Inflammation is a natural process, triggered by the body’s immune system in response to an attack (viruses, bacteria, allergens, injuries…), to repair damaged tissue or eliminate potential pathogens (1).
In its acute phase, it manifests in various symptoms such as redness, swelling or localised pain. Often silent and thus more insidious, chronic inflammation persists over time: it is associated with many disorders, such as metabolic and auto-immune diseases, as well as rheumatic conditions (like osteoarthritis) (2).
Alongside prioritising certain foods in your diet (red berries, broccoli, oily fish …) and controlling your stress levels (3), natural solutions are available that can help boost your resistance to inflammation.
Several studies have demonstrated the benefits and safety of ginger (Zingiber officinale) in individuals suffering from rheumatism and osteoarthritis problems (4). Subjects have reported reduced pain, swelling and functional impairment in daily activities.
Documented since the 1970s, its ability to inhibit the production of various inflammatory mediators, including leukotrienes and prostaglandins, is thought to be responsible for its anti-inflammatory effect (5). More recently, researchers also appear to have detected an ability to block the expression of certain genes involved in inflammatory processes including those encoding the COX-2 enzyme (6).
Ginger can obviously be used in cooking, but it is also available in a more concentrated form in dietary supplements (such as in Super Gingerols, a ginger extract standardised to 20% gingerols).
Blackcurrant leaves (Ribes nigrum) constitute another natural anti-inflammatory. Scientists believe their effects come from their flavonols which appear to interfere with IFN-γ signalling , on which the immune response and regulation of inflammation depend. The potential of blackcurrant leaves in easing skin and respiratory conditions is currently being explored (7).
Medicinal use of white willow bark (Salix alba) is by no means recent. It dates back to 500 BC when it was used by the Chinese for reducing fever and relieving pain (8). It contains salicin, metabolised in the body into salicylic acid, which actually makes it the precursor of today’s aspirin (one of the class of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
It has now been introduced into certain supplements (such as Willow Bark Extract standardised to 15% salicin).
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) also produces salicylic acid in its flowerheads. In fact, it is from its other name, ‘spiraea’, that we get the name ‘aspirin’.
Traditionally popular for relieving headaches and muscle and joint pain, this potent analgesic and natural anti-inflammatory has been shown in vitro to inhibit the COX-2 enzyme as well as the NF-κB signalling pathway, the immune response ‘switch’ (9).
Its many phenolic compounds (including flavonoid glycosides), which are not absorbed by the gut, appear to be bio-converted by the intestinal microbiota, potentially maximising its efficacy.
A much-prized root in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric (Curcuma longa) enjoys remarkable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as a result of its concentration in curcumin, and more generally, curcuminoids. A number of studies suggest these compounds bind to Toll-like receptors to regulate inflammation signalling pathways. At a cellular level, they are thought to also reduce pro-inflammatory molecules including interleukins and TNF-α factor (10).
They are, however, poorly absorbed in the gut, so it’s important to choose a supplement which makes up for this (such as Super Curcuma, in which the curcuminoids are combined with natural phosphatidylcholine to produce a level of absorption 29 times higher than other such supplements on the market) (11).
The resin of Boswellia serrata, also known as ‘Indian Frankincense’, is notable for its boswellic acids which are believed to be responsible for its therapeutic benefits. In particular, boswellia serrata supports joint health (as shown in a study on arthritic rats) as well as respiratory and gastro-intestinal function (12).
AKBA appears to be the most active of these boswellic acids at inhibiting an enzyme called 5-LO, which is involved in the inflammatory cascade (that’s why the highly-absorbable supplement Super Boswellia is standardised to 20% AKBA) (13).
Neem, or margosa (Azadirachta indica), has a triple antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-pyretic effect(14). Designated a ‘cure-all’ in Ayurvedic medicine, it supports, amongst others, the skin’s natural defences.
More specifically, its purifying and detoxifying properties soothe skin that’s prone to allergic reactions or acne (15). It’s used in powder form for home-made skincare/cosmetics as well as in supplement form (such as Neem Extract, which offers a dose of 500 mg of Azadirachta indica extract per capsule).
Though negatively associated with uncomfortable stinging, the common nettle or Urtica dioica (the key ingredient in Nettle Root Extract) has actually been shown to be, amongst others, a first-rate natural anti-inflammatory. Containing malic and caffeic acids, polysaccharides and flavonoids, its leaves inhibit the production of prostaglandins, thromboxane, interleukins IL-2 and IL-1, interferon (IFN) and tumour necrosis factor (16).
A number of studies are therefore investigating its effects in the area of acute and chronic rheumatism (17).
Supporting the vascular and venous systems, sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) also has an anti-inflammatory effect as a result of its unique combination of coumarin, phenolic acids, flavonoids and saponins (18). More specifically, it helps combat inflammation related to veno-lymphatic disorders (the natural venotonic supplement Lymphatonic is based on a sweet clover extract standardised to 18% coumarin for enhanced efficacy) (19).
Rich in flavonoids, Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is prized for its digestive and soothing properties, especially for relieving irritation of the gastric mucosa and throat. Studies have focused on its interaction with nitric oxide (NO), which in excess becomes pro-inflammatory (20).
If you’re looking to fully restore your internal balance, it’s probably best to choose a broad spectrum supplement that combines various compounds for a synergistic effect (the product InflaRelief contains 12, carefully-selected, 100% natural compounds, including 3 patented ingredients, as well as a range of the anti-inflammatory substances mentioned above: turmeric, nettle, ginger…)
Chronic inflammation is responsible for numerous diseases. But it’s not inevitable: read on for our tips on how to fight it naturally with the aid of plants!
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