So you know the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet, and may even know that inflammation is the way your body reacts to foreign invaders. Chronic inflammation can be caused by everything from stress to pesticides to air pollution, and show up in the body as acne, chronic disease, brain fog, digestive issues, and more. Anti-inflammation is more than just a diet that’s trending on Instagram; it’s a natural response our bodies make to the foods we eat and the lifestyles we lead (fun fact: an article from Harvard Health Publishing noted that a number of studies found that CRP levels, or inflammation levels, are more effective than cholesterol levels at predicting heart disease risk in women).
In today’s world, when “stress” feels like a daily emotion, our iPhones are more like a fifth limb than a form of communication, and toxic chemicals are considered to be viable food ingredients, inflammation is everywhere. Wondering how to reduce inflammation? Read on for 9 simple hacks, and talk to your doctor for more about how inflammation may be affecting you.
How to Reduce Inflammation Overnight
1. Get eight hours of quality sleep
Multiple studies have found that not enough sleep (or a bad night of sleep) triggers a wide range of inflammatory reactions. “When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase inflammation,” explained Dr. Sony Sherpa, a holistic physician from Nature’s Rise. In addition, you’re missing out on a key chance to decrease inflammation. During deep sleep cycles, the body is able to perform housekeeping functions, including reducing inflammation, so not getting enough sleep is missing out on the crucial anti-inflammatory benefits.
“Research suggests that people who don’t get enough sleep have higher inflammation markers in their bloodstream than those who consistently sleep the recommended 7-8 hours per night,” Dr. Sherpa summarized. To make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours of deep REM cycles), keep your bedroom between 65°F and 72°F and as dark as possible, follow a consistent sleep schedule (AKA go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day), and eat no later than 3-4 hours before bed.
2. Add leafy greens, herbs, and spices to your meals
Leafy greens are one of the best foods for lowering inflammation because they’re loaded with antioxidants and bioactive compounds. The combo not only lowers current inflammation in the body, but it prevents free radicals from creating new inflammation as well. Aim to add greens like arugula, spinach, and kale to at least two meals a day by simply tossing them into a side salad for dinner or adding to your smoothie in the AM.
Leafy greens aren’t the only food known for its anti-inflammatory properties. According to Krutika Nanavati, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and a medical advisor at Clinicspots, adding herbs and spices like turmeric, garlic, and ginger to your diet can help reduce inflammation in the body. “Ginger is known to reduce joint pain and stiffness by suppressing inflammatory compounds in the body, while turmeric has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce swelling,” added Dr. Supriya Rao, a board-certified physician in internal medicine, gastroenterology, obesity medicine, and lifestyle medicine. Plus, they offer a quick and easy way to pack a punch in flavor for your meats, soups, or marinades.
3. Manage stress and prioritize positive emotions
Research suggests a prominent link between chronic stress and inflammation, so taking measures to reduce stress is just as important for lowering inflammation as what you eat and how much you sleep. On the flip side, there’s actually a proven link between positive thinking and reducing inflammation. According to the American Psychological Association, people who experience not just positive emotions but a diversity of positive emotions appear to have lower levels of systemic inflammation. “Our findings suggest that having a rich and diverse positive emotional life may benefit health by lower circulating levels of inflammation,” explained Anthony Ong, PhD, the lead author of the study.
According to the study, researchers found that people who experienced a wide range of 16 positive emotions (enthusiastic, interested, determined, excited, amused, inspired, alert, active, strong, proud, attentive, happy, relaxed, cheerful, at ease, and calm) actually had lower levels of inflammation. Aim to experience all 16 emotions throughout the day through methods like gratitude journaling, doing a creative activity of your choice (writing, painting, cooking, etc.), or reading a book that inspires you.
4. Avoid blue light
Staring at a screen (whether it’s an iPhone, an iPad, a laptop, or a TV) is a way of life. For many of us, it’s how we make a living (thank god for Google Docs, am I right??), and for others, it’s an addiction (the TikTok scroll is real!). But overexposure to blue light may cause stress and inflammation in the body. A study done by Ohio State University showed that even exposure to relatively dim light over eight weeks raised inflammation. When you do need to look at a screen, wear protective glasses that block blue light or add anti-blue light settings on your device. Also try to spend at least one or two hours before bed screen-less. Yes, that means turning off Netflix, putting your phone on “Do Not Disturb,” and cozying up to a good book or taking a warm bath.
