10 natural anti-inflammatories: what they are, why they help and how to use them

Nature provides us with numerous natural anti-inflammatories. Let’s see the most powerful and why they help.

Inflammation is classified as a defensive mechanism of innate immunity and is triggered by microbial infections or tissue damage of various origins. The inflammatory response represents a completely physiological event and aims to restore the functionality of the area affected by the damaging event.

During an acute inflammation, the typical symptoms of the response (redness, warmth, swelling and pain) resolve in a relatively short time. When the mechanisms of inflammation persist over time and silently, we speak of chronic low-grade inflammation. This condition, no longer physiological, is based on various triggering factors (eg: incorrect diet) and participates in various pathological conditions.

Sometimes, inflammatory conditions need to be treated with specific substances, which are known collectively as anti- inflammatories. Generally speaking, these substances work by inhibiting the action of pro-inflammatory mediators or by reducing their production within the body.

In addition to synthetic anti-inflammatories, which are often associated with adverse effects of varying degrees, various natural anti -inflammatories are commercially available, mostly deriving from the botanical environment. Subsequently, some natural remedies with a strong and documented anti-inflammatory power will be described, deepening the relative integration.

10 natural anti-inflammatories

As mentioned earlier, there are various natural agents with alleged or documented therapeutic effects, whose experimental study, in this context, is aimed at finding anti- inflammatory remedies that are effective and safe for the consumer. In order to provide some more details on the subject, a rundown of some natural anti-inflammatories on the market follows.

Referring to the individual descriptions for more specific qualitative aspects, it may be useful to anticipate some general characteristics of a quality supplement. First of all, it is important to check the composition of the products, in order to exclude the presence of artificial additives, preservatives or dyes: in general, a good product should not contain substances in excess of the active ingredient sought.

Secondly, it is good practice that the contents of the package are not exposed to light: it is advisable to prefer, for example, products contained in dark glass. In addition, it is a good idea to buy supplements that do not deviate excessively from the average market prices, in order not to run into poor production quality and raw materials. Finally, a good supplement will contain information on the label about its usability in case of allergies or intolerances. Now let’s see what are 10 natural anti-inflammatories that really work.

1. Devil’s claw

Among the most studied phytotherapeutic remedies for inflammation, the devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a herbaceous plant found in the arid steppes of South Africa and, in particular, in the Kalahari desert. In the field of folk medicine, its roots make up oral preparations to be taken in the treatment of certain conditions, such as fever and rheumatism. Other applications of “etnomendicina” include the treatment of post-partum pain, menstrual pain, ulcers and inflammatory diseases affecting the intestine. Devil’s claw infusions are also associated with the treatment of rheumatism.

The therapeutic activity of the devil’s claw depends on its chemical constituents and, in particular, the harpagoside, which appears to act on pain by various mechanisms. In particular, laboratory observations show an attenuating effect on the markers of inflammation and oxidative stress.

The recommended supplements consist of preparations in capsules or tablets, or in fluid extracts for internal use, indicated for the treatment of pain in any joint (eg: knee, elbow, wrist), neck pain, back pain, etc. A product that works will contain an extract titrated at 2%, or slightly more, in harpagoside. For the specific posology and methods of administration it is necessary to consult the package leaflet of each product, although it is advisable to take the active ingredient on a full stomach.

2. Boswellia

Belonging to the Burseraceae family, boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is a branched plant that grows in the mountainous and arid regions of India, North Africa and the Middle East. Being a remedy used since ancient times, boswellia is definitely known in the context of Ayurvedic medicine, boasting different and varied therapeutic applications.

Modern sciences relating to medicine and pharmacology highlight its anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities, mostly attributed to the so-called boswellic acids. The latter are obtained from the resin of the plant and appear to act at the cellular level by inhibiting the synthesis of an enzyme involved in pro-inflammatory processes (5-lipoxygenase).

At pharmacies, drugstores and herbalists you can find supplements based on boswellia, mostly available in capsules, tablets or tablets for oral intake. In addition, it is possible to find formulations for topical use or in the form of mother tincture. Boswellia is therefore described as an anti- inflammatory for the joints, and related products are recommended for the treatment of some painful conditions, such as joint inflammation, tendonitis and arthritis.

With the recommendation not to exceed the doses recommended by the manufacturer, a good supplement will contain boswellia extract at a certain dosage which, in the case of capsule and tablet products (most used), is around 500 mg per unit.

3. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)

Although its name suggests something artificial, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring substance and can be obtained from the consumption of plant foods. Specifically, it is an organic compound that contains sulfur, which is used, starting from methylsulfonylmethane, to produce other molecules.

In the context of complementary and alternative medicine, methylsulfonylmethane is proposed for the treatment of chronic painful conditions, muscle damage and, more generally, inflammatory states. Laboratory studies conducted both on cells and on animal models, have in fact highlighted the potential therapeutic effects of this substance, which seems to have a strong ability to penetrate cell membranes and impact on the mechanisms of inflammation. Among these, the ability to reduce the expression of pro-inflammatory substances (cytokines) has been highlighted.

A good MSN supplement will be structured in capsules or tablets, containing, for a single daily administration, one gram of the active ingredient. For the purpose of effectiveness, MSM supplements often also contain vitamin C, which is able to enhance the effect of the product.

4. Omega 3

Omega -3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids defined as “essential” for the human body. In this regard, they must be taken with food and / or supplementation, as they cannot be synthesized within the body. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is the progenitor of Omega-3, from which EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), or the biologically active Omega-3s, are produced.

Several scientific evidences attribute to Omega-3 an important modulating action on the inflammatory response. In particular, these essential fatty acids act at the cellular level, affecting the levels of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory substances. Omega-3 supplementation is usually recommended for supporting cardiovascular health and for the treatment of chronic inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases.

An Omega-3 based product that can be considered useful will be structured in capsules containing EPA and DHA in quantities of at least 1000 mg. A good supplement will also be added with antioxidant substances such as vitamin E, capable of both preserving the active ingredient from oxidative stress and enhancing its absorption. Being composed of fish oil, Omega-3 supplements must possess the IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) certification, aimed at declaring the qualitative aspects. As for the daily dose of Omega-3, it is preferable not to exceed 2000 mg, to be taken shortly before meals.

5. Calendula

Fully included among medicinal plants, calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a herbaceous species belonging to the botanical family of Astereaceae. Various healing properties have been attributed to the floral extracts of calendula and, in particular, to the bioactive components contained in them, among which the analgesic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities stand out. Among the bioactive components identified are substances known as terpenes, flavonoids, carotenoids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The few studies supporting the anti- inflammatory activity of calendula have been carried out on laboratory animals, showing a positive effect on the symptoms of inflammation. In this regard, it has been suggested that marigold flower extracts act by inhibiting some pro-inflammatory mediators. A subsequent study conducted on cells supports the usefulness of these extracts for external use (eg, anti-inflammatory compresses for pimples, burns, etc.).

Typically, a good calendula supplement is commercially available in the form of a bottle of about 200ml, containing the liquid floral extract in pure water and double-distilled vegetable glycerin. These products are recommended for the soothing treatment of the oropharyngeal mucosa (sore throat, irritation of the upper respiratory tract). The daily dose indicated by the manufacturer is usually diluted in water, which can be consumed at any time of the day. For topical use, however, there are calendula-based creams to be applied to the skin, in the area affected by inflammation.

6. White willow

The white willow is a plant belonging to the Salicaceae family and is classified under the name of Salix alba. It is a very common tree plant throughout Europe, mostly in wetlands.

Used since ancient times for phytotherapeutic purposes, extracts of white willow bark boast a certain content in polyphenols, flavonoids and other biologically active components, although salicin represents the prominent component. In fact, it is to salicin that anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic effects are attributed, whose efficacy seems to be expressed, at the cellular level, through the regulation of pro-inflammatory substances. To date, white willow extract is used for the treatment of osteoarthritis, joint pain and chronic low back pain.

White willow supplements are commercially available in the form of capsules or liquid solutions. The products may vary depending on the percentage of salicin contained in them, which can fluctuate from 15 to 50% and, based on this parameter, will report different dosages. In any case, it is good practice to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. In general, the capsules are consumed with meals, while the liquid solutions are diluted in water and consumed preferably after a meal.

7. Bromelain

Classified as a powerful natural anti-inflammatory , bromelain is a complex blend of enzymatic substances and is derived from the fruit and stem of the pineapple plant (Ananas cosmosus).

By virtue of its healing properties, already known in ancient times, pineapple is fully included among the remedies of folk medicine, still constituting a frequent protagonist of herbal preparations. In this regard, bromelain-based preparations are recommended for the treatment of painful and inflammatory conditions affecting different areas of the body, such as the respiratory, musculoskeletal and urogenital systems. According to several studies supporting these applications, bromelain works by reducing most of the pro-inflammatory mediators.

