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7 Anti-Inflammatory Supplements to Help with Pain

Published April 16, 2019 (Revised: June 03, 2020) Read Time: 9 minutes
Caitlin Beale

Written By: Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN

Caitlin is a registered dietitian with 9 years of experience. She holds a Master’s of Science in Nutrition as well as a Bachelor of Arts in English. She is also an ACE certified health coach.

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "", "image": "" } }, "headline":"7 Anti-Inflammatory Supplements to Help with Pain", "datePublished":"2019-04-16", "dateModified": "2020-06-03", "description":"Chronic pain and inflammation affect millions of people every day. Find out what supplements can help here.", "image": "" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "Why is chronic inflammation bad for our health?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "The immune system will continue to send out signals to rev up the inflammatory cells, even if it doesn’t need to. It’s as if the immune system is stuck in the “on” position, altering the body’s natural state of balance while potentially damaging healthy tissue. Chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "What are lifestyle factors that can affect inflammation?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "There are certain lifestyle factors that directly affect inflammation, so addressing these is the first step to help you feel better: 1. Stress, 2. Sleep, 3. Exercise, 4. Diet" } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "What are the best anti-inflammatory supplements?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Here are the top 7 evidenced-based anti-inflammatory supplements to help with inflammation and pain: 1. Turmeric, 2. Ginger, 3. Omega-three fatty acids, 4. Frankincense, 5. Melatonin, 6. Alpha-Lipoic Acid, 7. SAM-e" } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What Causes Pain In The Body?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Why Is Chronic Inflammation Bad For Our Health?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">What Are Lifestyle Factors That Can Affect Inflammation?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">What Are The Best Anti-Inflammatory Supplements?</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>An estimated 50 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup></p> <p>For some people it can be dull pain, a minor annoyance. But for others, it can really interfere with quality of life and take away from simple pleasures like playing with grandkids, gardening, cooking, or exercise.</p> <p>Treatments for chronic pain typically focus on targeting inflammation to reduce the pain. While you may be used to reaching for medications, they can often come with unwanted side effects.</p> <p>But did you know that there are natural alternatives to help you feel better? In fact, certain supplements can be as effective, if not more, than over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers without the potential side effects.</p> <p>Read on to learn more about pain and inflammation in your body, and what supplements you can take to help you feel better naturally.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>What causes pain in the body?</h2> <p>Pain is most often caused by an inflammatory response. Inflammation is a natural response by the body’s immune system to help heal and repair. </p> <p>Both over-the-counter and natural options are available to help with pain by decreasing inflammation.</p> <p>Because inflammation in the body is an important part of healing, it isn’t always a bad thing. Short-term inflammation is called acute inflammation (see more on this below). But when it persists (also known as chronic inflammation), symptoms and other health problems can arise.</p> <h3>Acute inflammation</h3> <p>If you get an injury or a cut, the immune system releases messengers (known as mediators) to let your body know to start working on healing the damaged area. You may notice warmth, redness, or pain at the site due to an increase in blood flow and swelling.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup></p> <p>This is acute inflammation, and it is a healthy protective reaction that the body creates to help you recover.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup> It can last for minutes to days, depending on the type of damage.</p> <h3>Chronic inflammation</h3> <p>If the pain or inflammation happens more long-term (months to years), a continuous low-level immune response occurs. This is chronic inflammation.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup> This type of inflammation can affect many parts of the body over time, even if it is initially caused by an injury or infection. </p> <p>Chronic inflammation can also be caused by poor gut health<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup>, obesity<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup>, autoimmune disease<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup>, and an unhealthy diet<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup>. Over time, this can affect our health.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>Why is chronic inflammation bad for our health?</h2> <p>Like we’ve said, acute inflammation is a healthy response, but chronic inflammation causes wear and tear to our body.</p> <p>The immune system will continue to send out signals to rev up the inflammatory cells, even if it doesn’t need to. It’s as if the immune system is stuck in the “on” position, altering the body’s natural state of balance while potentially damaging healthy tissue.</p> <p>Chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup>, stroke, diabetes<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup>, Alzheimer’s, and cancer<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a></sup>. </p> <p>Lowering the inflammatory response is how you calm down the immune system and reduce pain. This actually goes for both acute and chronic inflammation.</p> <p>In acute cases, pain and inflammation will often self-regulate without the need for treatment beyond a few days of pain relievers. Chronic inflammation and pain, however, may require more steps to keep it controlled.