A 2020 study of people in 27 countries found that the most pressing health concerns right now are COVID, mental health, cancer, stress, obesity and diabetes, all of which have a common link: inflammation. “Inflammation, simply put, is the root cause of all disease, whether that’s pain, immune system dysfunction, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune disease, you name it,” says Jennifer McLemore, L.Ac., an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist in Boulder, Colorado, who sees inflammation-related concerns in just about all her patients.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is an essential process. The immune system uses a healthy amount of inflammation to respond to and help heal illness and injury. “If you were to get a cold or an injury, it’s the same exact pathway for inflammation,” says McLemore. The trick is achieving just the right amount of inflammation to keep the immune system functioning optimally. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle tips the balance toward too much of it. The number-one driver of too much inflammation is a poor diet, says McLemore. For a healthy inflammatory response, she advises reducing sugar and alcohol, and choosing a diet rich in whole foods.
Try these research-backed anti-inflammatory supplements to support your immune system
Natural Factors NAC N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine
Vitacost Root 2 Turmeric Extract
Vitamins C & D
“To help create a just-right inflammatory response for the immune system, you have to have vitamin D,” says McLemore. “It’s one of the few substances that increase T-regulatory cells, which are the main determinant in inflammation,” she explains. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, she says, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Recommended dosage: Vitamin D 2,000 IU daily (get tested first); vitamin C 1,000 mg once or twice daily
Used for thousands of years as a medicine, turmeric is thought to offer quicker recovery from fever, cough and sore throat. “Out of all the herbs used to decrease inflammation, turmeric has the most methods of action on the body—therefore it has the strongest effect,” says McLemore. “It is also one of the best and most thoroughly studied herbs for inflammation.” Avoid it if it causes stomach upset, she says. Recommended dosage: Start with 500 mg twice daily up to 1,000 mg three times daily, with food
NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)
“There are so many reasons to recommend NAC, considered the master antioxidant,” says McLemore. NAC is the main precursor to glutathione, and “pretty much every toxic thing we do to our body depletes our glutathione levels,” she says, which stresses our immune system and can lead to disease. Now being studied in clinical trials to protect against COVID, proper glutathione levels are crucial for staying well. Recommended dosage: 600 mg once or twice daily
While opinions about fish oil have varied in recent years, interest is renewed. A 2020 review found not only is it antiinflammatory, but it may also help prevent viruses from entering the body in the first place. A 2019 clinical trial suggests that enriched marine-derived fatty acids increased immune response for up to 24 hours. McLemore also suggests trying cod liver oil because it’s naturally rich in vitamin D and not chemically altered. Recommended dosage: Follow label instructions