11 Plant-Based Inflammation Tamers

By Dr. Todd Watts and Dr. Jay Davidson

Inflammation is a “Jekyll and Hyde” phenomenon. Sometimes it’s good. Other times it’s very bad, raging through your body and wreaking havoc.

In the process of inflammation, your immune system releases chemical messengers. These can lead to redness, swelling, and pain. (1)

You need inflammation to kick in after an acute injury, such as when you cut yourself. Inflammation is a protective response to help prevent infection and heal damaged tissues. (2)

But dealing with toxins, chronic infections, and stress can trigger ongoing inflammation. That can contribute to long-term health problems like allergies and heart disease. (3, 4, 5)

Inflammation could also play a role in digestive issues, depression, memory loss, arthritis, and weight gain. Inflammation can lead to mitochondrial dysfunction, too. That can contribute to fatigue. (4, 6)

So, you need to put inflammation back in its cage until you really need it. Fortunately, nature offers many plant-based solutions to help tame inflammation.

Read on to discover the anti-inflammatory benefits of 11 plants. They’re particularly potent as extracts and when used in combination. Their collective synergy is more powerful than each on its own. (7)

1. Broccoli Sprouts
You’re likely quite familiar with broccoli. But what about broccoli sprouts? These young vegetable plants are rich in the phytochemical sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane supports the optimal activity of the Nrf2 (pronounced nerf-2) pathway. Think of Nrf2 as a self-defense system for your cells. (8)

Nrf2 turns certain genes on or off. That includes genes involved in the antioxidant defense of your cells. By supporting Nrf2 function, you’re better able to make and use glutathione. That’s a potent antioxidant that helps protect your cells from free radical damage. (9, 10, 11)

Broccoli sprouts may also help shield your cells from environmental toxins. That includes pesticides, air pollutants, and mold toxins. Sulforaphane helps by activating detoxification systems in your liver. (11, 12, 13, 14)

Sulforaphane also helps control inflammation via the Nrf2 pathway. That could have benefits for your brain. (15)

Inflammation is linked to depression and anxiety. Animal research suggests sulforaphane may help combat these mental health conditions. It could help by controlling inflammation. (15, 16, 17)

Inflammation also impacts your risk of nerve-related disorders. That includes Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease. Lab research suggests sulforaphane helps protect brain cells from toxins. That helps prevent inflammation. (8)

2. Mulberry

Have you ever eaten mulberries? They look similar to blackberries. But fresh mulberries aren’t commonly sold in U.S. stores. That’s because they’re delicate to transport and have a short shelf life. Fortunately, you can find their extracts in supplements. (18)

Like other reddish-purple berries, mulberries are rich in anthocyanins and other phytochemicals. They give mulberries and their extracts many potential health benefits. (19)

The anthocyanins in mulberries may help ignite your Nrf2 pathway. Remember, that’s important for detox and antioxidant protection of your cells. (20)

Mulberry phytochemicals also have antibacterial properties. Lab research suggests mulberry extract may inhibit the growth of certain harmful bacteria. That could reduce your risk of inflammation. (21, 22, 23)

In addition, research — primarily animal and lab — suggests mulberries may help: (19, 24, 25, 26)

Support liver health and function
Promote healthy blood flow
Lower blood pressure
Reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol
Regulate blood sugar levels
Prevent some types of cancer
Combat fatigue related to physical activity
Protect your brain and nerves
Balance your immune system
3. Artichoke Leaf
Extracts from the leaves of the globe artichoke plant may help combat inflammation. The leaves contain several anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. These include luteolin, caffeoylquinic acid, and cynarin. (27)

When combined, luteolin and sulforaphane (such as from broccoli extract) may work even better to tackle inflammation. That includes activating the Nrf2 pathway and providing antioxidant protection. (7)

That’s just the beginning of the potential benefits of artichoke leaf extract. Other areas in which it may support your health include:

