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6 Natural Ways to Lower Inflammation

Inflammation is a proven killer but there are simple things you can do to reduce it.

Medically reviewed in January 2020

Updated on October 6, 2021

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Inflammation is more than a buzzword; it’s one of the essential ways your body protects itself.

“Inflammation is a general response to some kind of stress that’s being placed on the body,” says Thomas Shook, PA, of Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, California. “White blood cells and other chemicals are mobilized to an area to combat whatever injury there is.”

The problem comes when the immune response continues after the damage is cleared up, or if there is no damage in the first place. If inflammation goes too far, or goes on for too long, it can contribute to serious health problems, from cancer to heart disease to depression.

What can you do about inflammation? Here are six natural ways to fight back.

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Get up and move

You know the soreness you feel after a workout? That’s inflammation, but a temporary, non-harmful kind. Studies show that exercising regularly actually reduces the other kind—the damaging inflammation in your blood vessels that can lead to heart disease and other problems. In fact, a small March 2017 study found that even one moderate 20-minute cardio session helped reduce this bad inflammation.

Researchers think that some of the chemicals released during exercise counteract the effects of the chemicals that increase inflammation. “Plus, you secrete hormones and neurotransmitters that can cause you to experience a sense of well-being,” explains Shook. If you’re new to exercise or have been out of the game for a while, start with a brisk walk and increase from there.

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Butt out!

Add inflammation to the long list of health risks from smoking. “Smoking affects every cell in your body,” Shook says. “The tobacco burning itself and the byproducts are both hugely inflammatory.”

Quitting is hard—the U.S. Surgeon General’s office has declared nicotine to be as addictive as heroin and cocaine. Still, it’s one of the best things you can do to cut your chances of disease and reduce inflammation. In fact, one small study of women at risk for heart disease found that signs of inflammation were lower in the weeks after quitting. Setting a quit date can help you put the smokes down for good.

 

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Get enough shuteye

Sleep is restorative,” says Shook. “It allows your body to rebuild and repair itself.” Research suggests that not getting enough sleep can raise inflammatory markers. Experts generally recommend that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

But be careful, it may not be as simple as the more sleep, the better. A 2016 meta-analysis published in Biological Psychiatry suggests that getting more sleep than what’s typically recommended was also associated with more signs of inflammation.

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Cut your stress levels

In the distant past, stress helped our ancestors fight off or flee from hungry predators. Stress is still a trigger of that important fight-or-flight response, but times have changed. Today, typical day-to-day worries include: Can I pay my mortgage on time? Will my boss like my presentation? Can I get the kids to soccer practice on time? While they may seem trivial on their own, unrelieved stressors like these can accumulate over time.

“What you have is this chronic low-grade stress,” says Shook. "But the body’s still interpreting it with the fight-or-flight mechanism." Though there's evidence that the stress hormone cortisol helps keep inflammation at bay, when stress levels are chronically high, cells develop a tolerance, cortisol can’t do its job as well, and inflammation goes unchecked. This constant tension can harm your physical and mental health, leading to conditions like heart disease and depression.

Shook recommends meditation as one effective strategy for cutting stress. A few minutes of stillness each day is enough to get started.

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Eat antioxidants

Free radicals are nasty little molecules that can harm cells on a subatomic level. If there are too many around and they do enough damage, free radicals can even kill cells, leading to chronic inflammation.

But free radicals have natural predators known as antioxidants, which can stop the cell death process and help prevent inflammation.

What’s the best way to supply your body with antioxidants? Eat healthy, wholesome food, says Shook, especially plants. “Eating a diet rich in fresh, plant-based products will provide you with enough nutrition and antioxidants to combat those cellular stresses,” he adds. Antioxidant-rich nibbles include berries, nuts, tea, coffee, and high-cacao chocolate.

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Avoid certain carbs (especially added sugar)

“Anybody dealing with or who wants to prevent chronic inflammation should get as much sugar out of their diets as they can,” says Shook. Added sugar and refined grains may trigger the release of chemicals that cause inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 36 grams of added sugar a day for men and 25 grams for women. Think about ways to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet today.

Sources:

Dimitrov S, Hulteng E, Hong S. Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β2-adrenergic activation. Brain Behav Immun. 2017;61:60-68.
Reichert V, Xue X, Bartscherer D, et al. A pilot study to examine the effects of smoking cessation on serum markers of inflammation in women at risk for cardiovascular disease. Chest. 2009;136(1):212-219.
Mullington JM, Simpson NS, Meier-Ewert HK, Haack M. Sleep loss and inflammation. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;24(5):775-784.
Irwin MR, Olmstead R, Carroll JE. Sleep Disturbance, Sleep Duration, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies and Experimental Sleep Deprivation. Biol Psychiatry. 2016;80(1):40-52.

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