Google many illnesses and you’re bound to find studies suggesting a link to chronic inflammation. In fact, we now know that long-term, low-grade inflammation may play a role in everything from arthritis to high blood pressure and low testosterone to erectile dysfunction.
Chronic inflammation is so pervasive these days that the vast majority of men are affected by it, says podiatrist Thomas Baer, D.P.M. You can’t see or feel it. In fact, inflammation can simmer away for years without producing a single symptom.
Simply existing causes constant wear and tear on your body that contributes to inflammation, says Baer. Aging and lifestyle problems like crummy sleep, a poor diet, stress and a lack of consistent exercise also raise your risk.
Experts are still sussing out exactly how inflammation affects your body. What they already know: taking steps to reduce inflammation fast can safeguard your health.
Start by adopting these inflammation-reducing strategies ASAP.
What is Inflammation?
In small doses, inflammation is actually a good thing, says Baer. It’s a natural response that helps protect you from injury and infection.
Say you catch a virus or sprain your ankle in a game of touch football. Your immune system rallies by sending out inflammatory cells and cytokines–small proteins that call more immune cells into action–to trap that virus or heal your damaged tissue. As they help your body heal, these cells trigger pain, redness, and swelling. This type of inflammation is called short-term or acute inflammation.
Things get messy when your immune system sends out inflammatory cells throughout the body, even though you’re not hurt, sick, or injured. This is chronic or long-term inflammation, and it can last for months, even years (1), setting in motion a cascade of chemical reactions that can destroy healthy organs and tissue and lead to disease.
Signs of Inflammation
It’s pretty easy to spot acute inflammation—it’s the redness around a healing paper cut or swelling around a bout of tennis elbow.
Chronic inflammation is stealthier and can make itself known across your entire body. Some of the biggest red flags that you may be battling chronic inflammation include: (1)
- Body pain, joint stiffness, and muscle aches and pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Depression and anxiety
- Gastrointestinal issues like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
- Weight gain, or loss
- Frequent infections
How to Reduce Inflammation in the Body Fast
The quickest way to reduce inflammation fast so you can heal faster and live longer? Make smart lifestyle changes to your diet, exercise routine, and stress levels.
Eat Anti-inflammatory Foods
One of the easiest ways to tamp down inflammation is to eat compounds that tame inflammatory fires. Two to focus on: antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
“Antioxidants fight free radicals and oxidative stress that can cause inflammation,” says registered dietitian Nadine Bradley, RD, CNSC. “Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are foods containing antioxidants,” says Bradley. “Foods such as berries, grapes, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, walnuts, pecans, and chia seeds are just a few of the top sources,” she adds.
Omega-3s—found in fatty salt-water swimmers like salmon, tuna, and mackerel—also help fight inflammation, says Susan Greene, ACE-certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach, and Nutrition Specialist. “Eating at least 3 ounces of these fatty fish, two to three times a week can help keep inflammation at bay,” she says.
Feel free to sautee away with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Oleocanthal–a phenolic compound found in EVOO–has been found to contain similar anti-inflammatory properties and potency to ibuprofen. Oleocanthal has been reported to help reduce inflammation in diseases including joint-degenerative disease, neurodegenerative disease, and some cancers (2).
Cut Back on Sugar
On average, men consume 19 teaspoons of added sugar per day, typically in sodas, energy drinks, sweetened fruit-flavored beverages, and sports drinks.
Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with some adverse changes in inflammatory factors in a study published in the journal Circulation (4). And in other studies, added sugar has been found to be a trigger for low-grade inflammation (5,6).
Excess calories from added sugars can also pack on extra pounds, and weight gain and obesity have been associated with chronic inflammation.
Order Fewer Coors
Drinking too much alcohol causes your liver to work in overdrive, says Bradley. “The CDC recommends limiting drinking to no more than two drinks for men per day. This is considered moderate drinking. Heavy drinking can be interpreted as anything above these references.”
“But,” says Bradley, “No matter how many drinks you’ve had, your body produces toxic metabolites. These accumulate and circulate to organs like your liver and heart where they can cause inflammation,” Bradley says.
