Inside your body, inflammation can be your friend -- or wreak havoc with your health. On the friendly side, inflammation helps your immune system defend your body against disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders that would otherwise make you sick.
The not-so-friendly part is when inflammation occurs without cause -- in other words, when your body isn't under attack from foreign invaders. When an overactive inflammatory response happens, it can become damaging. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease have all been linked to long-term (chronic) inflammation.
So what can you do about inflammation? Eat a healthy diet, for one thing. Research is finding that diet can play an important part in reducing inflammation. Certain vitamins in particular may help control inflammatory processes in the body.
Which vitamins have the most anti-inflammatory potential? Here's what the research has to say.
Vitamin A is commonly found in whole milk, liver, and some fortified foods. Beta-carotene is a provitamin found in carrots and many colorful vegetables that can be converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is an antioxidant. That means it protects against harmful substances in your body called free radicals, which can damage DNA and lead to cancer and other diseases. Vitamin A also has anti-inflammatory effects.
- A lack of enough vitamin A has been linked to inflammation in the intestines, lungs, and skin.
- For some people, taking vitamin A supplements could reduce the inflammation that contributes to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, acne, and lung disease.
This member of the B vitamin family is plentiful in foods like beef, turkey, vegetables, and fish. Because vitamin B6 is water-soluble, your body is constantly ridding itself of it, so you need to restock it daily through diet.
- Not getting enough vitamin B6 may increase your risk for heart disease. Studies have found that people who lack enough of this vitamin have high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation that has been linked to heart disease.
- A lack of vitamin B6 can increase inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, leading to more joint damage. Yet in a vicious cycle, inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can deplete the body's vitamin B6 stores. Taking vitamin B6 supplements daily can correct the deficiency, yet researchers say there's no conclusive evidence it will reduce inflammation too.
Your body uses this vitamin, found in oranges and other citrus fruits, for a number of different purposes. Vitamin C helps to produce collagen -- the building block of skin, cartilage, ligaments, and blood vessels, and it protects against harmful substances that contribute to disease. Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant and studies suggest that it has some anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Taking vitamin C supplements may significantly lower CRP levels, research finds. Whether having lower levels of this inflammatory marker might translate into a lower risk for heart disease remains to be seen, however.