5. Exercise regularly
According to a study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, just 20 minutes of exercise may help suppress inflammation in the body. “When we exercise, our bodies produce proteins and hormones that act as anti-inflammatories, which help the body to defend against potential damage and to reduce stress levels, which can have a direct impact on levels of inflammation in the body,” Dr. Sherpa agreed. “While it’s important to take it easy when exercising, incorporating more movement into your daily routine is an excellent way to reduce unwanted inflammation in the body.” Give your inflammation levels a double whammy of wellness by taking a 20-minute walk outside to get a boost of movement, as well as a dose of nature (studies show that even short-term exposure to nature has a wide variety of health benefits, including lowering inflammation).
6. Increase your intake of specific flavonoids
Everygirls, rejoice! Research studies show that quercetin, a flavonoid present in red wine, has potent anti-inflammatory ability, along with anti-carcinogenic and antiviral activities as well. Quercetin is actually able to modulate inflammation and inhibit inflammatory enzymes. However, while red wine is a good source of quercetin, alcohol is also known to cause inflammation. “Alcohol can lead to oxidative stress in the body, which is a process that damages cellular structures and increases inflammation,” Dr. Rao expressed. “In addition, alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, leading to increased production of inflammatory chemicals.”
Bottom line: small amounts of red wine may be beneficial, but moderation is key. Also, opt for high quality or non-toxic red wine when available, and talk to your doctor about what’s right for you. Other sources of quercetin that do not contain alcohol include parsley, onions, green tea, olive oil, grapes, organic coffee, dark cherries, blueberries, and blackberries.
7. Take supplements
Dr. Sherpa stated that the most powerful relief for inflammation may come in the form of natural supplements, ranging from traditional herbs to minerals and vitamins, including curcumin, ginger, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D3, and probiotics. “Each one can offer important dietary support and reduce inflammation,” she said. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular are linked to anti-inflammatory benefits because they can reduce the production of inflammation molecules, like eicosanoids and cytokines. Study after study has found omega-3s to be an effective supplement in inflammation reduction because of their powerful benefits.
In addition, Robert Iafelice, MS, RDN, a nutrition expert at SET FOR SET, recommended taking vitamin D and K2. “Vitamin D is a major immune regulator with potent anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body,” he affirmed. “The K2 is vital because it directs the calcium absorbed by the vitamin D towards bone and away from your arteries.” Before adding any supplements to your wellness routine, always check with your physician.
8. Drink plenty of water
News flash: Dehydration increases the risk of chronic inflammation. Plus, drinking enough H2O is essential for keeping the body in tip-top shape to fight off ongoing health issues. “Staying hydrated is an easy way to reduce inflammation in the body,” Dr. Rao confirmed. “When we don’t drink enough water, our cells become dehydrated and unable to properly eliminate toxins from our bodies. This is because water helps keep the cells hydrated, allowing them to better eliminate waste from the body. Additionally, when we stay adequately hydrated, our cardiovascular system works more efficiently and can help reduce overall systemic inflammation.” Translation: Consider water your BFF and always have your go-to reusable water bottle filled and in tow.
9. Be kind to yourself
Let’s be honest: There are going to be days (maybe even weeks) that #1-8 are just not happening. But keep in mind that self-blame, guilt, and other toxic emotions might have a worse effect on your body than an ice cream cone or a Netflix binge ever could, so forgive yourself and prioritize giving your body and mind what they need. If you are concerned about inflammation levels in the body (or have chronic inflammation-related issues like chronic fatigue, rosacea, or digestive issues), talk to your doctor to see if additional testing is right for you.
Levels of C-reactive protein in the body can be measured through blood tests (an indicator of your body’s inflammation levels) to help you figure out what exactly is going on. But also remember that your body was made to be resilient and heal itself. Bottom line: Eat your veggies, de-stress, love yourself, and enjoy your life.