Mitochondrial function: Caffeoylquinic acid may speed up ATP (energy) production in your mitochondria. That keeps your cells well-fueled and supports detox. (28)
Detox: This may include aiding heavy metal detoxification. In one study, rats with lead toxicity were given artichoke leaf extract for six weeks. The level of lead in their blood dropped by 35%. There was no change in the untreated animals. (29)
Gut health: Bloating, nausea, heartburn, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are common digestive issues. Consider a six-week study of people with IBS. A whopping 96% of participants said artichoke leaf extract worked as well or better than drugs they’d used to control IBS. (30)
Microbiome support: Artichoke leaf contains a fiber called inulin. That provides “food” for good microbes in your gut. When people took 1 tablespoon (10 grams) of inulin for three weeks, their good bacteria increased while bad ones decreased. (31)
Bile flow: The cynarin from artichoke leaves promotes bile flow. That aids digestion and liver health. Since your liver deposits toxins in your bile, that could also help you with detox. About 5% of the bile in your gut is bound and eliminated in your stools. (32, 33, 34, 35)
Liver health: Artichoke leaf extract may help protect your liver. In one study, people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease took the extract daily for two months. Their liver function improved compared to the placebo group. (36)
Parasite defense: Certain parasitic worms, including Schistosoma mansoni, can cause liver scarring (fibrosis). In a mouse study, artichoke leaf extract helped control liver fibrosis caused by S. mansoni. In contrast, praziquantel — a drug for this parasitic infection — doesn’t control liver fibrosis. (37)
4. Blueberry
You likely already know blueberries are good for you. They’re high in anthocyanins, which give these superfruits their color. Anthocyanins are also powerful antioxidants to fight free radical damage. (38)

As mentioned earlier, anthocyanins support your Nrf2 pathway. And that could help you with detox and inflammation control. This may also aid your digestive health. (20)

If you’re dealing with complex chronic illness, your digestive tract may be inflamed. Support from the phytochemicals in blueberries may help.

For example, gut inflammation is common in ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcerative colitis may contribute to a leaky gut. Animal and lab studies suggest anthocyanins help combat leaky gut by lowering inflammation. (39)

Blueberry anthocyanins may also shift the types of microbes that dominate your gut. Harmful gut bacteria can provoke inflammation. Anthocyanins feed your good bacteria, so the bad ones are less likely to take over. That may also help prevent leaky gut. (39)

But that’s just the beginning of how blueberries could support your wellness journey.

Anthocyanins and other phytochemicals in blueberries may also help: (38, 40, 41, 42, 43)

Protect your liver
Maintain healthy immune function
Reduce heart disease risk
Support healthy blood sugar
Combat excess body fat
Counteract chronic mental stress
Aid memory
Protect your eyes
Preserve lung health
Increase physical endurance
Support bone health
Prolong lifespan
5. Wheatgrass

Wheatgrass is the young, tender wheat plant when it’s only a few inches high. Its extract is a treasure trove of minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, and other healthful plant compounds. These could support you in your detox journey. (44)

For instance, wheatgrass may promote liver health. And you know your liver is essential for detoxification.

In a mouse study, wheatgrass extract helped protect the liver from toxins that cause free radical (oxidative) damage. These toxins included harmful dietary fats and alcohol. (45)

Another mouse study found that wheatgrass extract improved non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This chronic liver condition is on the rise. (46)

Wheatgrass extract may also help combat heavy metal toxicity. In one rodent study, wheatgrass extract helped protect the liver from mercury damage. This was true regardless if the extract was given to the rodents before or after mercury exposure. (47)

Who doesn’t need extra support against toxic heavy metals?

On top of that, wheatgrass extract may support immune function and microbiota health. One lab study found the extract was effective against harmful bacteria in your mouth. (48)

Wheatgrass extract may also help reduce cancer risk. Maybe you’ve heard of quercetin? Lab studies suggest quercetin in wheatgrass deters the growth of cancer cells. (49, 50)

6. Acai
This exotic berry originates from the Amazon region in South America. It’s also dubbed a superfruit because it is packed with phytochemicals. This includes anthocyanins. These contribute to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (51)

Acai is also one of the few known sources of a phytochemical called velutin. This may be one of the most potent anti-inflammatory phytochemicals ever tested. That could help control inflammation during your detox journey. (52, 53)

For example, an animal study suggests acai extract could protect liver health. Mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease were given an acai extract for six weeks. It reduced inflammation and oxidative damage to liver cells. (54)

Does your brain need a little help, too? Toxins can disrupt your brain health. But acai extract may support the health of your brain and nervous system. That includes defending it against toxins.

