How To Inhibit NF-kB: The Key To Health And Master Control of Inflammation

You can take the following blood test to indirectly measure if NF-kB is elevated : Th1/Th2/Th17 dominance.  This blood test checks for elevations in IL-2, IL-6, and TNF, all of which are produced by NF-kB.

Introduction to NF-κB

NF-κB (nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells) is a protein complex that reads and copies the DNA (a transcription factor) (R).

NF-kB  is the single most important factor in causing inflammation in the body and virtually all popular herbs inhibit this protein complex (in many/most cells of the body).  Other proteins that are very popular in the literature are the cytokines TNF, IL-1, and IL-6, but NF-kB largely controls the production of these and other cytokines.

NF-κB is activated in response to stress, cytokines (like IL-1b (R) and TNF), free radicals, ultraviolet irradiation, oxidized LDL, and bacterial or viral infections,  cocaine, and ionizing radiation (R).  See a full list below.  With cytokines, the effect is bi-directional, as it induces cytokines and is induced by cytokines.

Oxidative stress/ROS/Free radicals is an important inducer of NF-KB.

NF-κB plays a key role in regulating the immune response to infection.   Chronic activation of NF-κB has been linked to cancer, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases.  Too little activation leads to susceptibility to viral infection and improper immune development (R).

NF-κB is a “rapid-acting” transcription factor, which means that it is present in cells in an inactive state and does not require new protein synthesis in order to become activated (other members of this family include transcription factors such as c-Jun, STATs, and nuclear hormone receptors). This allows NF-κB to be a first responder to harmful cellular stimuli.

Many bacterial products and stimulation of a wide variety of cell-surface receptors lead to NF-κB activation and fairly rapid changes in gene expression.  Pathogens activate NF-κB via Toll-like receptors (TLRs), which is important both innate and adaptive immune responses.

See video on TLRs.

NF-kB, Health, And Performance


It’s important to realize that inflammation in one kind of cell has somewhat different effects as inflammation in another type of cell.

Activating NF-kB in the body causes inflammation and growth and this is something we want to keep to a minimum to prevent chronic disease. However, inducing NF-kB in the brain can increase intelligence by growing neurons.

So occasional spikes of inflammation in the brain can be conducive to enhanced cognitive performance.   Acutely inducing NF-kB is one of the mechanisms by which LLLT enhances our cognitive function (note that this isn’t chronic activation).

Specifically, in the brain, NF-κB is responsible for growth and development and is important for synaptic plasticity, learning, memory, synapse function, and growth of dendrites and dendritic spines.  Some products from its activation are Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), Cytokines (TNF) and Kinases (PKAc)(R).

One potential downside to brain induction of NF-kB is anxiety (R), as mice who are deficient in this transcription factor have reduced levels of anxiety.   This could be the underpinning of a study that showed excessive worry/anxiety coevolved with intelligence in some people (R).

High IQ was associated with a lower degree of worry, but in those diagnosed with GAD, an anxiety disorder, high IQ was associated with a greater degree of worry. (R)  Just a thought.

Another potential downside if activated chronically is depression (R).

Therefore, for the brain, it’s better to be activated in bursts rather than chronically.

Stress activates NF-kB (R), which is why occasional, acute bouts of stress can be extremely beneficial to cognitive enhancement, but chronic stress is harmful, as it chronically activates this protein.

Acute exercise also activates NF-kB temporarily in muscle (R) (and other parts of the body), but, again, chronic and acute activation is different.  Exercise is generally very healthy when not overdone.  The same can be said about sun, in that it activates NF-kB acutely and a small dose of sun is great but too much is harmful.

Like the brain, the heart responds in the same way.  Acute bouts of NF-kB induction can be beneficial to the heart, especially during a heart attack, but chronic activation will cause heart disease. (R)

Eating too much, which causes obesity, is known to cause a lot of health problems.  Obesity and overeating activate NF-kB (R), which explains why obesity is correlated with most chronic diseases.

Activation of Nf-kB in the hypothalamus can cause insulin and leptin resistance and  overeat (via ER stress), creating a vicious cycle (eating causes Nf-kB, which causes more eating, etc..).   (R)

But one must realize that the body is always involved in trade-offs.  When we eat too much and become fat the body realizes this and figures we need to expend this energy by growing, increasing metabolism, etc.. To to do this, it activates NF-kB, which is a master growth regulator in the body.  This in turns allows us to get thinner and expend energy and decrease our fat storage.

Indeed, NF-kB was found to promote energy expenditure and inhibit fat tissue growth. The two effects lead to prevention of adulthood obesity and dietary obesity (R).

But of course, this growth comes from our body’s inflammatory response and increases our risk for cancer and autoimmune disease.  Hence, the tradeoff.

Diseases Associated With Chronic NF-κB Activation


This is only a partial list.  Since NF-kB induces TNF, IL-1, and IL-6, it will contribute to all of the diseases associated with these cytokines.

