Inflammation is one of the over-used and less-understood words out there, describing everything from a swollen bug bite to the root cause of chronic illness - and we all sort of know what it means, but tend to be hazy on the details. We also have all heard about certain teas and antioxidants being great anti-inflammatories, some with more scientific evidence than others (!). So it is time to put on our science hats and learn the science of inflammation and tea.
Today you'll learn…
- What is inflammation anyway? What causes it?
- How do you reduce inflammation?
- Can green tea reduce inflammation? What about coffee?
- Which teas are the best anti-inflammatories?
- Is turmeric really the strongest anti-inflammatory herb? What is Golden Milk?
What is inflammation?
I’m sure most of us are familiar with acute inflammation - when you hurt your ankle and it all swells up? This is a major amount of mostly isolated inflammation occurring in an injured area, an immune response (Andreae, 2018). Inflammation causes redness, heat, swelling, pain, sometimes stiffness and loss of function, and even flu-like symptoms.
Crucial to know however, it can also occur silently - without these indicators (Andreae, 2018).
Chronic inflammation is slow and long term, and effects can vary based on the cause and the ability to resolve it (Roma, 2021). It can be localized or systemic, as in, system wide (Furman, 2019). All inflammation however it might appear is ultimately the beginning of a healing response (Roma, 2021). Signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation are different, they include: chronic fatigue, insomnia, body pain, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, imbalances in weight, frequent infections, and gastrointestinal disturbances, though not all of these need be present.
What causes inflammation? (Roma, 2021)
- Foreign invaders (pathogens, allergens)
- Irritants that the body cannot effectively remove or break down
- Autoimmunity (where the body mistakenly attacks healthy parts of itself)
- Recurrent acute inflammation
- Increased oxidative stress / free radicals
To learn more about Antioxidants and Free Radicals and what happens in your body when you breath in pollution or consume unhealthy highly processed foods...
Explore Our Antioxidant Series
How is inflammation connected to disease?
Although it occurs silently, there is a lot of evidence pointing to it being the underlying cause of most chronic diseases (Roma, 2021). While we’ve known it’s a symptom of infectious disease, research shows it as a causative factor in most (if not all) non-infectious diseases too (Hunter, 2012). Conclusion? You should know about it!
A normal inflammatory process should resolve when the biological threat has passed, however environmental, psychological, and biological factors can prevent the resolution leading to chronic inflammation (Furman, 2019). Even stress can prevent the body’s ability to down regulate (reduce) inflammation (Furman, 2019).
Ways to reduce inflammation
We’re a tea company and here you are hanging out on our blog (thanks!) so, you may be asking, “What tea can I drink to reduce inflammation?” or “Is tea or coffee anti inflammatory?”
Research suggests that coffee has a general anti-inflammatory response, due to various polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory factors (Paiva, 2019) (Cleveland, 2017 ).
The caffeine content can complicate things, however, as it causes both anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory responses. Existing research is still limited, and so I cannot see any concrete recommendations for coffee as an anti-inflammatory intervention, yet.
The other caveat is that they’re talking about black coffee. Leave out that inflammatory sugar, folks (Hert, 2010)!
Tea gardens in Malaysia from one of the founders' tea research trips
Does green tea reduce inflammation?
Now we’re getting somewhere. Green tea is full of antioxidants (remember, free radicals cause inflammation) and EGCG, research shows that it decreases gene and protein-expression of inflammatory factors! In fact, most human studies found that green tea and tea catechins had beneficial action against inflammatory disease. The benefit comes from free radical scavenging. Huzzah! (Ohishi, 2016)
I also found an interesting study which compared the anti-inflammatory effects of green and black tea, both teas were found to have significant anti-inflammatory effects which is good news, though green tea was more effective overall (Chatterjee, 2012).
(free US shipping, no minimums so you can give us a try!)
Which herbal teas have the most anti-inflammatory properties?
Chamomile for Inflammation
This delicate floral tea has a rich history of being used in traditional medicine to address inflammatory conditions, acute and chronic. Research specifically on the anti-inflammatory action of Chamomile found that chamomile reduces a secondary, biological response to inflammation - the inhibition of iNOS gene factor (and nitric oxide NO), these super-.sciency terms are about reducing a key player in the development of inflammatory disease (Bhaskaran, 2010).
Chamomile also blocks a transcription factor (NF-κ B/Rel) – ack! More science! What on Earth does this mean? Well what matters is is a critical step in regulating genes involved in inflammatory processes.
Peppermint for Inflammation
Existing research focuses on mint oil and isolated constituents in peppermint, but the tea itself is rich in oils (volatile oils create the minty scent). Mint oil and isolated L-menthol suppressed three inflammatory mediators in one study, which concluded that clinical trials of L-menthol as a treatment for chronic inflammatory disorders such as colitis and rhinitis were called for (Juergens, 1998).
Another study found that peppermint oil inhibited nitric oxide NO production, just as chamomile does (Sun, 2014).
Ginger for Inflammation
Full of antioxidants that scavenge free radicals, ginger can mediate inflammation due to oxidative stress. (Our refesher on antioxidants can be found here).
