Like the security system in your house, the inflammatory response is meant to alert your body of any foreign invaders (like viruses or bacteria) or any potential problems so your immune cells can swiftly take care of the problem. But what happens when your body can’t seem to turn off the “alarm?” Often, it leads to chronic inflammation .
Chronic or low-grade inflammation is the type of inflammation you’re most likely to hear health professionals talk about since it’s linked to many different problems. Chronic inflammation is linked to autoimmune disease , cancer , and heart disease —just to name a few. Chronic inflammation is particularly scary because it can happen without you really knowing, meaning you can go for long periods of time without really detecting (or stopping) it. That’s why Parsley Health doctors look at inflammatory markers as part of Parsley members’ lab work.
Dealing with chronic inflammation is not simple—but a smart move for your overall health. Since it usually takes a number of things to improve inflammation (like changing nutrition, exercise, stress management) it’s a good idea to work with a doctor and a health coach to understand your own inflammation levels. And once you start an action plan with your healthcare provider to target inflammation, a doctor may recommend supplements that can help.
Keep in mind that supplements are the “extra-credit” of your health and lifestyle plan—they can’t make up for poor overall lifestyle choices. But once you have solid habits, you can implement them for a helpful boost. Below, Darcy McConnell, MD , a Parsley Health physician, discusses five key anti-inflammatory supplements that can help lower inflammation.
You’ve heard that eating more fish, especially salmon, is a smart move since it’s packed full of good-for-you nutrients. One of the stars? Omega-3’s. But unless you eat salmon every single day (most people don’t, realistically) it’s a lot more convenient to take a fish oil supplement to ensure you’re getting the benefits no matter what you eat that day.
“The first supplement I go to is fish oil to lower inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have so many other beneficial properties too and are healing in many ways, but they are really strong anti-inflammatories,” Dr. McConnell says. “I recommend it to all of my patients who have elevated cholesterol or heart disease.”
A recent study published in the American Heart Association Journal found that fish oil supplements increased anti-inflammatory molecules in the blood for up to 24 hours. While the debate is still out on just how much fish oil can do for cardiovascular disease , the effects of this anti-inflammatory supplement are promising.
Turmeric has become a popular ingredient in products in the past few years and for good reason. It’s definitely not a new spice since it’s been used for over 4000 years, and dates back to Indian culture originally. But recently, health experts and nutritionists have spotlighted turmeric for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which is why you can find it in just about every form—including as turmeric supplements.
Researchers have found that turmeric, especially paired with pepper, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can even help with post-workout inflammation. “Turmeric or curcumin is usually paired with a pepper extract so it’s better absorbed in the stomach. That’s why curry is so healthy, but when we take it in medicinal amounts it’s a very potent anti-inflammatory,” Dr. McConnell says. So if you’re cooking with turmeric be sure to add some pepper to your dish, since it helps make the curcumin about 2,000% more absorbable in your body. And if you’re supplementing with turmeric and curcumin, look for a supplement that has pepper or pepper extract to boost absorption.
Alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that provides a ton of health benefits, including the ability to help lower inflammation. “Alpha lipoic acid is a great antioxidant and it also has inflammation-moderating properties. It can be good for lowering inflammatory cascades,” Dr. McConnell says.
If you are concerned about inflammation, you can ask your doctor to check your inflammation levels with lab testing. They will likely run a CRP (C-reactive protein ) test since it is one of the key ways to check out inflammation levels in your body. Studies have shown that ALA is effective at lowering key inflammatory markers in the blood like CRP levels.
Quercetin is a flavonoid that is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables that can help lower inflammation. You may have heard about quercetin supplements more in the news lately since it’s undergoing studies for potential to help COVID-19 patients.
“Quercetin is big in the news lately with COVID-19 since it looks like it may have some properties that reduce the inflammatory cascade in coronavirus,” Dr. McConnell says.
It’s also helpful for people who suffer from allergies or chronic sinusitis. “We often use quercetin in people with chronic sinusitis type inflammation, instead of taking Claritin or Allegra,” Dr. McConnell says.
Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant found in food and yes, red wine . If you’ve heard about the health benefits of red wine (in moderation) it’s likely due to the resveratrol content found in red wine from grapes.
But according to Dr. McConnell, resveratrol is highly anti-inflammatory in high quantities, which is why a resveratrol supplement can be helpful for getting the ideal amounts. It is also shown to have anti-cancer effects, may help cardiovascular health, and may help with neurodegenerative disorders, but there needs to be more research and clinical trials to really understand the benefits of resveratrol. Also, some researchers have called out that in addition to health benefits, resveratrol can have some pro-oxidative effects , which could be cause for concern and we need more research to fully understand it.
If you’re thinking about trying any anti-inflammatory supplements, consult your doctor to better understand which supplements and dosing are right for you. Looking for a doctor with a personalized, holistic approach? Learn more about Parsley Health .
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She is passionate about translating expert and science-based wellness advice into accessible and engaging content. Her work is featured on Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading, trying out new recipes, and going to new workout classes all over New York City.