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Inflammation? What's the Big Deal?

Inflammation is usually discussed as a negative process in the body, but it’s actually a vital part of our immune response.

As a result of injury or infection, inflammation prompts the immune system to defend, protect and repair. Swelling, redness and pain – as uncomfortable as they might be after an injury or infection – all serve a purpose in assisting this process.

However, inflammation is meant to be a short-term process. If it goes on for too long, or if it is triggered inappropriately – it becomes a problem.

Chronic inflammation

Chronic or ongoing inflammation is not always obvious, with symptoms manifesting in ways you would not necessarily expect. Low grade inflammation is more common than you might think, and has been linked to a number of diseases including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
  • IBD (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinsons disease
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Autoimmune diseases and conditions (where your immune system attacks its own cells). Some of these include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, vitiligo, lupus, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

So How Can You Manage Inflammation?

Before we head into the realm of supplements, let’s start with some of the basics, that can make a real difference.


Sugar is inflammatory in excess and so it makes sense to limit how much you have in your diet, as well as reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates.

Instead, focus on slow release carbohydrates, such as root vegetables and whole grains.

Essential Fatty Acids

There are two families of essential fatty acids – omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Both can have an anti-inflammatory effect, but too much omega 6 in relation to omega 3 fatty acids can promote inflammation.

Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include hemp, chia and flax seeds and walnuts. An even better source comes from fish oils (EPA and DHA fatty acids). These get converted into anti-inflammatory messengers in the body much more quickly and efficiently than the omega 3 fatty acids found naturally in plant-based sources. Good sources of oily fish include wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring.  Aim for 2-3 portions each week and avoid larger oily fish such as swordfish and marlin, which have high levels of mercury.

Eat a Rainbow of Vegetables and Fruit

Vegetables and fruit are good sources of antioxidants that help to combat free radicals.

Free radicals are raised during inflammation (as part of the immune response) and can cause oxidative stress and damage to healthy cells – in turn contributing to inflammatory symptoms and conditions.

Different coloured vegetables and fruit contain different groups of antioxidants, so include as much variety as possible. Aim for 6 to 8 portions of vegetables each day, where one portion is roughly the size of an apple or closed fist, and 1 or 2 optional portions of fruit.

Find the Source!

Of course, one of the most important factors in managing chronic inflammation is to remove any triggers. It is not always easy and there may not just be one.

Some common triggers and contributing factors can include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Alcohol
  • Leaky gut (increased permeability of the gut lining, allowing partially undigested foods and toxins to enter the bloodstream), which can lead to...
  • Allergies and intolerances
  • Histamine intolerance
  • Obesity

7 Supplements That May Help

Sometimes changes to diet may not be enough and more help is needed. There are a number of anti-inflammatory supplements that can be really effective and which help to avoid or minimise the need for over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which can have adverse health effects if used on a long-term basis.


The main active component of turmeric is curcumin, which is perhaps the most widely studied, but other components in this spice have anti-inflammatory effects too, so it makes sense to use whole turmeric. Including this in your cooking, or taking it in the form of teas and lattes can be helpful – especially with a little black pepper to help absorption.

Absorption can be tricky, and so there are supplements available in formats that can improve bioavailability (how your body is able to use it).


Another spice with a good track record for reducing inflammation, ginger is also easy to incorporate into your diet. You often find it included in anti-inflammatory supplements, but you can also boil it in water to make a tea.

3.Omega 3 EPA and DHA Fatty Acids

Fish is the best source of these fatty acids, but not everyone likes the taste, and not everyone eats fish. Thankfully you can get good quality fish oils supplements and there are now some vegan alternatives that can help to provide EPA and DHA fatty acids.

4.Vitamin D

This plays an important role in regulating the immune system and deficiency has been linked to inflammatory autoimmune disorders.

If inflammation is an issue, it could be worth getting your vitamin D levels checked, and supplementing if needed.


This is a traditional Ayurvedic herb used to manage a number of inflammatory conditions. Studies have shown it can be effective in osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.


This is a protein digesting enzyme, derived from pineapple. Taken with meals it can support digestion, but in between meals, it has an anti-inflammatory effect. In particular studies have focused on its effect on sinusitis and osteoarthritis.


This is an extract from French maritime pine bark that can inhibit pro-inflammatory messengers in the body. It can be particularly helpful for inflammation in joints.

As with any supplement, you should consult with your nutritional therapist and healthcare professional for any contraindications and potential interactions with medications and other supplements.

If joint pain or arthritis is an issue for you, then come back for part two, which will focus on this area.

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