In a literature review, ginger was found to inhibit several bio-factors responsible for inflammation (Mashhadi, 2013). And in an animal study, authors concluded that it potentially decreased gut inflammation (Zhang, 2020).
Photo is of our Pep You Up Pure Thai Ginger, using coarse-cut Thai dried ginger root. Click image to try for yourself!
Turmeric for Inflammation
And of course, I must end with turmeric: the holy grail of herbal anti-inflammatories, and one you probably have heard of already. I will say though there is one big caveat: that of synergistic requirements, that is, the way one consumes hugely affects the bioavailability. There is no point drinking or consuming it if it goes right through you! More on this below.
Turmeric contains curcumin, the praised anti-inflammatory constituent, which down-regulates inflammatory cytokines (Jagetia, 2007). Cytokines are proteins which help control the growth of immune system cells and blood cells. Furthermore, curcumin interacts with various inflammatory processes making it highly versatile as an anti-inflammatory (Jurenka, 2009) (Stohs, 2020).
Trials to date suggest it may be beneficial in numerous inflammation-related diseases such as pancreatitis, arthritis, uveitis (a type of eye inflammation), and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).
Learn more about turmeric and other chai spices:
Actually we we just published a blog Best Teas to Help Irritable Bowel Syndrome: All About IBS, Tummy Aches & Tea if you’re interested
Is Turmeric really the strongest anti-inflammatory herb?
It’s hard to place herbs in a hierarchy as there are so many different ways the foods you consume can affect one’s body, but turmeric does have powerful anti-inflammatory properties which benefit the whole body. We need to turn to traditional preparation methods to ensure we actually absorb the anti-inflammatory compounds. Here's how:
Golden Milk for Inflammation
The combination of turmeric with a high fat milk/plant milk and black pepper sends its anti-inflammatory benefits soaring. Without these synergistic ingredients the ability of turmeric to reduce inflammation plummets. The fat and the pepper work to “unlock” the anti-inflammatory principles in a way that allows your body to use them (Adrian, 2018).
It comes down to bioavailability. When curcumin makes it past the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream it has benefits galore. But its ability to do this unaided is nearly non-existent, with some studies citing zero presence of curcumin in the bloodstream or extraintestinal tissues when turmeric is consumed by itself!
Whilst humanity of old didn’t know of glucuronidation (the metabolism of curucmin prior to absorption) they did know that when combined with fat and pepper it suddenly became the ambrosia of medicines (Adrian, 2018) (Sahdeo, 2014).
The fat content in the milk helps increase intestinal absorption because curcumin is fat-soluble (Stohs, 2020), while in human trials the pepper (piperine) increased the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%! (Sahdeo, 2014).
Note from the Herbalist...
When it comes to herbal medicine and how to address inflammatory conditions, it isn’t as simple as “what herb can I take for x condition?”. Reducing inflammation isn’t just about what you can take to reduce it. A major component is looking at what inflammatory factors you can remove. I always tell my clients, “Herbs cannot compete with lifestyle.”
If, for example, you want something to reduce inflammatory eczema, the first thing I’d look for are food allergens and sensitivities. The skin is the body’s largest organ and when it begins to exhibit eczema, acne, or other blemishes, this tells me that the eliminatory organs like the liver, kidneys, and lymph systems are overwhelmed or not functioning correctly. Something is overloading their ability to eliminate toxins, leading to inflammation and to the skin trying to support this elimination by taking on the excess.
FYI “toxin” does have a scientific meaning, compounds, molecules, proteins, etc. which is producted within an organism, which has negative effects within the organism. Here I am referring to these sorts of compounds, and those you might consume which your body is trying to filter out. Don’t get caught up in the industry of naming everything as a toxin and how X, Y, and Z can save the day.
For example, I had a client who had severe acne years past puberty. When I gave them a remedy for skin alone, there was little change. When I gave them a remedy that had zero skin benefits (directly) but supported liver, kidney, and lymph drainage, their skin cleared up significantly. Ideally, I would have suggested dietary changes, but they were not open to those. I believe they would have recovered entirely had they been willing to make lifestyle changes. Another colleague’s client experienced eczema relief after removing immune triggers such as gluten and dairy.
Anti-inflammatory herbs are amazing supporters for healing and inflammation reduction, but they can’t do the job on their own. Allow them to work synergistically with your lifestyle and you will reap incredible results. You cannot medicate your way to healthiness, a healthy lifestyle overall is essential for any lasting solution.
About the Author
Stephany Morgan (MSc Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is a herbalist, professor, and healthcare professional. After earning her BS in Psychology and Pre-Nursing from Rochester College with a minor in General Science she began her formal pursuit of natural medicine.
Stephany went on to earn her MSc in Complementary Alternative Medicine at the American College for Healthcare Sciences (ACHS), where she focused her studies on Herbal Medicine and Nutrition. Most recently, she completed her Graduate Certification in Nutrition from ACHS in 2020. She is currently a professor at White Earth Tribal and Community College (WETCC) in Minnesota as part of a pilot project with Lead for America.
