14 Herbs and Spices That Help with Inflammation

14 Herbs and Spices That Help with Inflammation

Are you ready to go beyond the salt shaker and sample flavors from around the world? Cooking with spices and herbs is a great way to add flavor to your food and expand your palate. Beyond that, many spices offer health benefits—specifically, anti-inflammatory properties. That's why many extracts contain the bioactive compounds of spices in doses that have been standardized to ensure an amount that's been clinically studied to show benefit.

Cooking with these same spices and herbs that are used as tinctures, teas, and oils can contribute to your overall intake of these healthful plants. In fact, there are probably some of these anti-inflammatory seasonings in your spice cabinet right now!

Here's how spices and herbs fight inflammation.

What exactly is inflammation?

Painful inflammation around a womans ankle injury

There are two main types of inflammation. Acute (short term) and chronic inflammation. Chronic, low-level inflammation that continues to develop with age, referred to as "inflammaging," is harmful if left unmanaged over time and can lead to accelerated aging of the body. Some markers and mediators of inflammation used in research and diagnosis include:

  • Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α)
  • Nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-κB)
  • Interleukins
  • Eicosanoids
  • Cyclooxygenases (COX) and Lipoxygenases (LOX)
  • High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP)

TNF-α and interleukins are cytokines (signaling proteins involved in triggering an inflammatory response). For example: fat tissue, especially the type of abdominal visceral fat seen in obesity, can secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines leading to systemic inflammation in people with obesity.

Are herbs and spices anti-inflammatories?

The term "anti-inflammatories" actually refers to a class of medications. In contrast, anti-inflammatory spices—similar to fruits and vegetables—naturally contain active compounds that have been shown to reduce one or more markers of inflammation.

Herbs vs. spices for inflammation

Herbs and spices with many  health benefits in glass bowls

Both herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory properties, but there are some differences between the two. The terms "spices" and "herbs" are sometimes used interchangeably—but in fact, they are distinct botanically as well as in culinary use. A spice is a plant substance used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. For example, turmeric is a spice that is commonly used in the condiment mustard and can play all of the roles just mentioned. These are parts of the plant that are used as spices:

  • Seed
  • Fruit
  • Root
  • Bark

Herbs are also plants, and like spices, they are also used for flavoring or sometimes as a garnish. Certain herbs, such as rosemary, are also used for preserving food because of their antioxidant properties. Parts of the plant that are used as herbs include:

  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Stems

14 anti-inflammatory herbs and spices

1. Rosemary

Rosmary containing rosmarinic acid which has been shown to reduce inflammation

The rosmarinic acid found in this fragrant herb has been shown to reduce inflammation, among other benefits. Rosemary is of particular interest in helping with a variety of neurological conditions. Pair it with turkey or carrots!

2. Basil

Basil in a pot may be helpful with inflammation generated by fat cells

Pesto lovers, rejoice! Basil may be helpful with inflammation generated by fat cells. This is a popular herb in Italian cuisine.

3. Sage

Sage bundle with ursolic acid  which has been shown to help with inflammation

A word to the wise: the ursolic acid found in sage has been shown to help with inflammation, among other benefits – including brain health! Enjoy it with butternut squash.

4. Sesame

Spoonful of sesame that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties

Sesame has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties in preclinical and clinical studies. It goes great with Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines.

5. Turmeric

Spoonful of popular anti-inflammatory spice Turmeric, and its main bioactive constituent, curcumin

Turmeric, and its main bioactive constituent, curcumin, is a very popular anti-inflammatory spice with many studies demonstrating efficacy. Clinical and preclinical studies indicate that turmeric and curcuminoids like curcumin may help manage symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease and more. This spice is used widely in Indian dishes.

6. Ginger

Slices of ginger that has been shown to reduce C-reactive protein and inflammatory cytokines

Ginger has been shown to reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) and inflammatory cytokines in participants with diabetes and osteoarthritis. Whip up a healthy stir-fry with lots of veggies and ginger!

7. Saffron

Basket of saffron which has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects

Saffron has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects in several clinical and preclinical studies. In participants with metabolic syndrome, saffron intake reduced CRP levels and decreased serum concentration of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This spice can be pricy, but it is also available in a more affordable capsule form.

8. Garlic

Garlic has been shown to promote anti-inflammatory activity

Yet another reason to LOVE garlic – it has been shown to promote anti-inflammatory activity in clinical studies. In a study of overweight and obese women with osteoarthritis, garlic reduced pain severity and production of the pro-inflammatory adipocytokine (a cytokine produced by fat cells) called resistin, which has been correlated with insulin resistance.

9. Caraway

Spoonful of caraway which may be beneficial in inflammatory bowel conditions like colitis

Caraway seeds are used in a variety of ways. They can be paired with pork or cabbage – but also used in British seed cake! Some data suggests that it may be beneficial in inflammatory bowel conditions like colitis.

10. Cardamom

Handful of cardamonwhich may reduce levels of CRP and inflammatory cytokines

This warming spice, often found in Indian desserts, has several clinical and preclinical studies demonstrating anti-inflammatory effects. Cardamom may reduce levels of CRP and inflammatory cytokines. It is thought to exert its anti-inflammatory effects through inhibition of the NF-κB pathway.

11. Nutmeg

Nutmeg may have potential as a pain reliever due to its inhibition of COX enzymes

Nutmeg has some preclinical data indicating it may have potential as a pain reliever due to its inhibition of COX enzymes, a mechanism similar to some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Did you know it is a secret ingredient in some of your favorite Italian pasta dishes?

12. Paprika

Spoonful of paprika one study showed that paprika prevented an inflammatory response from UV damage to skin

Interestingly, one study showed that paprika prevented an inflammatory response from UV damage to skin. Paprika also reduced the abdominal fat area and BMI in healthy overweight volunteers without adverse effects. Add some color to chicken, shrimp and cauliflower with paprika!

13. Cayenne pepper

Mortar with cayenne pepper  which in the right amounts can help with inflammation and relieve pain

Are you a spicy food lover? Capsaicin is an active compound found in hot peppers. When used topically in the right amounts, it can help with inflammation and relieve pain.

14. Cinnamon

Cinnamon may help with age-related inflammation

Studies suggest that cinnamon may help with age-related inflammation. Add some to fresh apples or stir it in your oatmeal.

 

Holli Ryan is a registered dietitian and nutritionist

About the Author: Holli Ryan is a food and nutrition expert, Registered and Licensed Dietitian-Nutritionist, health and wellness writer, blogger, and social media specialist based in South Florida. In her free time she enjoys photography, cooking, art, music, and nature.

 

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