Medically Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Swick, MS, RDN
What Is Chronic Inflammation and What Supplements Can Help?
A recent study concluded that 60% of Americans had one or more medical conditions marked by chronic inflammation. If you're one of them, you know how pain and other symptoms of inflammation can interfere with your daily life. As conventional treatments fail to address the problem completely, many people turn to supplements to help reduce comfort and manage inflammation-related conditions. Read on to learn more about which supplements may benefit you in your fight against inflammation.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is part of the body's natural defense system. In a properly functioning body, inflammation occurs in response to a threat. Say you get stung by a bee. Your immune system identifies the toxin from the bee's stinger as a foreign substance and begins activating essential tissues to protect you from it. Blood flow increases to the area to stimulate healing, and chemicals are released to fight the toxin. This causes your skin to get red and swell. Gradually, the inflammation subsides as the immune system works to heal the sting. Doctors refer to this response as acute inflammation.
What Is Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation is inflammation that persists for a prolonged period of time. You can develop chronic inflammation in many parts of the body. Often, the inflammation occurs in muscles, joints, and organs, but it's also possible to develop chronic inflammation of the skin.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation can be caused by:
- Auto-immune conditions that cause the body to attack healthy tissues
- Continuous exposure to an irritant such as dust
- Exposure to pollutants, ultraviolet energy, and other sources of free radicals that damage cells
- Improperly formed cells that make the body unable to regulate inflammation
- Previous infection by bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms
- Repeated episodes of acute inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a symptom of many medical conditions, such as:
- Auto-immune conditions
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Heart disease
Age, low sex hormones, lack of sleep, smoking, and obesity increase your risk of developing chronic inflammation. In addition, diets high in fats and refined sugar may contribute to the problem.
Chronic Inflammation Symptoms
Some symptoms of chronic inflammation are:
- Acid reflux disease
- Changes in weight
- Frequent infections
- Muscle, joint, and bone pain
- Sleep problems
Conventional Chronic Inflammation Treatment
Doctors often prescribe medications to treat chronic inflammation. Depending on how the inflammation presents itself and what medical conditions a person has, drugs may be prescribed to reduce inflammation or treat the problem causing the symptoms. Commonly prescribed drugs include:
- Corticosteroids to interrupt the process that triggers inflammation
- Metformin for diabetics
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen for pain and swelling
- Statins for heart disease
While medications can often improve symptoms, they may not eliminate inflammation. Some drugs are also not safe to use long-term. Over time, people may develop a resistance to medication and find it no longer fully addresses their symptoms. People may turn to dietary supplements to use alongside or instead of medications if they experience these issues.
Commonly Used Supplements for Inflammation
At this time, there is not enough evidence to prove that any supplement will be effective at addressing chronic inflammation for everyone; however, some supplements have shown promising early results, such as:
- Vitamin C is an essential vitamin found in many fruits and vegetables. Scientists speculate that a positive vitamin C-inflammation fighting relationship may exist due to the essential nutrient's role in the immune system. Your body needs vitamin C to regulate certain immune system activities, including inflammation. In addition, studies have shown another positive aspect in the relationship between vitamin c and inflammation because of the nutrient's antioxidant actions. Vitamin C helps to fight the effects of free radicals that can contribute to inflammation.
- Quercetin is a pigment found in many plants that acts as an antioxidant. Quercetin inflammation studies have yielded positive results. One conducted on cells in a laboratory showed that quercetin reduced the number of markers of inflammation. In another small study, quercetin pigments reduced pain and stiffness related to rheumatoid arthritis to a greater degree than a placebo.
- NAC is the abbreviation for n-acetyl cysteine, an amino acid that your body can manufacture on its own and absorb from foods. Some scientists believe that NAC reduces inflammation because it is needed to produce glutathione, your body's chief antioxidant.
- Elderberry supplements are derived from the fruit of the Sambucus tree. The berries are known to be rich in antioxidants. Various small studies into elderberry and inflammation control have produced positive findings. One showed that elderberry might help to reduce skin inflammation in people with acne. Another found that elderberry helped mediate the body's immune response to cold and flu viruses to shorten the duration of symptoms.
If you're interested in taking a supplement to address inflammation, check out brands such as Body Kitchen, that use natural and clinically-tested ingredients. Body Kitchen makes a variety of products that help lower chances of inflammation. It’s also wise to talk to your doctor first. Some supplements may interact with medications. A health care provider can recommend the supplements that are most likely to benefit you.