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The Anti-Inflammation Checklist

Discover common targets of chronic inflammation — and quick ways to put a damper on it

En español | Atherosclerosis. Diabetes. Arthritis. Obesity. Psoriasis. Asthma. Reflux. Chronic fatigue. Gum disease. Tendinitis. They’re as different as ailments can be, and they strike literally from head to toe. Yet all these varied conditions have one common symptom: inflammation.

“Inflammation drives the aging process faster than any other biomarker,” says physician Tasneem Bhatia, author of The 21-Day Belly Fix. “As we get older, inflammation increases, in part because our bodies are less adept at digesting and processing the nutrients we need to regulate it.” It’s that growing inflammatory process that plays a role in so many diseases of aging. 

Inflammation is our body’s natural response to physical and microbial attack. “When you injure a muscle or a tendon, red and white blood cells migrate to the part of the body that’s injured to help heal it,” says Jordan D. Metzl, a sports medicine physician and author of Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Workout Prescription. But chronic inflammation occurs when our bodies perceive that they’re under threat, putting our immune system in a perpetual state of attack; this dramatically increases our risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Check out some of the common places inflammation shows up and how you can fight the fire.

Inflammation Body Map

Illustration by Steve Sanford

1. Brain: Alzheimer’s

Do This:  Load up on healthy fats. Inflammation can be seen in the brains of people prone to Alzheimer’s disease as much as 20 years before the onset of symptoms. Protect your brain with fat and fat-soluble vitamins such as A, C, E and K, Bhatia says. Nuts, avocados and greens dressed with olive oil are all great options.

2. Eyes: Chronic fatigue 

Do This:  Swap your coffee for green tea. If you never feel completely awake, even after a solid night’s sleep, it might be due to chronic, low-level inflammation. Green tea nutrients called polyphenols can help.

Inflammation Body Map

Illustration by Steve Sanford

3. Mind: Depression 

Do This: Consider taking a prescription anti-inflammatory. About a third of people who are resistant to antidepressants show evidence of inflammation; prescription anti-inflammatories have been shown to help. 

4. Mouth: Periodontal disease 

Do This: Try an aloe vera rinse. While brushing and flossing are the two keys to managing inflamed gums, a recent study found that using an aloe vera mouth rinse or gel can help by killing off the bacteria that collect in hard-to-reach pockets of the gums. 


Inflammation Body Map

Illustration by Steve Sanford

5. Throat: Common cold 

Do This:  Embrace meditation. Although stress can cause inflammation, making cold symptoms worse, a UCLA study of stressed-out caregivers found that 12 minutes of daily meditation for eight weeks reduced their inflammation levels.

6. Breast Cancer

Do This: Lose weight, and add vitamin D. Inflammation and weight gain are both associated with greater breast cancer risk. But one study of overweight, postmenopausal women showed that those who lost weight while also taking vitamin D — an anticancer double whammy — had the biggest reduction in inflammation.

Inflammation Body Map

Illustration by Steve Sanford

7. Hands: Arthritis

Do This: Wave off the bread plate. Arthritis, an inflammation of the joints, can be aggravated by several factors. One may be diet: A family of proteins found in wheat has been linked to an increase in inflammation and may worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, plus those of asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.

8. Heart disease

Do This: Eat more nuts. According to researchers who have studied why nuts help lower heart disease risk, people who consumed five or more servings of nuts per week had lower levels of certain inflammation markers. 


Inflammation Body Map

Illustration by Steve Sanford

9. Lungs: Asthma 

Do This: Swap out wine for a cocktail. Alcohol can worsen asthma symptoms by increasing inflammation. Wine, in particular, is most likely to trigger an onset within one hour of drinking it, due to vino’s sulfates. Simply switching from wine to a cocktail may be a solution.

10. Legs: Psoriasis

Do This: Pop a fish oil pill. Those who have psoriasis who were given high doses of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids saw reductions in redness, scaling and thickening.

Inflammation Body Map

Illustration by Steve Sanford

11. Belly: Irritable bowels and bloating

Do This: Cut emulsifiers. Most processed foods contain emulsifiers: You’ll find them on a food label as lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, polysorbates or various terms that include the word “esters.” A recent animal study suggests that emulsifiers may alter gut bacteria, causing low-grade inflammation that leads to colitis.

12. Ankles: Achilles tendinitis 

Do This:  Stretch it out. Extend your Achilles tendon to reduce inflammation risk. One way to do it: Sit on the floor with your left leg straight in front of you. Place a towel under the ball of your left foot and gently pull the ball of the foot toward you with the ends of the towel. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch legs.

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