Consider a lab study in which nerve cells were exposed to rotenone, a harmful pesticide. Pretreating the nerve cells with acai extract helped prevent oxidative damage and mitochondrial dysfunction. (55)

In preliminary lab research, acai extract also looks promising for helping mental health challenges. One study suggests it may help bipolar disorder. It may help combat dementia, too. That brain disease interferes with your memory as you age. (55, 56)

Other research suggests acai extract has the potential for preventing intestinal inflammation. In a lab study of human colon cells, acai extract calmed inflammation due to toxin exposure. (57)

7. Pineapple Bromelain
Pineapple flesh and stems are rich in bromelain, which is an enzyme. Maybe you know it’s the reason raw pineapple prevents gelatin from setting. But bromelain could be an asset to your health. (58)

Bromelain may help combat inflammation and support immune function, among other benefits. Some of the specific areas in which it may help you include: (58, 59)

Microbial infections: Bromelain may help prevent parasitic roundworms and harmful bacteria from attaching to your gut wall. Bromelain may also help combat fungi like Candida albicans.
Inflammatory bowel disease: Bromelain may help reduce inflammation in your intestines. Human case studies suggest it may decrease the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. That includes bloody stools and diarrhea.
Asthma: In mice with asthma, bromelain reduced the inflammation in their airways. The animals were also less reactive to asthma triggers.
Arthritis: Human studies suggest bromelain may help combat joint pain and stiffness. That includes knee pain, which is common in chronic Lyme disease.
Bruising: In one study, professional boxers took bromelain after their matches. It completely cleared up their bruises in four days. That included their bruised eyes, lips, ears, arms, and chest. You probably don’t box, but you may bruise for other reasons.
Heart health: Bromelain may help prevent blood clots that could lead to a stroke or heart attack. It may also help reduce the intensity and frequency of heart-related chest pain (angina). Plus, it may support healthy blood pressure and circulation.
Cancer prevention: Cancer cells don’t have a normal life cycle. That means they don’t self-destruct when they should. Animal and lab studies suggest bromelain may encourage the death of abnormal cells. That may help reduce the risk of getting cancer.
8. Olive Leaf
Olive Leaf

Olive leaf extract is rich in helpful phytochemicals, including oleuropein. It breaks down into another beneficial compound called hydroxytyrosol. These plant substances have antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects. (60, 61)

As you might guess, olive leaf extract supports heart health. Extra virgin olive oil is often touted for its heart benefits. But the leaf extract is much higher in phytochemicals than the oil. Olive leaf extract may promote healthy blood pressure, regular heart rhythms, and healthy arteries. (62)

And the benefits of olive leaf extract could extend well beyond your heart.

Olive leaf extract may stimulate your cells to make more mitochondria. You likely know those are essential to produce cellular energy. But your mitochondria also play a role in your immune defense. They help alert your body to microbial invaders. (63, 64)

Lab studies suggest olive leaf phytochemicals may also inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. For example, it may help combat Mycoplasma pneumoniae. That’s a common opportunistic infection that occurs alongside chronic Lyme disease. (61, 65, 66)

In addition, preliminary research suggests olive leaf extract may help prevent DNA damage, cancer, and obesity. But that’s just a glimpse of its many possible benefits. (67, 68, 69, 70)

9. Citrulline
Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid. That doesn’t mean you don’t need it. Rather, it means your body can make it. Interestingly, a few foods — particularly watermelon — contain high amounts of citrulline. It can be extracted and used in supplements. (71)

Your liver needs citrulline to process ammonia, which is toxic to your cells. Ammonia buildup can contribute to inflammation and fatigue. (71)

But where does ammonia come from in your body?