This week's featured teas are...
A potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, with a gingery, spicy flavor profile. Turmeric pieces also make for a less powdery drink, which can sometimes be a bit much! Ideal for brewing a superb Golden Milk
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Tulsi and peppercorns add depth and heat to this chai spice blend!
$7.50 for a 1oz bag with Free US Shipping
Learn more about chai spices:
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Read more about tea, inflammation and gut health
References & Further Reading for Tea & Inflammation
Andreae, 2018: InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. What is an inflammation? 2010 Nov 23 [Updated 2018 Feb 22]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279298/
Chronic Inflammation, Roma Pahwa; Amandeep Goyal; Pankaj Bansal; Ishwarlal Jialal., 2021 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7147972/
Hunter P. The inflammation theory of disease. The growing realization that chronic inflammation is crucial in many diseases opens new avenues for treatment. EMBO Rep. 2012;13(11):968-970. doi:10.1038/embor.2012.142 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3492709/
Furman D, Campisi J, Verdin E, et al. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nat Med. 2019;25(12):1822-1832. doi:10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
Paiva C, Beserra B, Reis C, Dorea JG, Da Costa T, Amato AA. Consumption of coffee or caffeine and serum concentration of inflammatory markers: A systematic review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(4):652-663. doi:10.1080/10408398.2017.1386159 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28967799/
Caffeine, the Heart, and Inflammation, Cleveland Heartlab, 2017 Accessed 10/10/21 https://www.clevelandheartlab.com/blog/caffeine-heart-inflammation/
Hert KA, Fisk PS 2nd, Rhee YS, Brunt AR. Decreased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages improved selected biomarkers of chronic disease risk among US adults: 1999 to 2010. Nutr Res. 2014;34(1):58-65. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2013.10.005 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24418247/
Ohishi T, Goto S, Monira P, Isemura M, Nakamura Y. Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2016;15(2):74-90. doi:10.2174/1871523015666160915154443 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27634207/
Chatterjee P, Chandra S, Dey P, Bhattacharya S. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory effects of green tea and black tea: A comparative in vitro study. J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2012;3(2):136-138. doi:10.4103/2231-4040.97298 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401676/
Bhaskaran N, Shukla S, Srivastava JK, Gupta S. Chamomile: an anti-inflammatory agent inhibits inducible nitric oxide synthase expression by blocking RelA/p65 activity. Int J Mol Med. 2010;26(6):935-940. doi:10.3892/ijmm_00000545 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2982259/
Juergens UR, Stöber M, Vetter H. The anti-inflammatory activity of L-menthol compared to mint oil in human monocytes in vitro: a novel perspective for its therapeutic use in inflammatory diseases. Eur J Med Res. 1998;3(12):539-545. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9889172/
Sun Z, Wang H, Wang J, Zhou L, Yang P (2014) Chemical Composition and Anti-Inflammatory, Cytotoxic and Antioxidant Activities of Essential Oil from Leaves of Mentha piperita Grown in China. PLoS ONE 9(12): e114767. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0114767 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0114767
Mashhadi NS, Ghiasvand R, Askari G, Hariri M, Darvishi L, Mofid MR. Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: review of current evidence. Int J Prev Med. 2013;4(Suppl 1):S36-S42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/
Zhang C, Huang Y, Li P, Chen X, Liu F, Hou Q. Ginger relieves intestinal hypersensitivity of diarrhea predominant irritable bowel syndrome by inhibiting proinflammatory reaction. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2020;20(1):279. Published 2020 Sep 14. doi:10.1186/s12906-020-03059-3 Ginger ibs-d relief of inflammation: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32928188/
Jagetia, G.C., Aggarwal, B.B. “Spicing Up” of the Immune System by Curcumin. J Clin Immunol 27, 19–35 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10875-006-9066-7 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10875-006-9066-7
Jurenka JS. Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research [published correction appears in Altern Med Rev. 2009 Sep;14(3):277]. Altern Med Rev. 2009;14(2):141-153. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19594223/
Adrian L Lopresti, The Problem of Curcumin and Its Bioavailability: Could Its Gastrointestinal Influence Contribute to Its Overall Health-Enhancing Effects?, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 9, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages 41–50, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmx011 https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/9/1/41/4848948
Stohs SJ, Chen O, Ray SD, Ji J, Bucci LR, Preuss HG. Highly Bioavailable Forms of Curcumin and Promising Avenues for Curcumin-Based Research and Application: A Review. Molecules. 2020; 25(6):1397. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25061397 https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25061397
Sahdeo Prasad, PhD, Amit K. Tyagi, PhD, Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD Recent Developments in Delivery, Bioavailability, Absorption and Metabolism of Curcumin: the Golden Pigment from Golden Spice, Cancer Res Treat. 2014;46 (1): 2-18. Publication Date (Web): 2014 January 15 (Review Article) doi:https://doi.org/10.4143/crt.2014.46.1.2
Analytica Chimica Acta, 2009, Definition of Toxin