10 Natural Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Spices
Chronic inflammation is an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent in the modern world, and it is largely the result of our dietary and lifestyle choices.
If left untreated, chronic inflammation can unfortunately lead to more serious issues, ranging from nagging joint pain, constant fatigue, and mouth ulcers; all the way up to type-1 diabetes, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and in extreme cases even certain forms of cancer.
In this article, we’ll first take you through the basics of inflammation, just so we’re on the right track. We’ll then show you how you can make simple changes to your diet, including the addition of specific anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, to help bring your immune system under control so you can experience a healthier, happier way of living.
The Basics of Inflammation
When we hear about inflammation, we typically think of it as a negative thing, and something that we want to avoid at all cost.
Surprisingly to some however, inflammation is it is actually a natural bodily process that is essential for human survival.
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Whenever the body feels like it is under a potential threat from some kind of illness or injury, the immune fires up and releases a dose of white blood cells and anti-inflammatory compounds to respond to the problem.
Without this natural defence mechanism, we would be unable to recover from injuries and illnesses.
However, like many things in life, the poison is in the dosage. Too much inflammation can cause some serious issues, as mentioned above. Inflammation is the body’s emergency state, and when levels remain elevated over long time periods, degenerative disease can start to develop, and your health can start to deteriorate rapidly.
Although some inflammatory conditions are somewhat related to genetics, perhaps the biggest influencer is your environment and your lifestyle choices.
Thankfully, that means there are some simple changes that you can start making today that will help you to keep your inflammation levels under control.
Inflammation and Lifestyle Choices
Every micro-decision and habit that you carry out throughout your day can move your body towards or away form a more inflammatory state.
Many of these decisions we make without a second thought, but if we want to make lasting changes, it’s important to become a little more aware of the consequences of our actions.
As noted in one of our previous articles on anti-inflammatory foods, it is important to consider a few guidelines if you’re looking to keep your inflammation levels under control through lifestyle changes and dietary means.
- Eat a variety of colourful, whole, plant food in their natural state. These are the foods that are most likely to contain health promoting fats, fibre, and anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals.
- Avoid or limit processed foods. As a general rule of thumb, anything that comes in a brightly coloured packet probably isn’t that good for you, and will likely contain ingredients that promote inflammation.
- Stay hydrated. Water is essential for life, and it seems that it’s great for beating inflammation too.
- Move often. Ensure that regular movement is a part of your daily routine, as it has been shown to help bring down inflammation.
- Prioritize recovery. Recovery is just as important as your movement and diet. Make sure you’re getting enough good quality sleep, and try to keep control over your stress levels with breathing exercises and meditation.
The Top Anti-Inflammatory Herbs & Spices
As well as incorporating the above guidelines into your lifestyle, there are a number of anti-inflammatory herbs and spices that you can increase your consumption of to help keep your inflammation levels under control.
Here are some of the most potent.
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As well as providing a warming flavour to a variety of desserts and entrees, cloves are one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory spices available. Their anti-inflammatory properties stem largely from their large concentration of flavonoids, namely kaempferol and rhamnetin, both of which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Cloves also contain the active compound Eugenol, which has powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities. As the guys at World’s Healthiest Foods explain:
“Eugenol, the primary component of clove's volatile oils, functions as an anti-inflammatory substance. In animal studies, the addition of clove extract to diets already high in anti-inflammatory components (like cod liver oil, with its high omega-3 fatty acid content) brings significant added benefits, and in some studies, further reduces inflammatory symptoms by another 15-30%.”
Cloves can be added to desserts such as gingerbread and pumpkin pie, but are also used in a verity of Indian dishes, soups and stews.
Turmeric is perhaps the most well-known and widely recognisable anti-inflammatory spice. We have written about it many times already here on the Eu Natural blog. The spice has been used for thousands of years in the ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine systems as a way to combat a range of inflammatory conditions, including joint pain, arthritis, and stomach issues.
The main mechanism behind turmeric’s potent anti-oxidant capabilities seems to be linked to the compound curcumin, the yellow pigment that has repeatedly been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
As the guys over at Health.com describe:
"Curcumin 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."
Turmeric is widely used as a dried spice to flavour curries and give them their distinctive yellowish colour. It can however, be eaten fresh and is increasingly available in a concentrated supplement form for those who require an increased dosage.
Recommended Reading: 13 of the Best Natural Anti Inflammatory Foods
Studies suggest that a regular turmeric supplement may be as effective in treating inflammation as many Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as ibuprofen. The spice also comes without the potential side effects of many of these traditional pharmaceutical medications.
3. Black Pepper
Black pepper is a spice that can be (and often is) added to nearly every main meal that you could possible imagine!
