well respected for many years yet seems to get better and better. The “sunshine vitamin” has been widely studied for its effects on depression, anxiety and musculoskeletal pain. (12,13)
Recent studies show Vitamin D binds directly to DNA, activating a gene that interferes with the inflammatory cascade. This may explain why Vitamin D has shown positive effects on dozens of inflammatory conditions such as asthma, arthritis, IBD and prostate cancer. (14,15)
- Helps the body fight multiple types of inflammation
- Supports a healthy immune system and dental health
- Designed using a single high-quality ingredient
- Keeping the product at higher temperatures melts the soft gels
Whether we’re talking about vitamin B6, B12 or folate, the entire vitamin B complex naturally reduces inflammation. This type of micronutrients decrease the levels of C-reactive protein, which often triggers inflammation in different areas of the body. Folate, in particular, was proven to reduce inflammation especially when it comes to overweight people (who are at increased risk for this condition). (16, 17)
- Contains all the essential B vitamins for a stronger system
- Powerful, natural solution for stress relief and immunity
- Free from artificial ingredients and preservatives
- Some customers reported allergic reactions, so make sure to test the product before taking a larger, regular dose
This is among the most popular vitamins on the planet – and for good reason. Vitamin C is mostly praised for its ability to strengthen the immune system. As a powerful antioxidant, it can fight free radicals (harmful substances we come in contact with) and toxins that may trigger inflammation. (18)
This particular vitamin is especially helpful for chronic inflammation such as arthritis. Right now, there are over 100 known types of arthritis and vitamin C can reduce inflammation in each of them because it’s a crucial ingredient for collagen – the substance that protects joints and bones. (19)
- Vegan-friendly and free from genetically modified ingredients
- Non-acidic formula that protects your stomach from unpleasant symptoms
- Contains metabolites that favorize vitamin absorption and retention
- Some customers claim that the pill size is uncomfortably large
When it comes to the best supplements for inflammation, information is just starting to pile up. In study after study, inflammation is being linked to just about every disease out there; naturally, finding a universal cure and proving its effects is still a challenging task.
With that in mind, the top supplement for inflammation right now in our opinion is Curcumin with bioperine. Not only is this option natural, but it’s already been utilized in medicine since its very beginnings for treating inflammation in different areas of the body. Most studies regarding this condition have been focusing on the positive impact of turmeric on immunity, which only empowers our belief that curcumin with bioperine is a reliable way of regaining your health, energy and wellbeing.