  • Aging (R),
  • Cancer (R) – about 45 cancers (R),
  • Autoimmune and inflammatory disease (R), Multiple Sclerosis (R), Lupus (R)
  • Heart Disease (R), Atherosclerosis (R), Stroke (R),  Angina (R),
  • Diabetes (R) – Type 1&2 (R),  Insulin resistance (R),
  • Obesity (R)
  • Pain (R)
  • Anxiety (R), Depression (R), Schizophrenia (R), Bipolar (R), Anorexia? (R), 
  • Gut diseases (R), IBS (R), Crohn’s (R), Colitis (R), 
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (R)
  • Arthritis (R), 
  • Migraines (R, R2), Headaches (R), 
  • Allergies (R), Asthma (R), COPD (R)
  • Alzheimer’s (R), Parkinson’s (R), ALS (R)
  • Osteoporosis (R),
  • Sleep apnea (R)
  • Eczema (R), Psoriasis (R)
  • Kidney disease (R), Sarcopenia (R), HIV-1 activation (R), Sepsis (R), Gastritis (R),

Not associated with: Autism (R)

NF-kB Inducers

  • Oxidative stress (R),
  • Psychological Stress (R),
  • Eating too much – too many carbs, fat or protein will activate NF-KB.
  • An unhealthy diet – fruits and veggies contain phytochemicals to inhibit NF-KB (R).  Minerals like Magnesium (R), Chromium (R) and Zinc (R) can inhibit NF-kB.  Also, plant-based foods have phytic acid, which inhibits NF-kB (R).
  • High blood glucose levels (R) – usually because of high glycemic index foods (R)
  • Low active Vitamin D (1,25) (R)
  • Smoking (R)
  • Lectins like ConA (R) (found in legumes)
  • Circadian Rhythm Disruption (R)
  • Sleep deprivation (R),
  • Sun/UV rays (R),
  • Acute exercise (R)
  • Alcohol (R),
  • Excess fat in the blood (R) (from excess fat, carbs or fat tissue/obesity)
  • Obesity (R)
  • Excess saturated fat (R) (but not caprylic acid and lauric acid)
  • Heavy metals (R)
  • High protein diet (via IGF-1) (R)
  • Aldosterone (R) and AngiotensinII (R),
  • Goji Berries (R)
  • Reishi (R) – depends on the cells.  It also inhibits it.
  • Lithium (R) (in intestinal cells)

NF-kB Inhibitors

Inhibiting NF-kB promotes antigen tolerance (R), which means it can reverse some food allergies/intolerances.

All because a substance inhibits NF-kB in one type of cell in the body, it doesn’t mean it’ll inhibit it in all cells.  For example, some of these substances inhibit NF-kB in most of the body but activate it in the brain.


Most fruits and veggies will help inhibit NF-kB.

Top Supplements

Other Supplements

There’s much more that aren’t listed…

Disclaimer and Caveats


  1. Barry

    EGCG – epigallocatechin gallate – safety citations:
    Curr Pharm Des. 2013 ; 19(34): 6141–6147.
    For this, you get Polyphenon E and green tea extract maximum tolerated doses for patients but the data is buried in the body of the paper.

    Chow, H.H.; Cai, Y.; Hakim, I.A.; Crowell, J.A.; Shahi, F.; Brooks, C.A.; Dorr, R.T.; Hara, Y.;
    Alberts, D.S. Pharmacokinetics and safety of green tea polyphenols after multiple-dose
    administration of epigallocatechin gallate and polyphenon E in healthy individuals.
    Clin. Cancer Res. 2003, 9, 3312–3319.
    This paper is a direct study of 4 weeks of dosing with humans. It finds 400mg EGCG twice a day had no more side effects than the placebo group. Blood levels rise over the course of 4-weeks.

    There is a paper that shows that extremely high doses of EGCG in animals, 300mg/kg is toxic – this would be quite hard to obtain in humans. 15g per day for a 110lb person.

    There are also papers out there that demonstrate or hypothesize that empty stomach dosing, Vit C, black pepper increase the bioavailability of EGCG.

    Of course, experience will be individual.

  2. Thomas

    Have you ever helped anyone that had trouble getting good sleep from their nose becoming blocked? For a DIYer which of your articles would be the most beneficial, off the top of your head? Thanks.

    • Low histamine diet is critical. Rinse your nose with a neti pot before sleep. Make sure you sleep with an open window and make sure that you are not in contact with dust mites (put pillow in freezer). Then you can start with tinospora extract, intranasal LLLT, xylitol sinus care spray, pelargonium sidoides (umckaloabo) and maybe beta glucans.

  3. Steve Michaels

    Put a warning sign on EGCG. I went to the ER the other day because of it. It definitely caused damage to my liver, I hope not to get scarring.

    Took 6g NAC over the next 2 days, along with 400 mcg selenium/day and 10g vitamin C. I also shot up a solution of B1, B6,B12 up my butt to make it work better.

    Stay safe,

    • Joe

      EGCG can cause liver damage if too much is taken – like 6 pills a day. 1 pill doesn’t do anything. You probably have an underlying issue or you were taking other things.

      How do you know you got liver damage?

  4. Alex

    Hi there! Is it typo or am I missing something: “Also, plant-based foods have phytic acid, which inhibits phytic acid”?

  5. sam

    You list chocolate as an nf-kb inhibitor but as quite inflammatory in other papers. I’ve found chocolate to be inflammatory and causes me acne, but I love it… how would it inhibit nf-kb?

      • sam

        My experience, according to Hume, Kant, Einstein, is the source. The only thing that is certain is that empirical data. I consume it by itself and it causes my skin to become greasier and for pus to arise full of macrophages and other signs of inflammation.

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