7 Anti-Inflammatory Foods that You Can Grow in Your Home Garden

In this article, we explore seven anti-inflammatory foods that you can grow in your home garden.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, inflammation is your body’s normal physiological defense against pathogen infection. In normal circumstances, the inflammatory process ends quickly; but, with many chronic conditions, the immune system’s response continues well after an infection is present, leading to significant tissue and organ damage. This is the case with many autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), type 1 diabetes, and more.

Many autoimmune disease patients are forced to turn to pharmaceutical drugs to calm their overactive immune systems. Unfortunately, many of these immunosuppressant drugs are not without significant side effects. Plus, by decreasing your body’s ability to fight infections, patients may find that they’re vulnerable to bacteria and viruses, something that’s especially of concern now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, what if there was a way to fight inflammation naturally, without having to turn to prescription medications with difficult side effects? According to Harvard Health Publishing, some of the best anti-inflammatory compounds can be found not in your local pharmacy, but in the grocery aisle.

“Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” explains Dr. Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health. Anti-inflammatory food also helps individuals to maintain a healthy weight – something important, since weight gain is a risk factor for inflammation. However, even when studies controlled for obesity, the effects of inflammation remained: “Some of the food components or ingredients may have independent effects on inflammation over and above increased caloric intake,” Dr. Hu says.

So, what are these anti-inflammatory foods that you can grow at home? Check out the full list, below!

1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes were first on Harvard Health Publishing‘s list of anti-inflammatory foods. According to Healthline, tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have also shown that lycopene may be beneficial for reducing pro-inflammatory compounds related to several types of cancer. Another study found that women with excess weight who drank tomato juice significantly decreased their inflammatory markers.

Tomatoes are also some of the easiest plants to grow. I grew up in Southwestern Canada, an area that isn’t exactly known for warm weather or sunshine. Despite the climate, our family was able to easily grow cherry tomatoes on our small, north-facing balcony during the spring and summer. Now that I live in Southern California, tomatoes grow even more abundantly, and we’re growing both cherry and heirloom varieties.

Pro tip- if you’re looking to increase lycopene absorption, consider cooking your tomatoes in olive oil. This is because lycopene is a carotenoid, which is a nutrient that is better absorbed in combination with a fat.

This leads us to the next item on our list…

2. Olives

Olives are rich in monounsaturated fats, which are heart-healthy fats that combat damaging inflammation. It’s no wonder then, that olives and olive oil are staples in the mediterranean diet, a healthy eating lifestyle followed by many supercentenarian communities.

Olives and olive oil also contain oleocanthal, an antioxidant that has been compared by scientists to ibuprofen, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly taken to combat pain and inflammation. Extra virgin olive oil has even more anti-inflammatory benefits compared to more refined types of olive oil.

Olive trees grow best in a subtropical, mediterranean climate in which winters are mild and summers are long, dry and warm. The best climate for olive trees would be zones 10 and 11, though certain varieties of olive trees can tolerate zones 8 or 9. Then, once you’ve grown olives, you can use an oil press machine to extract the oils from the pitted fruit. We live in zone 10a and are currently growing an olea europaea, which is the European variety.

Of course, if you don’t live in an ideal climate for growing olives, then not to worry – olives and extra virgin olive oil are commonly found in grocery stores all over the world.

3. Leafy Greens

Green, leafy vegetables are next up on the list. Spinach, kale and collard greens are all easy-to-grow vegetables that possess powerful, anti-inflammatory properties. According to the Arthritis Foundation, these vegetables are high in vitamins like A, C and K which protect your cells against damaging free radicals. They are also high in calcium, which helps promote bone health.

In our garden, we’re currently growing spinach and red chard. Not only do these vegetables grow extremely fast, they also are quite hardy across different climates, and produce an abundant, constant harvest. Plus, leafy greens aren’t just for salads – you can throw them in your smoothie or protein shake, in soups and stews, stirfries, and even scramble them up with eggs. The possibilities are endless!

3. Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi, watercress and bok choy. These vegetables have many of the vitamins and minerals found in other leafy greens, plus the added benefit of a phytochemical called sulphoraphane, which has been shown to block the inflammatory process, and may slow cartilage damage in osteoarthritis (OA), according to studies done on mice.