</p> <p>Medical over-the-counter options for treatment include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or Aleve. These can come with side effects, however, including ulcers, heartburn, kidney disease, and increased bleeding.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup></p> <p>Given the seriousness of these side effects, many people are searching for natural alternatives to deal with chronic pain and inflammation.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="chronic inflammation"> <h2 id="section3">What are lifestyle factors that can affect inflammation?</h2> <p>There are certain lifestyle factors that directly affect inflammation, so addressing them is the first step to help you feel better:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Stress</strong>: Chronic stress can make your body’s response to inflammation less effective. The same hormones (like cortisol) that are released when you are stressed also play an essential role in activating the healing and repair process when you get hurt. If you are always stressed, the body can be focused more on using cortisol to help with your stress response instead of helping to react and reduce inflammation.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a></sup></li> <li><strong>Sleep</strong>: The same internal body clocks that control our sleep cycles (known as circadian rhythms) also help to regulate our immune system.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup> If our sleep is disrupted (both by too much<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">15</a></sup> or too little sleep<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">16</a></sup>), it can alter our immune functions leading to increases in inflammation in the body.</li> <li><strong>Exercise</strong>: Moderate daily exercise can reduce markers of inflammation in your body. C-reactive protein, a lab value that indicates inflammation, has been shown to decrease with exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">17</a></sup> Also, while exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do if you are in pain, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">movement</a> can actually help reduce pain by addressing stiffness and improving mobility.</li> <li><strong>Diet</strong>: A diet high in phytonutrients and <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">fiber</a> powerfully fights back against inflammation in your body.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">18</a></sup> Several groups of foods are especially beneficial, including healthy oils, brightly colored produce, and fatty fish. On the other hand, certain foods can also increase inflammation by spiking your blood sugar, such as refined carbohydrates and processed foods.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">19</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>These important lifestyle factors can help you to quickly reduce inflammation in the body. Another added bonus? They also support your overall wellness.</p> <p>All of these are key to helping with pain, but sometimes even after implementing these steps, you can still have symptoms. This is when taking supplements can help.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="anti-inflammatory supplements"> <h2 id="section4">What are the best anti-inflammatory supplements?</h2> <p>While the supplement world can sometimes feel overwhelming because there are so many options, certain anti-inflammatory supplements are better than others because they have well-documented research behind them.</p> <p>It’s always a good idea to focus on getting nutrients from your food first. But supplements can provide something called a therapeutic dose. A therapeutic dose means that it provides a large enough amount of the nutrient/herb/vitamin to cause a noticeable effect or correct a deficiency in your body<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">20</a></sup>. For example, many of the best natural anti-inflammatories come from herbs and spices you can find in your kitchen, but the amount you need to take to see results may be too large to get from your food alone.</p> <p>Here are the top 7 evidenced-based anti-inflammatory supplements to help with inflammation and pain:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Turmeric</strong>: <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Turmeric</a> is a spice used traditionally in Indian cooking. You may have heard of this bright yellow spice as it has grown to be one of the top anti-inflammatory supplements, and for a good reason. The active compound in turmeric is called curcumin and has been well studied for its anti-inflammatory effects, including chronic pain. <p>Turmeric may help reduce immune responses in autoimmune conditions, as well as osteoarthritis and diabetic nephropathy. Turmeric works by turning off inflammatory mediators (remember these are immune system messengers) that are associated with arthritis and chronic inflammatory joints, making turmeric a good pick for combating pain.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">21</a></sup></p> <p>In one study (conducted on animals) that compared ginger and turmeric to an anti-inflammatory drug, turmeric worked significantly better to help with arthritis pain.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">22</a></sup> Ginger also was more effective than the medication (which will be discussed below), so taking them <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">together</a> may be even more helpful.</p> <p>Another study found that over three months, a curcumin supplement improved symptoms of osteoarthritis by almost 60%.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">23</a></sup> It also can increase antioxidants in the body to fight back against free radical damage that can contribute to inflammation.</p> <p>Supplementing is more effective than cooking with turmeric alone, as it enables you to get that important therapeutic dose. For optimal absorption of curcumin, it needs to be paired with black pepper and lipids to support bioavailability (meaning: your body doesn’t do a good job of absorbing it otherwise).