If you’ve ever gotten a paper, been stung by a bee, or sprained a finger, you have experienced inflammation firsthand. That familiar sensation of pain, redness, swelling, and heat is a result of the body’s response to injury or infection. Simply put, inflammation is the body’s way of signaling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.
But not all inflammation is beneficial. In this blog, we are going to get into some different types of inflammation and one key herb that may help to reduce its damaging effects.
How Inflammation Works
When your cells are in distress, they release chemicals to alert the immune system. The immune system sends its first responders—inflammatory cells—to trap the offending substance or heal the tissue. When this happens, blood vessels leak fluid into the site of the injury. This causes those familiar symptoms like swelling and heat. Now we know that these symptoms may be uncomfortable, but they are essential for your body to heal. So inflammation is good, but only up until a point. If you experience inflammation for too long though—for example, when inflammatory cells camp out too long in your blood vessels—they can promote the buildup of dangerous plaque in your arteries, the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.1
Types of Inflammation
The two different types of inflammation are acute and chronic. Acute inflammation usually comes on pretty quickly, within minutes, and is generally short-lived. Many of your body’s mechanisms that spring into action to destroy invading microbes then switch gears to carry away dead cells and repair damaged ones. This type of inflammation returns the affected area back to normal in a hours or days.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can persist for months or even years, and it happens when the immune system fails to halt the inflammatory process after the initial problem has been eliminated. If this type of inflammation is not dealt with, it prompts white blood cells to attack nearby healthy organs and tissues, setting the stage for a chronic inflammatory process that could eventually cause health issues like arthritis, heart disease, asthma, and more.2
Signs You May Have Too Much Inflammation
It’s easy to spot acute inflammation because it causes symptoms like redness, heat, swelling, and pain. But what about chronic inflammation? Let’s take a look at some common symptoms.
Fatigue: Feeling tired all the time could point to chronic inflammation.3 Too little, and conversely too much, sleep can create inflammation. If you are sleeping less than seven hours or more than nine hours per night, the cells in your body may respond as if you had an illness. So even if you think you’re getting enough sleep but still feel exhausted, you may want to talk to your doctor about chronic inflammation.
Digestive Issues: Ongoing digestive issues like diarrhea or gassiness could be another sign of chronic inflammation, especially in the GI tract.4 This kind of inflammation can cause bloating, cramping, and more. It’s important not to push these symptoms aside since they could signal a food allergy, irritable bowel syndrome, or Chron’s disease, to name a few. Let your doctor know if you have been experiencing ongoing digestive issues.
Brain Fog: This may come as a shock, but inflammation can also affect you mentally.5 You may find that you forget things more frequently than usual. Or you may have trouble focusing. Many times, once you treat chronic inflammation, mental clarity will reassert itself. You can jumpstart this by making a few simple lifestyle changes. Choosing healthier food might be the most straightforward and least expensive change since fast food and processed food can lead to increased inflammation. You can start by eliminating one fast food or restaurant meal each week, and incorporating a piece of fruit daily into your diet. A gradual approach can help you ease into it.
The Herb that May Be Able to Help
You’ve probably seen it in the spice aisle at your grocery store—turmeric powder. It’s a tasty spice to cook with, but it also has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.6 A staple in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric comes from the underground stem of a plant that’s native to India and Southeast Asia. What makes turmeric so effective for relieving pain and inflammation is a compound within the spice called curcumin. It’s also what gives turmeric its deep yellow-orange color.
The curcumin content of turmeric isn’t very high though, so if you use it in a curry dish for instance, you wouldn’t get enough to make a material difference. If you want to experience the full health benefits from turmeric, you should try a curcumin supplement.
And speaking of curcumin supplements, we wanted to briefly touch on the bioavailability of this compound—meaning how easily it is absorbed and used by the body. In a nutshell, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream because of its low solubility. Adding insult to injury, curcumin is also rapidly metabolized in the gastrointestinal tract and quickly eliminated by the body. Although typical curcumin supplements can provide highly concentrated amounts of curcumin, poor absorption still remains an issue. In light of this, we recommend trying to find a supplement that lists Meriva curcumin on the label since it is 29 times more absorbable than the curcumin used in ordinary supplements. As an added perk, Meriva is one of the most studied forms of the compound.
In addition to taking a supplement containing a bioavailable form of curcumin, we also wanted to end with an easy recipe for something called “golden milk.”7 This is essentially a tea containing turmeric, which is very soothing and great to enjoy before bedtime.
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 1 big pinch of fresh ground black pepper
- 1 small piece of ginger root (peeled and grated)
- 1 big pinch of cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon honey
Blend or whisk all ingredients together, then warm on the stove over medium-low heat. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, and enjoy! To read more about inflammation, click here.
- Johns Hopkins Staff. Fight Inflammation to Help Prevent Heart Disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine. N.D. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fight-inflammation-to-help-prevent-heart-disease
- Harvard Medical School Staff. Fighting Inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing. 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-inflammation
- Lacourt T, Vichaya E, Chiu G, et al. The High Costs of Low-Grade Inflammation: Persistent Fatigue as a Consequence of Reduced Cellular-Energy Availability and Non-Adaptive Energy Expenditure. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2018; 12: 78.
- Ribaldone G, Pellicano R, Actis G. Inflammation in Gastrointestinal Disorders: Prevalent Socioeconomic Factors. Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology. 2019; 12: 321–329.
- Balter L, Bosch J, Aldred S, et al. Selective Effects of Acute Low-Grade Inflammation on Human Visual Attention. Science Direct. August 12, 2019. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053811919306895?via=ihub
- Hewlings S, Kalman D. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Foods MDPI. 2017 Oct; 6(10): 92.
- Rider, E. Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tea Recipe (Golden Milk). August 17, 2020. https://www.elizabethrider.com/how-to-make-golden-milk-recipe/