In lab studies, sulphoraphane has also been shown to stimulate enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they can damage one’s cells. Two other compounds found in cruciferous vegetables called indole 3-carbinol and crambene are also believed to activate detoxifying enzymes.

Cruciferous vegetables belong to the brassica family, and are best suited to regions with mild summers, cool springs and fall temperatures. This means that you don’t have to live in a tropical or subtropical area to be able to grow these anti-inflammatory foods.

4. Berries

Berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects and may reduce your risk of disease. Studies have shown that people who ate berries consistently had lower levels of certain inflammatory markers in their blood. Other studies have shown that individuals who consume berries also had higher levels of natural killer (NK) cells that kept their immune system functioning properly.

Though many different varieties of berries exist, the most common are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. While many berry varieties are native to the wet Pacific Northwest, berries like strawberries can be successfully grown in drier climates like California and Mexico when given enough water. Here in Southern California, we have been able to successfully grow both strawberries and blueberries during the wetter winter months, and recently planted raspberry and blackberry bushes as well.

5. Mushrooms

Mushrooms contain a property called phenols, which have been shown to provide protection against damaging inflammation. Other anti-inflammatory properties found in mushrooms include polysaccharides, terpenoids, phenolic compounds, and many other low molecular weight molecules. Lion’s mane mushrooms have also been found to reduce low-grade, chronic inflammation linked to metabolic disorders like obesity. Thanks to its healing properties, fungi has often been used in traditional medicine across different parts of Asia and Africa.

Some easy-to-cook mushroom varieties include white button, crimini, portabella, oyster, lion’s mane, shiitake, morels and truffles. Though you may be thinking, ‘how can I grow mushrooms in my home garden?’ It’s actually easier than you think! We have used a mushroom grow kit from Back to the Roots to grow both oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane mushrooms at home in as little as two weeks!

6. Grapes

Grapes, like berries, also contain high levels of anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory effects. Consumption of grapes has been shown to reduce the risk of many conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and eye disorders. Grapes are also a staple in the mediterranean diet, as well as moderate levels of heart-healthy red wine. In fact, cannonau red wine has touted for its antioxidant benefits by supercentenarian researchers in the blue zones of Italy and Greece, due to its artery-scrubbing flavonoids.

Grapevines grow best in areas with long, warm summers and rainy winters. This is why only certain parts of the world are known for producing the best grapes for wine-making: the Bordeaux region of France, Tuscany, Italy, the Napa Valley in California, La Rioja in Spain, the Colchuaga Valley in Chile, and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. While I don’t anticipate that we’ll be making any wine at home, we are growing both a red and green grapevine in our California garden, and so far, both have taken off quite well.

7. Turmeric

Last but certainly not least, turmeric is one of the best plants to combat inflammation. This is because turmeric contains a property called curcumin, a powerful, anti-inflammatory nutrient found to help those suffering from arthritis, diabetes, and other conditions causing joint pain.

Turmeric resembles a root vegetable, and once harvested, it can be dried out and ground to make a spice. Turmeric is commonly used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Being part East Indian myself, I know that it’s a staple in Indian curries, as well as in Ayurvedic medicine, which has been practiced for thousands of years in India.

However, many individuals with joint pain opt to take curcumin supplements, rather than grow turmeric at home or buying the spice at the grocery store. This is because it can be challenging to get enough curcumin through eating turmeric, unless you consume a lot of it. Plus, curcumin has been found to be more easily absorbed when taken in combination with piperine, a compound found in black pepper. So the benefit of taking a curcumin supplement is that it often has piperine added to aid absorption.

Do you grow any of these anti-inflammatory plants in your home garden? Let us know in the comments below!

Please note, this content and any products cited in it are for informational purposes only. Autoimmune Warrior does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Top 5 Must-Have Products for Dry Eye | Sjogren’s Syndrome Series

Woman who suffers from dry eye disease Sjogren’s Syndrome uses eyedrops to relief dry eye symptoms. Image courtesy of Verywell Health.

As many of my subscribers know, I have an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome. One of the main symptoms of Sjogren’s is dry eyes, among many other things.

While those who don’t have dry eyes may not think that it’s a big deal, us dry eye sufferers know that even a small amount of eye dryness can wreck havoc on your health and lifestyle. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic dry eyes can cause an array of issues, including discomfort and irritation, which could feel like burning, itching or like an eyelash or other foreign object is stuck in your eye. Other symptoms include blepharitis (meibomian gland dysfunction), eyelids turning inwards (ectropion) or outwards (entropion), eye infections, eye inflammation, corneal ulcers and other eye abrasions. In severe cases, dry eye can even result in vision loss.