As well as being a versatile spice, black pepper also has some powerful anti-inflammatory properties. As explained over at the Natural News site:
“Piperine, the active phenolic compound in black pepper extract, was studied to determine its anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects as well as its ability to reduce the perception of pain. Piperine inhibited the expression of pro-inflammatory interleukin 6, and MMP13, a gene involved in the promotion of arthritis and metastasis. It reduced the production of a pro-inflammatory prostaglandin, even at a very low dose.”
Not only does black pepper present it’s own display of anti inflammatory benefits, it also increases the bioavailability of turmeric, further increasing the spice’s potential to bring down inflammation levels. Consume the two together to maximize the benefits!
Ginger root is another powerful anti-inflammatory food that has been long been used in the Ayurveda medicine system. Like turmeric, studies have shown that ginger could potentially be a substitute for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), without any known detrimental side effects.
It is commonly used to combat the symptoms of a number of inflammation related conditions, including IBD and arthritis. As the guys over at The Arthritis Foundation highlight:
“Research shows that ginger affects certain inflammatory processes at a cellular level. Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antioxidant activities, as well as a small amount of analgesic property.”
You can include fresh ginger in your stir fry dishes, take a ginger supplement, or add it a smoothie for an anti-inflammatory punch to start your day, like this one from the Food Babe.
5. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is used all around the world to add spice to a variety of dishes. As well as increasing the heat, cayenne has a number of health benefits, including helping to bring down unwanted chronic inflammation levels. The secret to cayenne’s anti-inflammatory properties is thought to lie in its main active ingredient, capsaicin. Although the compound is an irritant to most mammals, in human it seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect, as demonstrated in numerous scientific studies. The spice is subsequently used as a remedy for a number of inflammatory conditions, including joint pain, arthritis, migraines and digestive disorders.
Add some cayenne to your curry, stir fry, or even your morning smoothie if you want to start the day with a kick!
Basil is a popular herb used in both its fresh and dried form in a variety of Italian style dishes. As well as providing an aromatic flavour, the herb also demonstrates some brilliant anti-inflammatory properties.
Research has shown that when taken orally, concentrated basil extracts can reduce joint swelling by up to 73 per cent within 24 hours! This makes it of particular interest to those who suffer from arthritis, and those who regularly experience inflammation and joint injuries as a result of sport and exercise.
Like many of the herbs and spices already mentioned above, basil has been shown to be as strong as many traditional anti-inflammatory medications when it comes to bringing down inflammation levels.
Peppermint is a hybrid plant - a mixture between the watermint and spearmint. Like many of these herbs and spices mentioned, it has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of conditions.
As the guys at Livestrong point out, peppermint has a number of medicinal uses:
“With its anti-inflammatory properties offering a calming and numbing effect, peppermint can be used to treat digestive disorders such as upset stomach, headaches, viral and bacterial infections, skin conditions, depression and menstrual cramps.”
Peppermint can be taken orally in a supplement form, and it is commonly made into oil to apply to specific areas that have become inflamed, to reduce swelling and pain.
Cinnamon is an aromatic spice used all around the world in a variety of dishes. As well as a wide range of other health benefits, it seems that cinnamon may help to combat high levels of chronic inflammation.
A 2011 study found that consuming a cinnamon extract can help to bring down inflammation of the colon in mice. These results lead researchers to believe that the spice may have similar anti-inflammatory effects in humans.
Like many of the other herbs and spices mentioned already, cinnamon may work best when consumed with other anti-inflammatory foods. A 2013 study suggests that introducing cinnamon and ginger into your diet may reduce muscle soreness and inflammation after exercise.
Cinnamon can be added to a range of main meals, including curries and casseroles. It also adds a comforting taste to various desserts and baked goods.
Sage is an herb used to combat a variety of inflammation-related ailments, including arthritis, gastro-intestinal disorders and joint pain.
As Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Executive explains over on his blog:
“Carnosic acid and carnosol are the chief anti-inflammatory molecules that give sage its health benefits and contribute to its flavor/aroma. Sage is studied for its protective effect against inflammation-based neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s. The herb also shows promise for improving memory and concentration, and lessening anxiety."
Sage works well with a number of savoury dishes, particularly in winter soups, stews and nut loaves.
Last but certainly not least, coriander is a popular spice used in a variety of Indian and East Asian dishes. It can be consumed fresh, or ground up into a powder to add a unique flavour.
As noted by the guys at One Green Planet:
"Coriander is one of the top sources of chlorophyll to promote alkalinity and aids with digestion, hormone balance, and ridding the body of excess mercury and lead."
Alkalinity is a key part of the inflammation picture. Due to lifestyle and Western dietary stressors, the body is typically in an acidic state, and this allows inflammation and disease to thrive. By consuming alkaline forming foods such as coriander, the body is encouraged towards a more alkaline state, which makes it much more difficult for inflammation to exist.