If I Read One More Post About Turmeric Being Anti-inflammatory, My Head Will Explode!

Don’t get me wrong I’m an herbalist, I LOVE plants. Herbal Medicine is the number one medicine used throughout the world and is the longest running evidenced-based scientific method to date.

Turmeric is great for inflammation.

My issue resides in the fact that this beautiful orange root doesn’t have super powers.

If everything else you do in your life promotes the inflammatory response (including my angry title here), then teeny tiny turmeric doesn’t stand a chance of battling all the inflammation bubbling around throughout your body.

I’m talking about lifestyle.

The collective consciousness (and western science) is finally coming around to the understanding of wholeness, interconnectedness and interdependence. Concepts that first people’s sciences have been teaching us from the beginning – we cannot live an inflammatory life inside and out and expect an herb, a pill or any other single thing to correct it. If you’re over 40 it’s even more important to live a healthy inflammatory lifestyle.

I will say it again “acute inflammation is the basis for all healing”. Your body needs acute inflammation to bring all the healing cells and nutrients to the injured area and it needs inflammation to remove waste products, toxins and dead cells.

Chronic inflammation is different. It is the basis for all disease.

Acute inflammation is helpful, chronic inflammation not so helpful.

Our bodies could be considered big skin bags of soup mounting chemical reactions all day long. If the sum total of everything you are thinking and feeling and doing is inflammatory, you set yourself up for chronic inflammation.

Let’s discuss some of the major factor that yes, western science, recognizes as inflammatory:

1. Inflammatory Emotions and Thoughts

Thirty years of research on meditation now confirms negative thought patterns cause a chronic stress response. Learning to observe the secretions of your brain (most folks call them thoughts) rather than live or die by them decreases not only inflammation, but hypertension, Cortisol levels – and increases DHEA levels, mitochondrial efficiency and a sense of well-being mediated through endorphins, endogenous cannabinoids, dopamine and serotonin (all happy feel good chemicals nature gifted us).

Are you walking around all day Angry? Judging people… including yourself? Feeling ungrateful and entitled?

These emotions contribute to a heightened stress-response and chronic inflammation. Please, let us use our powers for good here and not get stressed and inflamed because you find yourself in these places.

Don’t worry, I will list some great resources at the end to help.

2. Move your body

Simple. Move your body.

Every day for at least 45 minutes and get your heart rate up while you’re at it. Buy a fancy heart rate monitor or do whatever activity that suits a pace you can barely keep a conversation going. No, not 3 times a week for twenty minutes, EVERY DAY.

Our evolutionary design dictates we move. We have not evolved past our three million years of needing to go find food or run away from being food in the last few hundred or thousand years of relative ease. Move to keep your connective tissue pliable and keep the joints lubed up.

Finally, in your early to mid 40’s you no longer have the luxury of couch potato living. The body responds to moving or not moving, pure and simple. If you move, a cascade of build and repair reactions begins and promotes anti-inflammation.

If you don’t move, a cascade of inflammation and degradation begins. “Move it or lose it” applies here.

3. Get outside

It’s where you come from and where you belong.

Western science confirms that going out in wildness is good for you relaxation response and sense of wellbeing. Research “forest bathing” if you need the proof of western science behind it.

But seriously, go outside. Get your kids out there. Our brains do better if we hang where we belong, where we evolved living. Hey combine two things at once and move your body outside instead of in front of the television or one of your flat screens on a machine. Please leave those flat screens at home.

4. Have an oil change

Our modern diet is an Omega-6 rich diet. Omega-6’s outnumber our Omega-3’s by a startling 20:1 ratio.

Ideally the ratio is 1:1.

Every single one of our cells builds its cell membrane out of these OmegaFatty Acids. They will make them out of whatever is most abundant. When any kind of disturbance occurs to the membrane a cascade of reactions occurs within the cell using the omega fatty acids. You need to mount the healing acute inflammatory response using the Omega-6’s, but you equally need to be able to shut down the inflammatory response utilizing the Omega-3 pathway. If you don’t have enough Omega-3’s in the membrane, you can’t make anti-inflamers.

