These Affordable Foods Can Help You Manage Inflammation Naturally

Woman having neck pain
Doucefleur/Getty Images

About seven years ago, my mother started experiencing inexplicable pain in her legs and arms. After undergoing numerous tests, her doctor found that she was suffering from polymyalgia rheumatica.

WebMD describes polymyalgia rheumatica as “an infrequently occurring, inflammatory condition that causes pain or aching in the large muscle groups, especially around the shoulders and hips.”

Treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica (and similar inflammatory illnesses) is often steroids, but long-term steroid use can cause other health issues, including a reduced immune system and osteoporosis. Though not an ideal solution, steroids can help polymyalgia patients live with less pain.

My mother has always been healthy and has rarely needed medication in her lifetime. So once she had her diagnosis, she decided to see if she could manage her inflammation with natural remedies, such as food, herbs and exercise. While she is still taking steroids, she has managed to lower the dose significantly thanks to a few easy lifestyle changes.

To find out more about what remedies can help reduce inflammation (and save money on expensive medication), I spoke to some experts.

Magnesium Rich Foods

Kale on plate
alpaksoy/Getty Images

When it comes to reducing inflammation, certain natural (and affordable) remedies can help.

Carolyn Dean, MD, a naturopathic doctor and author of “The Magnesium Miracle and The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health” recommends upping your magnesium intake.

“Foods high in the mineral magnesium help to reduce inflammation,” says Dean. “[These] include dark leafy greens such as kale, broccoli and Swiss chard, and organic nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, pecans and almonds.”

Why does Dean recommend magnesium?

“A breakthrough study entitled ‘Magnesium and the Inflammatory Response’ shows that at the cellular level, magnesium reduces inflammation,” she says. “In the animal model used, magnesium deficiency is created when an inflammatory condition is produced. Increasing magnesium intake decreases the inflammation.”

Numerous other studies back up this claim. In particular, a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2014 “revealed an association between increased dietary magnesium and lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation marker,” Dean tells me.

If you’re not a huge fan of greens, consider making a daily green smoothie featuring your favorite fruits and a generous handful of dark leafy greens. My go-to smoothie consists of apple, banana, almond milk and kale, and I often add peanut butter to make it extra filling.

If you’re taking magnesium supplements, Dean recommends “a balance of calcium and magnesium, while also taking into account the amount of calcium [you] get in [your] daily diet.” This is important, because “excess calcium is one of the most pro-inflammatory [capable of causing inflammation] substances in the body” and “magnesium has been found to be a natural calcium channel blocker,” she says.

Elimination Diet

Man grilling hot dogs, chicken, and hamburgers
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

If your inflammation is severe, consider an elimination diet to see what could be causing it.

Laurie Endicott Thomas is the author of several books, including “Where Do Gorillas Get Their Protein? What We Really Know About Diet and Health.” She recommends an elimination diet to help determine any dietary triggers for inflammatory diseases.

“First, eliminate all animal-source foods and all fats and oils from [your] diet,” says Thomas. This can help determine if one of these food groups is causing your inflammation. If you don’t notice a difference, she recommends also eliminating gluten.

If you’re still experiencing issues, you’ll need to add another step. “Follow Dr. McDougall’s Diet for the Desperate,” says Thomas. “It is a list of foods that rarely, if ever, cause allergy or intolerance syndromes. You can stay on this diet as long as you like.”

If you follow this diet, you’ll need to supplement vitamin D and vitamin B12, as you won’t be getting them naturally.

“Once you are feeling better,” says Thomas, “you can start adding back other plant-source foods, one at a time.” You should do this slowly, allowing your body to react to each new food for a few days before introducing the next one. This will allow you to pinpoint any food that has an adverse effect on your health.”

Whole Foods

Close up of beets
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

You’ve probably heard this before, but sticking to a healthful, whole-food diet can help alleviate, or even eliminate, certain health problems such as inflammation.

Dr. Sanda Moldovan is a periodontist, nutritionist and health-and-wellness expert. Her book, “Seven Ways to Faster Healing and Optimum Health,” includes a chapter on fighting inflammation naturally using food and spices.

“The best way for anyone to reduce inflammation is to change the way they eat,” says Moldovan. “Start by reducing processed foods, such as white bread, cookies, pasta and sugary drinks — including things like sports drinks.”

When it comes to what you should eat, Moldovan recommends starting with a variety of colorful vegetables. “Color in plants means antioxidants and phytonutrients,” she says. “These have been shown in numerous studies to be potent anti-inflammatory substances. If inflammation in the body is fire, then antioxidants and phytonutrients are water to put out the fire.”

Certain spices can also be helpful in reducing inflammation. “Turmeric has been extensively studied and been shown to turn on 300 different anti-inflammatory genes in the body,” says Moldovan. “But we also know that by adding a little black pepper, the BioPrene [active ingredient] will help to better absorb the turmeric in our body.” Turmeric is one of the remedies my mother has found useful in reducing her polymyalgia symptoms.

Inflammation doesn’t have to mean medication. By introducing some of these remedies, you could help manage your inflammation without turning to your doctor.

But as with any medical condition, talk to your doctor to make sure you don’t have a more serious underlying health condition, especially if you try these remedies and still suffer from inflammation.

Catherine Hiles is a mother, runner, foodie and writer living in Dayton, Ohio. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring local parks and binge-watching Doctor Who.