Some ammonia is a byproduct of protein breakdown. Your gut microbes generate ammonia, too. Ammonia levels also increase during intense physical activity. (72, 73)

Your liver mitochondria convert ammonia to urea. Then you excrete it in your urine. A shortage of citrulline will limit your mitochondria’s ability to do this. It could also limit their ability to generate ATP for energy. (72, 73)

Research suggests consuming citrulline could help circumvent these mitochondrial problems. That may help preserve your energy and stamina.

In one study, male athletes took citrulline daily for a week before a cycling test. They rode significantly faster than the placebo group. The citrulline group also had less fatigue and muscle soreness. (74)

Your body can also use citrulline as a starting compound to make nitric oxide. That’s a gas that triggers arteries to dilate. This promotes heart health. Nitric oxide also supports healthy immune function. (75, 76)

10. Pomegranate

Pomegranate is a red fruit that’s packed with anthocyanins. It’s also an excellent source of other phytochemicals, including ellagic acid. These plant compounds are potent antioxidants. But how else might they promote your health? (77, 78)

Studies suggest pomegranate and ellagic acid may help:

Tame gut inflammation: Ellagic acid may help reduce intestinal inflammation and damage. This has been shown in animal models of Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and IBS. (77, 79, 80)
Combat Candida: Pomegranate extract may inhibit the ability of Candida albicans to form a biofilm. That’s a protective coating that it uses to hide from your immune system. (81)
Tackle bacteria: The extract of pomegranates combats some drug-resistant bacteria. That includes E. coli strains that cause urinary tract infections. Ellagic acid may also inhibit the growth of Borrelia. That’s the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. (81, 82, 83)
Guard against cancer: Pomegranate extract may inhibit chronic inflammation, a cancer risk factor. It may help prevent cancers of the prostate, breast, and colon, among others. But further research is needed in this area. (84, 85, 86, 87)
Heal wounds: In one study, rodents’ burn wounds were treated with a pomegranate extract ointment for 15 days. They had superior healing compared to a standard drug cream. Plus, the pomegranate group had healthier collagen and less inflammation. (88)
11. Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid — an orange-colored phytochemical — that can be produced by algae. Eating these algae is what gives salmon its reddish-orange hue.

But astaxanthin does more than giving fish a pleasing color. It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Natural, algae-derived astaxanthin is more potent than synthetic versions. (89)

An important feature of astaxanthin is that it can cross your blood-brain barrier. In fact, your brain is considered a key target of this phytochemical. (90)

Astaxanthin may help prevent toxin damage and inflammation of brain cells. Animal research suggests it may also support antioxidant production in brain cells and slow brain aging. (91)

Another way astaxanthin could support brain cells is by protecting their mitochondria. Damage to these little energy factories is linked to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. So, protecting your mitochondria could be an important tactic for avoiding these conditions. (89, 92)

Astaxanthin may also aid your immune function and protect DNA.

When healthy women took astaxanthin for two months, they had an increase in T and B immune cells. These help to defend your body against viruses and other harmful microbes. The women also had a reduction in DNA damage and inflammation markers. (93)

Inflammation-Taming Team
When inflammation rages out of control, your body can be harmed from head to toe. That includes adverse effects on digestion, mental health, energy levels, brain function, and detox.

But many plants could help you tackle rogue inflammation. Superfruits, broccoli sprouts, artichoke leaves, wheatgrass, olive leaves, and other plants are packed with phytochemicals. Together, they provide a mighty team of antioxidant and inflammation-taming compounds.

These plant compounds could also offer bonus benefits. They may protect your DNA, nurture a healthy microbiome, and aid your immune function. Plus, they could support the health of your liver, heart, brain, gut, and more.

So, turn to these gifts from nature to help tame inflammation and bolster your body’s resilience in your health journey.

How is inflammation impacting your health? What inflammation tamers are you going to use to soothe it?



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