If there was a "bad I-word," it would be inflammation. As it's considered a driver of disease and premature aging, you probably want to know what you can do to snuff the damaging fires within your own body.
That's why we turned to three doctors to get the scoop on what they do daily to tamp down inflammation and stay well.
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1. Prioritize Probiotics and Prebiotics
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. "When gut bacteria encounter that fiber, it's fermented, which releases short-chain fatty acids, products that keep the integrity of the gut intact," Supriya Rao, MD, a gastroenterologist who practices in Lowell, Massachusetts, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
As a result, a healthy bacterial balance and diversity, as well as better GI barrier integrity, has been linked with decreased inflammation in the gut, points out 2018 research in Current Developments in Nutrition.
Skip the supplement and go right to filling your diet with foods naturally rich in probiotics and prebiotics, Dr. Rao says. "I eat a pretty high-fiber diet, plus fermented foods like kimchi, kefir and miso," she explains.
Rather than focus on specific foods rich in prebiotics, she suggests packing a variety of plants into your diet. Specifically, she aims to eat 30 different plants per week. That includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.
2. Load Up on Antioxidants
A plant-heavy diet wins again. "For me, nutrition and food choice is the most powerful way I keep inflammation at bay," Susan Blum, MD, MPH, the founder and director of Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York, and author of Healing Arthritis, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"One of the pathways to inflammation is from those free radicals that build in your cells and need to be extinguished by antioxidants. If you aren't eating enough [of them], there can be tissue damage and inflammation," she explains.
Take a page from Dr. Blum’s book and try her antioxidant drink, which she sips every morning:
In a blender, combine half an apple, half a lemon, parsley, dark green leafy greens (e.g. kale, spinach, mustard greens, chard) and liquid fish oil (for omega 3-s). “I get my antioxidant, anti-inflammation fix. It’s a great way to start the day,” Dr. Blum says.
3. Sip Green Tea
Another anti-inflammatory morning habit? Drink green tea. It's something that Debra Jaliman, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City and author of Skin Rules, does every morning.
"It's rich in polyphenols, which are natural compounds that reduce inflammation," she says. What's more, the brew also packs EGCG, a powerful antioxidant plant compound (called a catechin) that guards cells against damage that plays a role in aging and chronic diseases, Dr. Jaliman adds.
Green tea can beautify your outside, too. "I use a serum with green tea and resveratrol, which is high in antioxidants to fight free radical damage," she says.
In a 2019 review in Nutrients, applying green tea to skin was found to help protect skin cells from sunburn (still: wear SPF), lessen redness and dark spots from sun damage, improve skin thickness and smooth out fine lines.
4. Tweak Habits to Get Better Sleep
Dr. Blum uses the Oura Ring to track her sleep — a priority, because of just how important zzzs are for your overall wellbeing.
"Sleep is when the body cleanses, rebalances and heals, and consistency with sleep is critical for a positive mood, strong energy and to feel good in your body," she explains. Without good sleep, she wakes up "puffy and inflamed."
Not only does Dr. Blum stick to a bedtime of 10:30 p.m. each night, but tracking has given her unique insight into how her daytime habits affect her sleep.
"I've learned about things that have a negative effect, like a glass of wine or working out too hard the day before or too much sun," she says.
Knowing what disturbs your sleep — and adjusting your habits to get a sounder night of rest — can pay off. Having more disturbed sleep is associated with increased inflammatory markers, according to a July 2016 review and meta-analysis in Biological Psychiatry.
- Current Developments in Nutrition: “Health Effects and Sources of Prebiotic Dietary Fiber.”
- Nutrients: “A Review of the Role of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) in Antiphotoaging, Stress Resistance, Neuroprotection, and Autophagy.”
- Biological Psychiatry. “Sleep Disturbance, Sleep Duration, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies and Experimental Sleep Deprivation.”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.