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6 Natural Supplements & Herbs to Lower Inflammation

Written by Mathew Eng, PharmD | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Mathew Eng, PharmD | Last updated:

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There are many natural ways to lower inflammation and pain in the body. Many people turn to supplements for this purpose, but which ones are backed by strong clinical evidence? Learn more here.

Natural Anti-Inflammatories

Many people who suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions are always looking for foods, lifestyle changes, and supplements that might help them improve their quality of life. In this post, we discuss natural substances that have produced promising results in clinical trials.

Keep in mind, however, that none of these substances have been approved by the FDA for the purpose of decreasing inflammation, and none should be used in place of a medication your doctor prescribes. If you’re interested in using any of these as a complementary strategy, talk to your doctor first to avoid adverse effects and unexpected interactions.

1) Curcumin

Curcumin is an active component of turmeric, which has been the subject of extensive research into its anti-inflammatory effects.

In a study of 89 patients with ulcerative colitis, 1 g of curcumin in addition to typical drugs (sulfasalazine or mesalamine) reduced relapse rates [1].

In 45 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 500 mg of curcumin improved tenderness, joint swelling, and other symptoms better than diclofenac sodium (50 mg) [2].

In 241 patients with hay fever, 500 mg of curcumin daily improved symptoms (sneezing, itching, runny nose, and congestion) after 2 months [3].

Curcumin is available as emulsions, tablets, capsules, powders, nanoparticles, and liposomal encapsulations.

It has limited bioavailability due to poor absorption and rapid breakdown. Combining curcumin and piperine (from black pepper) may increase curcumin’s bioavailability by as much as 2000%, which is why many supplements contain both substances [4, 5].

Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric that has been beneficial in a range of inflammatory diseases. It’s often combined with piperine to improve bioavailability.

2) Boswellia

Boswellia, also known as Indian frankincense, is an extract taken from the Boswellia serrata tree. It reduces inflammation by blocking 5-lipoxygenase, similar to corticosteroids. Traditional practitioners use boswellia against chronic inflammatory conditions, and there’s some clinical evidence to back them up [6, 7].

Boswellia is most promising as an anti-inflammatory in arthritis. In a meta-analysis of 260 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 400 mg of boswellia extract reduced swelling, pain, and stiffness. Patients were also able to reduce painkiller (NSAIDs) intake and required fewer emergency treatments [8].

In 102 patients with Crohn’s disease, 400 mg of boswellia extract was comparable to the standard treatment for IBD (mesalazine) [7].

70% of patients with asthma showed improvement when taking 300 mg boswellia extract, compared to only 27% in the placebo group [9].

Boswellia is available as a capsule, tablet, or its bark decoction orally [10].

Boswellia has been found to reduce inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and asthma.

3) Cat’s Claw

Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a vine found in tropical areas of South and Central America. It is under investigation as a potential anti-inflammatory supplement, with the strongest evidence coming from studies of osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis.

In a study of 45 patients with osteoarthritis, cat’s claw reduced pain with no significant side effects [11].

Another study of 40 patients with rheumatoid arthritis found that cat’s claw extract reduced the number of reported painful joints after 24 weeks [12].

It decreased inflammation and pain in rats with arthritis [13].

According to cell studies, its mechanism is similar to that of prednisone: it inhibits NF-kB) and blocks other inflammatory compounds (TNF-alpha and IL-1alpha, IL-1beta, IL-17, and IL-4) [14, 15, 16].

Cat’s claw is available as capsules, extracts, tinctures, decoctions, and teas [16].

Cat’s claw reduced inflammation and pain in patients with osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. It’s available as capsules, tincture, or tea.

4) Ginger

In two studies of 267 patients with osteoarthritis, ginger extract (250 and 255 mg) reduced knee pain [17, 18].

In another study of 64 patients with type 2 diabetes, ginger supplementation decreased markers of inflammation like TNF-alpha and hs-CRP [19].

Ginger may fight inflammation by blocking:

  • The production of inflammatory components (COX-1, COX-2, 5- lipoxygenase, NF-κB, prostaglandin, and leukocytes) [20, 21]
  • Immune cells from arriving at the site of inflammation [20]

However, in a study of 75 osteoarthritic patients, 170 mg ginger extract had no benefits compared to placebo. These conflicting results are among the reasons why ginger has not been approved for this purpose, and additional research is required [22].

You can use fresh or ground ginger in cooking. Supplements are available as pills or tinctures [20].

Ginger may help with pain and inflammation, though some studies have produced contradictory results and more research is required. Ginger is available fresh or ground for cooking and as pills or tinctures for supplementation.

5) Bromelain

Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapples. In 77 patients with rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, bromelain (400 mg) improved overall symptoms, reduced stiffness, and improved physical function [23].

In mice with acute asthma, bromelain decreased eosinophils, leukocytes, and autoimmune response [24].

According to cell studies, bromelain blocks inflammatory compounds during excessive inflammation (COX-2, PGE-2, IL-1beta, INF-alpha, IL-6, and TNF-alpha) [25].

However, bromelain also activates these compounds in a healthy immune response, which makes is an immunomodulator [25].

Bromelain is available as tablets, capsules, creams, powders, and tinctures [26].

Bromelain is an enzyme from pineapple that can silence an overactive inflammatory response, such as in asthma or arthritis.

6) Fish Oil

DHA-rich fish oil is one of the products with the best evidence of anti-inflammatory benefits.

In a study of 42 teenagers with painful menstruation, fish oil supplements significantly reduced symptoms and the reported need for NSAIDs [27].

Fish oil also reduced stiffness, pain, and NSAID requirements in multiple studies of patients with rheumatoid arthritis [28, 29, 30].

DHA, an active compound of fish oil, reduced markers of inflammation in healthy men (both untrained and athletic) after exercise [31, 32].

Fish oil supplements are most commonly available as capsules.

DHA-rich fish oil may reduce inflammation in people suffering from dysmenorrhea and rheumatoid arthritis. It also reduced markers of inflammation in healthy people after exercise.

About the Author

Mathew Eng

Mathew Eng

PharmD
Mathew received his PharmD from the University of Hawaii and an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Washington.
Mathew is a licensed pharmacist with clinical experience in oncology, infectious disease, and diabetes management. He has a passion for personalized patient care and believes that education is essential to living a healthy life. His goal is to motivate individuals to find ways to manage their chronic conditions.

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