<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">24</a></sup></p></li> <li><strong>Ginger</strong>: Ginger is another spice traditionally used both in medicine as well as cooking. Most often associated with digestive support, it also has strong inflammation-busting properties. <p>As mentioned above, ginger helped to improve osteoarthritis symptoms better than an anti-inflammatory medication.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">25</a></sup> Ginger also has been shown to provide the same pain relief as ibuprofen for people with osteoarthritis<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">26</a></sup> and can be as effective as NSAIDs for pain from migraines and rheumatoid arthritis.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">27</a></sup> </p> <p>If you are someone who notices aches and pains after exercise, ginger may be your new friend. In another study that examined the effect of ginger on muscle pain caused by exercise, ginger significantly reduced levels of pain.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">28</a></sup></p> <p>Ginger also has been shown to decrease inflammatory markers in the colon, potentially even reducing colon cancer risk.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">29</a></sup></p></li> <li><strong>Omega-three fatty acids</strong>: Found in fish and <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">krill oil supplements</a>, the benefits of omega-three fatty acids are mostly due to the two anti-inflammatory oils called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). <p>EPA and DHA help to block the mediators signaled during the inflammatory immune response.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">30</a></sup> They are converted into compounds known as resolvins, which are powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals that help to signal to “resolve” the inflammatory response.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">31</a></sup></p> <p>Omega-three fatty acid supplementation can also help reduce the inflammatory symptoms related to arthritis.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">32</a></sup> Most of us don’t eat enough fish in our diet to see the benefit, so supplements help give us the right amount to make a difference.</p></li> <li><strong>Boswellia</strong>: Also known as frankincense, Boswellia is a resin extracted from a tree. It is often used in Ayurvedic medicine (a traditional Indian practice) and is known for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. <p>Boswellia has shown considerable anti-inflammatory effects in research on its impact on the body, especially with reducing pain and improving mobility for people with osteoarthritis.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">33</a></sup> In one study, compounds in Boswellia prevented the loss of cartilage and stopped the autoimmune response in the body within a week.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">34</a></sup></p> <p>Because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties, Boswellia has also been shown to help several chronic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">35</a></sup></p></li> <li><strong>Melatonin</strong>. A hormone secreted by the pineal gland in your brain, melatonin may help to support your immune system by decreasing oxidative stress (or the imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals in your body). Oxidative stress can cause damage to your body. <p>In a study examining people who participated in high-intensity exercise, melatonin reduced oxidative stress on the body by decreasing the production of inflammatory messengers.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">36</a></sup></p> <p>Melatonin is primarily used for sleep, and as you learned, rest is essential for decreasing inflammation. Just be careful to experiment with it at night because it can make you very sleepy!</p></li> <li><strong>Alpha-Lipoic Acid</strong>. Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is synthesized in the body but is helpful for inflammation and antioxidant activity in supplement form. ALA works with the energy producers of your cells (known as mitochondria) to ramp up antioxidant activity and reduce oxidative stress. <p>In research, ALA has been shown to help with diseases of inflammation, including heart disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">37</a></sup> ALA has been shown to stop specific inflammatory signaling molecules.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">38</a></sup></p></li> <li><strong>SAM-e</strong>. SAM-e (stands for S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine) has been studied for its benefit on osteoarthritis <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">knee pain</a>. SAM-e is naturally occurring in the body, produced by your liver.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">39</a></sup> It may help with cartilage growth<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">40</a></sup> and has been shown to as effective as NSAIDs for osteoarthritis knee pain, though it may take a little longer to work.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">41</a></sup> <p>SAM-e may also help to support the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known as a “feel-good” chemical that improves your mood and may help decrease the feelings of pain.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">42</a></sup></p></li> </ul> <p>Balanced with improvements in stress, sleep, exercise, and diet, these supplements can make a real impact on pain in your body while reducing the risk of side effects from medications.</p> <p>While the options listed are generally safe, remember any time you start a new supplement, it’s essential to check in with your healthcare practitioner. Also, unlike medications, some of these supplements may take a little longer for you to make a difference, so don’t give up if you don’t notice a change on the first day.</p> <p>Taken regularly as part of a healthy lifestyle, anti-inflammatory supplements can improve your quality of life long-term.</p> </section> </article>

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