One of the first things I tell many of my new clients they can do to start feeling better – often much better, fast – is to lower their body’s level of inflammation. Systemic (or chronic) inflammation is common but little understood. It happens when the immune system goes into overdrive: the body slowly but surely starts attacking itself with results that can be devastating. Arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (including Chron’s) are two known forms of inflammation, but many other forms exist. Stress, poor diet, environmental pollutants, poor dental health and lack of exercise can all contribute to chronic inflammation that scientific studies have linked to conditions ranging from diabetes to heart disease, cancer and depression.
Any time a client complains of vague aches and pains (like waking up in the morning and feeling pain when he or she makes a fist), or of experiencing a chronic runny nose with no history of allergies and no recent cold or sinus infection, I suspect inflammation and recommend adding a few simple foods to the diet to help.
This root (probably best known for giving curry its yellowish tint) offers an astonishing range of health benefits, from boosting the body’s antioxidant enzymes to improving brain health and combatting inflammation. It’s been used in Indian and Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It’s not often found as an ingredient in Western foods, but don’t be put off by this: it’s easy to add turmeric to smoothies, soups, teas and salads. For smoothies and soups, add (and grind up) an inch to three inches of the root or a pinch of the powdered spice. For tea, steam six inches of the root in a pot of water, or add a pinch of turmeric powder to a cup of boiling water or to a green tea or other tea. For salads, grate the edges of the root as a seasoning.
This root, which like turmeric has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, not only acts as an anti-inflammatory agent but also aids with digestion and boosts your immune system, helping to fight off colds and infection. Ginger is easy to add to smoothies (grind up one to three inches of the root, or add powdered ginger to taste), tea (at least two inches of the root for a cup, or six inches for a pot), stir fries and marinades (dice or grate the root, or add in powdered form).
This vegetable has been used in Central American cooking for thousands of years. Cayenne is rich in flavonoids, antioxidants that help protect our cells, and is one of the highest natural sources of vitamin A, which we need for healthy immune systems. Cayenne can help to lower joint inflammation in arthritis; to reduce acidity and irritation in the digestive tract; and (used topically) to lessen fibromyalgia pain (a pain associated with inflammation of the nerve cells). I recommend that my clients start slow and small with cayenne pepper, which packs a punch. You can add a small amount of powdered cayenne pepper to any type of soup or meat: start, say, with 1/8th of a teaspoon and move up to 1⁄4.
Tart cherries, either in fresh or juice form (look for juice with no added sugars!), have rich anti-inflammatory properties and offer many other health benefits due to their unique mix of vitamins and nutrients like vitamin A, C, E, K, zinc, and countless antioxidants including the flavonoids isoqueritrin and queritrin. They’ve been shown in scientific studies to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis and sore muscle pain; they also contain melatonin, which can help to boost sleep.
Blueberries are packed with vitamins C, K and manganese, and they also truly deserve their reputation as the king of all antioxidant foods. They’re more packed with antioxidants (particularly flavonoids) than any other fruit or vegetable, and multiple studies have linked them to reduced inflammation, reduced cell damage and improved brain health. (Be sure to look for organic blueberries if at all possible, as blueberries top the Environmental Working Group’s list of foods with high levels of pesticide residues.)
For an added health boost and more “bang for your buck,” you can combine many of the foods mentioned above in anti-inflammatory tonics, like those I discuss in this issue of Woman’s World Magazine.