Suffering from stiff, sore joints? You just might find relief in the form of plants. Studies have identified a number of spices that have anti-inflammatory benefits, and when eaten every day, can have an even greater impact on improving your overall health.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine shows spices can help to reduce inflammation, which leads to joint pain and swelling.
They may also help prevent certain cancers and other chronic diseases like arthritis, asthma, and gastrointestinal disorders. Epidemiological studies show the rate of certain cancers in countries like India—where spices are consumed on a daily basis—are lower than in Western countries like the U.S., where spices are consumed far less.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to irritants or things that may harm it. These include pathogens, stimuli, toxins, infections, and injuries.
But Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, the medical editor of Understanding Inflammation from Harvard Health Publishing and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says not all inflammation is bad. “People think inflammation needs to be stomped out at all times, but it plays an essential role in healing and injury repair to keep your body safe and healthy,” he wrote in Harvard Health Publishing.
Inflammation occurs in two main stages: acute and chronic. Shmerling explained that acute inflammation occurs when the body’s immune system releases white blood cells to protect the body. The body can experience swelling, redness, and painful joints as a result.
“Acute inflammation is how your body fights infections and helps speed up the healing process,” he said.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation occurs when injuries or infections persist and the body continues to produce white blood cells, which can attack the body’s healthy organs and tissues.
According to the 2018 study, chronic inflammation may lead to chronic diseases, such as cancer, arthritis, and diabetes. But researchers say spices can help to mitigate this. “Congregate evidence suggests that a diet rich in plant-based agents including spices has the ability to prevent most of the chronic diseases,” the study’s authors wrote.
Kim Larson, a registered dietitian nutritionist certified by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching, agrees that spices have tremendous anti-inflammatory properties. “I think people are often surprised at what a great anti-inflammatory source spices can be,” she told Arthritis.org.
She continued: “The more anti-inflammatory foods and spices you eat, the more you are tamping down on chronic inflammation.”
7 Anti-Inflammatory Spices to Cook with Every Day
A fan of yellow curry? You may already be reaping the benefits of turmeric. The spice is common in Indian and other South Asian cuisines. Studies have shown the yellow spice’s active chemical, called curcumin, has a number of anti-inflammatory benefits.
A 2017 study reviewed curcumin’s effects on human health. It found that curcumin can help to manage certain inflammatory conditions like arthritis and anxiety. It may also help to manage “exercise-induced inflammation,” such as sore muscles.
A similar study, released last year and published in Biomed Central, found curcumin was equally effective at relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis as the anti-inflammatory drug NSAID diclofenac. Of those studied, 94 percent of those taking curcumin and 97 percent of those taking diclofenac reported at least a 50 percent improvement in symptoms.
Another popular spice used in Indian, Mexican, and South American dishes—cumin seed is a fruit of the flowering plant, which is native to India, China, the Middle East, and the eastern Mediterranean region.
Similar to turmeric, studies show the active ingredients in cumin seeds have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects.
If you suffer from painful, sore joints—you just may want to opt for a little fresh ginger in your afternoon cup of tea.
A 2013 study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine found ginger to have a number of anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects on human health. “The anticancer potential of ginger is well documented and its functional ingredients like gingerols, shogaol, and paradols are the valuable ingredients which can prevent various cancers,” the study’s authors wrote.
In addition to cancer, researchers also found that ginger has the potential to treat a number of ailments. These include degenerative disorders like arthritis, digestive health issues like indigestion and constipation, and cardiovascular disorders like hypertension.
If you can handle the heat, cayenne peppers are another terrific anti-inflammatory spice to cook with.
Cayenne and other hot chili peppers contain capsaicinoids an active compound called capsaicinoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Similar to turmeric, studies show capsaicin produces comparable anti-inflammatory effects as diclofenac.
If you’re not already cooking with garlic, you definitely should be. Although the spice has a fairly strong taste and smell, studies have shown it has numerous health benefits—including reducing inflammation in the body.
Bad breath aside, garlic contains an anti-inflammatory compound called diallyl disulfide. The compound helps to minimize the effects of inflammation-causing cytokines, which are small proteins responsible for cell signaling.
If cayenne pepper is too spicy, opt for black pepper. The common cooking spice still packs a powerful anti-inflammatory punch and also has antibacterial and antioxidant benefits.
Known as the “King of Spices,” black pepper contains piperine, which studies show has anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties.
You’ll want to sprinkle extra cinnamon atop your toast and morning latte because the popular dessert spice is known to also help alleviate some symptoms caused by inflammation.
The cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde—a compound that gives the sweet spice its flavor and smell. The compound has been shown to help prevent blood platelets from sticking together, as well as ease swelling.
When consumed on a regular basis, these seven spices may help to reduce the symptoms associated with inflammation for improved overall health.