A bromelain supplement that can be defined as good quality will be structured in slow-release capsules or tablets, which will contain high titer bromelain. An optimal concentration foresees 2500 GDU / g (parameter that measures the activity and therefore the power), considering a single daily intake of 1000 mg, to be made with a sip of water and on an empty stomach.

8. Turmeric

Known to most as a spice with a bitter taste, turmeric is known in the nutraceutical world for its healing properties, being described, among other things, as an effective natural anti-inflammatory. Turmeric has its origin in the Asian area and owes its name to the herbaceous plant from which it derives, namely Curcuma longa.

The documented anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric are attributed to the biologically active components present within it, among which curcumin stands out notably. Several researches highlight the effects exerted by curcumin, which seems to counter inflammatory processes through different mechanisms. Specifically, it appears that curcumin can interfere with oxidative stress and impact the levels of pro-inflammatory mediators (cytokines). In this regard, curcumin is recommended for general inflammatory conditions (respiratory, intestinal, osteoarticular) and for trauma.

The supplements are available from the classic commercial channels (pharmacy, parapharmacy and herbalist’s shop) and they are mostly structured products in capsules. A good supplement will contain the active ingredient of turmeric, or curcumin, in the quantities of about 500 mg per capsule and also contains piperine, a molecule that increases its bioavailability. Although it is a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, the daily dose of curcumin is around 1000 mg, to be taken at mealtimes.

9. Blackcurrant

Black currant (Ribes nigrum) is a woody shrub typical of cold areas (Continental Europe, Russia) and, undoubtedly known for the tendentially sour aroma of its fruits, has properties that go beyond food consumption. This botanical species is in fact rich in biologically active substances, which are interesting from a phytotherapeutic point of view.

In particular, a certain content of polyphenols was detected, and mostly anthocyanins, the concentration of which depends on the growing conditions of the plant. Among other things, these substances have been attributed anti- inflammatory potential, with attenuating effects, at the cellular level, on pro-inflammatory mechanisms and oxidative stress.

The supplements that can be purchased today are produced starting from the bud extract of the plant, obtaining products in capsules or glycerine macerates. The blackcurrant bud extract has anti- inflammatory properties that are compared to those of cortisone; it is therefore indicated in respiratory tract infections (bronchitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis…), in allergic rhinitis, in conjunctivitis. These products are also recommended to treat inflammatory conditions affecting the joints, skin and mucous membranes, as well as the symptoms of seasonal allergies.. Both the products in capsules and those in liquid solution must be taken with water and preferably between meals, following the dosage indicated by the manufacturer.

10. Meadowsweet

The meadowsweet belongs to the Rosaceae family, is known in botany as Filipendula ulmaria (sometimes also as Spiraea meadowsweet) and is native to Europe and Asia. It is a herbaceous species used in traditional European medicine for the treatment of various pathological conditions, by virtue of the curative properties attributed to it. In particular, the meadowsweet seems to possess antipyretic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, mostly attributed to the various phenolic components present in the different sections of the plant. These substances are biologically active and appear to attenuate inflammatory mechanisms through a complex network of cellular regulation.

The products based on meadowsweet are indicated for treating inflammation of the joints, favoring their functionality. They are available in the relevant common points of sale and are generally available in the form of capsules or liquid preparations. In both cases, it is advisable to follow the instructions in the package leaflet, both as regards the dosage and how to take it.

Summary table of the main natural anti-inflammatories

For greater clarity, we report below a summary table on the effects of the main natural anti-inflammatories that we have seen above.

Anti-inflammatory:Works for:
Devil’s clawJoint pain, neck pain, back pain, headache, intestinal inflammation
BoswelliaTendinitis, arthritis, joint inflammation in general
MSMMuscle aches, inflammation in general
Omega 3Chronic inflammations, cardiovascular health
CalendulaInflammation of the skin, burns, inflammation of the throat and upper respiratory tract
White willowOsteoarthritis, joint pain, chronic low back pain
BromelainInflammation of the respiratory, musculoskeletal and urogenital systems
TurmericIntestinal and osteroarticular inflammation, trauma
BlackcurrantInflammation of the joints, skin and mucous membranes, seasonal allergies
Meadowsweet Inflammation of the joints

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