“How this translates to long-term health varies person to person,” says Bradley. “Moderate drinking alongside a lifestyle of exercise and healthy diet may help to decrease damage from drinking alcohol, however, alcohol affects every organ in the body in a negative way.”
She adds, “Many people do not intend to stop drinking so I at least urge them to decrease the amount and live a healthy lifestyle.”
Some research suggests that too much booze may also damage your central nervous system, making it less able to help prevent chronic inflammation and control your body’s immune response.
Hit the Gym
“Building strong muscle fibers allows for more stability during workouts or strenuous activity. The stronger your muscles are, the less likely you are to get injured and suffer short- or long- term inflammation,” says Greene.
Low impact cardio, like using the elliptical or recumbent bike, is especially good at flushing out inflammatory toxins, says Greene. Plus, keeping your muscles moving prevents inflammation from building up by triggering your sympathetic nervous system to increase blood flow and oxygen, Greene says.
Breaking a sweat may also help tamp down inflammation that’s already in your system, too. A single 20-minute session of moderate training stimulated an anti-inflammatory immune response, according to a small study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (7), suggesting exercise may be one way to help treat chronic inflammation.
Get Enough Sleep
Not clocking enough Zs is a surefire way to welcome inflammation.
One theory why: when you sleep, your blood pressure drops and your blood vessels relax. Without proper shut-eye, your blood pressure stays high, which can turn on cells in your blood vessels that trigger inflammation. Researchers also found chronic inflammation as a middle man between poor sleep and hardened blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease.
A few others: experimental studies suggest that sleep loss may elevate concentrations of proinflammatory cytokines. Fragmented slumber may also alter the way your body responds to stress, and a wonky stress response can also be tied to inflammation (more on that below).
Your goal: Log 7 to 8 hours per night by maintaining a regular sleep routine. Turn off bright screens about an hour before turning in; blue-type light can mess with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycles.
Dial Down Stress
Small spurts of cortisol boost your immune system by limiting inflammation. But ongoing long-term stress ushers in more inflammation, says Greene.
“Chronic stress increases the amount of cortisol your body produces,” she says. “Constant floods of cortisol weaken your immune system and limit your body’s ability to fight inflammation.”
Greene’s top strategy for reducing stress: meditation. “Meditation also decreases interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein–two markers of inflammation–to curb your risk of inflammatory disease (8). Relaxing your mind through meditation also helps lower cortisol levels so you can better handle stress,” says Greene.
Drinking enough H20 helps your body flush out inflammatory toxins and keeps your immune cells functioning properly to fight chronic inflammation, Greene says.
You should aim to drink half your bodyweight in ounces per day, Greene says. For a 200 pound guy, that’s about 100 ounces of water, or 12 to 13 cups per day.
Take anti-inflammatory supplements
Certain supplements may help keep inflammation at bay. Key among them:
Quercetin is a flavonoid with antioxidant properties. Flavonoids are compounds found naturally, for example, in many fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids, like quercetin, are plant pigment that give fruits and veggies their color.
“In studies, quercetin’s anti-inflammatory benefits have shown lower nitric oxide levels in older adults which decreases inflammation,” says Bradley. “But,” she adds, “More studies are needed to confirm clinically relevant benefits of quercetin supplementation in all ages.”
A study published in the Journal of Inflammation Research found quercetin may also improve insulin resistance which is closely linked to chronic low-grade inflammation (9).
Nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) is a precursor to NAD+—a substance that takes part in a chemical reaction that produces another compound—that may have anti-inflammatory effects.
The Bottom Line
There isn’t a magic pill to rid your body of inflammation. Reducing inflammation in your body fast starts with lifestyle changes centered around your diet, exercise routine, stress management, and getting enough sleep.
Eat right with a focus on anti-inflammatory foods, sleep for 7 to 8 hours, workout out with moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes per day, and reduce stress, Baer says.
It’s not an overnight process, Baer says. It takes weeks to months of diligent lifestyle changes to undo inflammation. And not everyone’s the same. You have to take into account a host of factors including your age, gender, activity level, stress level, and the amount of sleep you get each night.