Did you know that inflammation is an underlying factor in all diseases? It is. From allergies to heart disease and the autoimmune diseases rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, inflammation has a role. But inflammation is also an important part of the natural immune system response that keeps us healthy. Without inflammation, we couldn't heal a wound or fight an infection. So, it is a bit like the situation - can't live with it, and can't live without it.
In fact, chronic inflammation can be quite destructive, causing chronic pain, so we often try to suppress it. There are many drugs available that suppress inflammation, such as NSAID drugs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Unfortunately, they can also have nasty side effects.
In contrast, nature provides us with a vast array of natural anti-inflammatories that are both safe and effective. For instance, several culinary spices have tremendous health benefits and might help to prevent various diseases. We also know that there are potent anti-inflammatory herbal remedies such as white willow bark and frankincense. Plus, no anti-inflammatory diet would be complete without fatty fish, because of the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. But, here I am going to explain why including some of the best natural anti-inflammatory spices in your daily diet is a great idea.
The link between inflammation and chronic disease
Chronic diseases are a leading cause of death, responsible for around 60% of mortality worldwide. Chronic diseases include the UK’s biggest killers, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. They also include other conditions such as arthritis, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Wouldn't it be great to prevent these diseases by minimising unhealthy lifestyle factors? And includes healthy herbs and spices that have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Factors associated with chronic disease
These are the main risk factors that scientists say are linked to the most common chronic diseases.
- Lack of physical activity
- Poor diet
- Excess alcohol
- Radiation exposure
- Chronic infections
All these risk factors increase the amount of inflammation in the body. Which, in turn, can lead to developing a chronic disease. Of course, we can cut out some of the unhealthy lifestyle factors. But there are also natural ways to reduce inflammation. For instance, we can include herbs and spices in our daily diet.
Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
Scientists say that spices have been important to humans for thousands of years. Not just as a source of medicine but also as colouring agents, flavourings and preservatives. In fact, spices contain numerous natural anti-inflammatory compounds that contribute to their medicinal properties.
What’s more, there are plenty of studies showing how effective spices can be for preventing various diseases.
Common herbs and spices with anti-inflammatory activity
- black pepper
- star anise
- green tea
Scientists say that these culinary spices contain anti inflammatory compounds that may prevent various diseases. They suggest these diseases include arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions.
Some natural anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
The “golden spice” turmeric is the most commonly used spice in the world. Its main component, curcumin is the subject of over ten thousand studies, including over 120 clinical trials. Not only do these trials support an anti-inflammatory activity but also antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties.
For instance, curcumin is promising for alleviating various chronic illnesses. Among them are Alzheimer’s disease, bacterial prostatitis and asthma. Not to mention that it has the potential to inhibit various stages of cancer. Including the proliferation, invasion and spread of cancer.
Perhaps most importantly, the dozens of clinical trials proving the health benefits of curcumin and turmeric found no adverse effects.
In like manner, black pepper is a commonly used spice. Similarly, it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic and anti-asthmatic properties.
The principal medicinal compound in black pepper is piperine. In common with the other spices, several studies support the anti-inflammatory nature of piperine.
Ginger is one of my favourite herbs, and I use it often in my herbalist practice. This common spice contains several unique constituents. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative properties.
The main component of ginger, 6-gingerol, shows therapeutic activity against Alzheimer’s disease, colorectal cancer and diabetes.
By the same token, the commonly used spice garlic contains some important anti-inflammatory nutrients. As a result, it possesses anti-inflammatory, stomach protective and anti-cancer properties.
Garlic contains several sulphur-containing compounds with known health benefits. In particular, diallyl sulphide is a potential compound for the treatment of airway inflammation such as asthma. In addition, researchers confirm this compound may protect cartilage and enhance collagen production. Furthermore, diallyl sulphide demonstrates anti-cancer properties, in particular against colon, prostate and skin cancers. In each case, scientists explain that these health benefits are due to the regulation of inflammation.
So, this is really the point. Instead of suppressing inflammation, we should be regulating inflammation. Keep it in check by including herbs and spices in an anti-inflammatory diet that regulates inflammation.
Rosemary is an aromatic plant with medicinal properties. This herbal remedy contains an important plant chemical known as alpha-pinene. Significantly, alpha-pinene shows promise as another anti-inflammatory agent, especially in acute pancreatitis.
For years fenugreek has been known for its anti-carcinogenic, anti-diabetic, antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering properties. Now its anti-inflammatory activity makes it a potential agent for several chronic diseases. For instance, researchers suggest its use may benefit Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, chronic myeloid leukaemia and osteoarthritis.
Capsaicin is the principal component of chilli peppers. This compound is widely studied and demonstrates several properties that confer health benefits. Importantly, it has shown to be effective as an inflammation suppressing agent in several chronic diseases. For instance, capsaicin may reduce inflammation in asthma and diabetes. As well as many cancers, including those of the breast, cervix, colon and stomach.
Quercetin is an important dietary flavonoid found in onions, apples and herbal remedies such as nettles.
Quercetin has anti-cancer, natural inflammation reducing and antioxidant properties. Numerous studies support the use of quercetin for various chronic diseases. Specifically, these include arthritis and joint pain, breast cancer, dermatitis, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, hepatitis and psoriasis.
Mustard and other cruciferous plants, including broccoli and cabbage, contain the sulphur compound sulforaphane. This is an important compound in the fight against cancer. According to researchers, it also offers promising health benefits for various other chronic diseases. These include Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. As well as colorectal, lung and bladder cancers.
The best natural anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
So, considering the wide variety of herbs and spices with anti-inflammatory benefits. Not to mention that each herb or spice contains different and unique medicinal compounds. Together with the fact that each compound may offer different health benefits. It is therefore difficult to say which herbs or spices are the best anti-inflammatories. Perhaps what is more important is to include and rotate as many different herbs and spices as possible.
Culinary herbs and spices are natural anti-inflammatory supplements that you can include in your meals to fight inflammation. After all, prevention is better than cure.