So, if you eat lots of factory-farmed meat, eggs and dairy, you get lots of Omega-6’s. Karmically, animals raised the way they were designed to, free roaming, eating what they have evolved eating, not corn, they become higher in Omega-3’s.

For most Americans dealing with chronic inflammation, this oil change must come in the form of supplements. At 20:1 we can’t really eat our way back into balance.

Keep your karma flowing positively by buying oils tested for heavy metals, and sustainably harvested cold water fish or krill. 1600mg/day is a therapeutic dose. Look to see results in a year. Yup a year. Plant based Omega-3’s: flax seeds ground the day you eat them (forget buying Omega-3 rich oils, they go rancid too quickly), hemp seed, purslane, dark leafy greens.

5. Clean the gut

The lining of the intestine is healthy with one inch of friendly bacteria (intestinal flora) living there. They protect the lining, and make chemicals that modulate inflammation. Promoting healthy bacteria living there is our job. We can eat a variety of foods, cut down or out processed foods, and limit our antibiotic use.

If we do use antibiotics (or antibiotic herbs such as the berberine-rich ones), we will need to repopulate our intestinal flora. Another case for repopulating is for folks with chronic inflammation. A healthy gut will allow the chemicals needed for shutting down inflammation to be produced by the bacteria.

Simple guidelines for repopulation:

  • buy probiotics from the refrigerated section
  • take them every day for a month
  • change up brands to get different bacterial populations.
  • Do not rely on sugar-filled yogurt.
  • Make foods rich in bacteria; kimchee, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh… find some different foods.

6. Stop irritating you gut

If the food you eat is causing inflammation, you are creating systemic chronic inflammation.

Don’t read a book. Read your body.

How does it feel after you eat food? Is there a pattern? Try an elimination diet.

Known food inflamers:

  • gluten
  • seeds
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • SUGAR!,
  • night shade family of plants
  • dairy (I know! I’m from Vermont. It’s a rule we must eat lots of cheese.)
  • trans fats
  • alcohol

7. Eliminate ongoing triggers

Anything plastic has an additive called phenophthalate to make it pliable. Karma asking the question again, where does plastic originate?

How long can we continue to pull oil out of the ground thinking it has no negative effect on the planet? Phenophthalates are known endocrine disruptors, linked to allergies in children (inflammation) and aggravating to the Immune system.

Let’s use our knowledge for good, to not cause a stress response right now… Can you slowly start to get rid of all things plastic? For example mason jars are amazing food storage containers.

8. Modify the mediators of inflammation

In other words, eat things that have been dealing with the causes of inflammation for millions of years longer than we have… PLANTS!! What are we looking for here are chemical constituents in the plants that help us at a biochemical level to deal with inflammation.

They include: B-vitamin rich plants and antioxidant rich plants (ALL plants are antioxidants). But if we must make it a bit more difficult, eat the rainbow of colors as often as you can. Yes there are specific plants that decrease inflammation. Depending on the type of inflammation you could look towards, turmeric, sacred basil, flowering nettle tops, or white willow bark.

Some Final words

Inflammation is a process with a purpose.

We are inflaming all day and we are uninflaming.

ALL of the things we think and feel and do throughout the day contribute to the soup of us. One thing will not consistently cure it. If we have a toxic load, eat poorly and are always inflaming with our thoughts and feelings, one simple food allergy could push us over the edge into chronic inflammation.

The goal is to modify all the categories (and I’m sure there are more). Think of this as an ongoing project to play around with each category. We must move out of the crazy-making idea that one thing (“oh if I just change my diet,” “oh if I just get rid of gluten”…) will make it all better.

The other damaging paradigm is that we must do everything perfectly… eliminate everything.


What if we played around with each category… tried to change a few things a little bit?

Do you want to boost your anti-inflaming even more? Bring along a friend. And hey, if none of this works, I hear turmeric is good for inflammation.

Be well.


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I'm a researcher, educator, guest lecturer, and co-founder of Heartstone Center for Earth Essentials in Van Etten, NY.