Inflammation is part of your body's natural defenses—when a cut swells up and turns red, that's inflammation at work healing you. But when it goes into overdrive, sparked by factors like poor diet, obesity and smoking, it can cause a host of health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer and even depression. Tame it with these strategies.
Pictured Recipe: Turmeric Latte
Turmeric is having a moment, thanks largely to curcumin—a compound that gives the sunny spice its anti-inflammatory powers. According to a recent review, curcumin reduces the production of a protein that makes your immune system work overtime. These studies used high doses of curcumin (up to 1,500 mg/day), so it may be worth asking your doctor about supplements. You may not be able to get that much from food (5 teaspoons ground turmeric or 2 ounces fresh has 500 mg of curcumin). But the spice's anti-inflammatory potential is still a good reason to sprinkle it liberally on roasted veggies or sip those trendy golden lattes.
Related: Should I Drink Turmeric Tea?
Pictured Recipe: Watercress Salad with Grapes, Blue Cheese & Pecans
Here's yet another reason not to skimp on green leafy vegetables: they are rich in magnesium, a mineral that about half of us don't consume enough of. "I encourage anyone who's susceptible to inflammation to assess their magnesium intake," says Forrest H. Nielsen, Ph.D., a research nutritionist at the USDA's Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota. (Ask your doctor to check your magnesium levels with a blood test.) "There's a lot of evidence that people with high inflammatory markers often have low magnesium levels. Plus, people who have conditions associated with inflammation, like heart disease and diabetes, also tend to have low magnesium levels," Nielsen says.
Pictured Recipe: Purple Fruit Salad
Speaking of color, green isn't the only one that's good for you. Women who regularly consume roughly 40 mg per day of anthocyanins—the compound that gives produce its deep red and purple hues—have 18 percent lower levels of C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammatory activity, compared to those who eat minimal amounts of them, U.K. researchers found. You can get that daily dose of anthocyanins from 1/3 cup of blackberries, 18 red grapes or 1 cup of shredded red cabbage.
Pictured Recipe: Fruit & Nuts Snack Mix
People who noshed at least five 1-ounce servings of peanuts, almonds, walnuts or cashews each week had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers compared to those who didn't eat them regularly, found a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Nuts' anti-inflammatory effects are due to their combo of fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Obesity—or even just an expanding waistline—is a major cause of inflammation. But you can offset this by amping up your activity. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise found that the least sedentary people had the lowest inflammation, even if they didn't lose weight. While they got about 2 1/2 hours of -moderate-to-vigorous activity per day, it included regular life activities like yard work and household chores. (Yes, running around your house scooping up Legos counts!) Even a small increase in activity tames the flames compared to being totally couch-bound.
Frequently frazzled? A study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that people who have a strong emotional reaction to stressful tasks (you bite your nails when you have to make a presentation at work or get tense when someone presses your buttons) experience a greater increase in circulating interleukin-6 (a marker of inflammation) during times of stress than those who take stressful tasks in stride. While stress harms your body in many ways, Christopher P. Cannon, M.D., a professor at Harvard Medical School. puts it like this: "Stress increases blood pressure and heart rate, making your blood vessels work harder. Essentially, you're pounding on them more often and creating damage. If that damage happens over and over, inflammation persists."
Try it! 3 Ways to Ease Your Stress
Women who had regularly practiced 75 to 90 minutes of Hatha yoga twice-weekly for at least two years had markedly lower levels of interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP), two key inflammatory markers, compared to those who were new to yoga or practiced less frequently, according to a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. "A central tenet of yoga is that practicing can reduce stress responses," explains Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., study co-author and professor of psychiatry and psychology at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University College of Medicine. Researchers think that yoga's benefit is that it minimizes stress-related physiological changes.
Related: 3 Health Benefits of Yoga
It may be more than just a lack of sleep that causes inflammation. How you behave when you're tired may be what's stoking the flames. In a study from The Ohio State University, inflammation shot up when sleep-deprived couples started squabbling. When faced with a conflict, partners' inflammatory markers jumped 6 percent for every hour of sleep they lost below seven hours. Inadequate rest may make you more sensitive to stress, which in turn causes inflammation. The good news: Using healthy conflict-resolution strategies protected both partners.
Related: 9 Foods to Help You Sleep
A massage isn't just a treat—it can be part of staying healthy. Receiving a 45-minute Swedish massage can greatly lower levels of two key inflammation-promoting hormones, according to a study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. "Massage may decrease inflammatory substances by [appropriately] increasing the amount of disease-fighting white blood cells in the body," says Mark Hyman Rapaport, M.D., co-author of the study. "It may also lower stress hormones. Either way, these results can be seen after just one massage."
Pictured Recipe: Soothing Ginger-Lemon Tea
Even if coffee is your beverage of choice, you might not want to bag tea altogether—especially the green variety. Green tea is full of potent antioxidants that help quell inflammation. In fact, researchers from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock found that green tea can inhibit oxidative stress and the potential inflammation that may result from it. "After 24 weeks, people who consumed 500 mg of green tea polyphenols daily—that's about 4 to 6 cups of tea—halved their oxidative stress levels," says Leslie Shen, Ph.D., the study's lead author.
With additional reporting by Holly Pevzner.