That’s why it’s imperative that if you suffer from dry eye, that you find ways to ensure your eyes are adequately hydrated so that you can minimize the impact of dry eye symptoms. In this blog post, I wanted to share the products that have worked for me in helping to reduce my Sjogren’s-related dry eye symptoms.

1. Artificial Tears

One of the main products that I use daily for dry eye relief are artificial tears. These over-the-counter eyedrops are similar to the ones that can be found in a small bottle, but instead, they’re packaged in individual vials and are preservative-free.

When I was first diagnosed with Sjogren’s, my ophthalmologist recommended that if I was using eyedrops more than four times a day, it was imperative that I use a preservative-free eye drop brand to reduce the possibility for a toxic or allergic reaction to the preservatives. As a result, I now exclusively use preservative-free artificial tears. There are many over-the-counter brands available, but my favorite by far is Refresh Artificial Tears.

2. Eye Mask/Heat Compress

During my ongoing battle with dry eye disease, I developed a condition called blepharitis. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids, in which they can become swollen, itchy, red, and irritated.

As a result, I frequently use heat compresses on my eyelids to relieve the swelling and inflammation. By using a face towel soaked in warm water, I was able to not only decrease the swelling, but also to clean my eyelids, which can become even more clogged with dandruff-like scales when you have blepharitis.

More recently, my ophthalmologist recommended that I look into purchasing a Bruder mask, which are eye pads that can be easily heated up in your microwave oven, and then placed on your eyelids. This spa-like heat compress is both washable and reusable.

Bruder Moist Heat Eye Compress | Microwave Activated. Relieves Dry Eye

3. Eyelid Scrub

In an effort to further reduce the blepharitis symptoms I experience, I also use an eyelid scrub. The specific brand I use is called OcuSoft Lid Scrub, and it comes in a variety of types, from regular wipes to a ‘plus’ formula for those with extra sensitive eyes. The lid scrub helps to remove any debris stuck in my eyelids and eyelashes, which helps to further decrease the swelling and irritation that I experience as a Sjogren’s patient.

If you don’t like using individual wipes, OcuSoft also offers a pump option so that you can pump the eyelid scrub directly into your hand and wash your eyes with it. This makes it easy to incorporate into your daily wash-and-go routine.

OCuSOFT Lid Scrub Pre-Moistened Pads

4. Humidifier

The next must-have item for dry eye patients is a humidifier. A humidifier is an indoor device that releases a humidifying mist into the air, to help increase the moisture levels in your immediate environment. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know humidifiers existed until I moved to the Southwest United States – here in the desert-like climate, everyone seems to have one!

Humidifiers are great because they don’t involve applying something directly to your eyes. They’re also easy to refill with water, and you can buy a large one for a big room, or a smaller one that sits on your desk for your home office or bedside table. Plus, you don’t need to leave it on all day long – I find just running my humidifier for 20 minutes makes my immediate space comfortable enough that I don’t need to use it for the rest of the day. Some patients find that turning on their humidifier at night helps them to sleep comfortably, since eyes tend to be drier at night, when your tear glands decrease tear production while you’re asleep.

Crane Drop Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier

5. Omega-3 Supplements

While the exact effects of vitamins and minerals on eye health are up for debate, many years ago, my optometrist at the time did recommend taking omega-3 fish oil supplements daily for my eye health. He explained to me that while dry eye is often a tear production issue, it could also be a tear evaporation issue. This is because another component of healthy tears is having a sufficient high-quality oil, called meibum, in the water layer of your eye’s surface to prevent your tears from evaporating too quickly.

Based on his recommendation, I take omega-3 supplements derived from fish oil. The supplements are over-the-counter rapid release soft gels from my local pharmacy- nothing too fancy, but they do the job!

Beyond using these five products, there are other initiatives I’m taking to reduce my dry eyes; for example, I’m getting the punctal plugs re-inserted into my tear ducts next month (after one fell out). However, these five products alone have made a big difference in improving my quality of life with Sjogren’s Syndrome and dry eye disease, and I hope that they work for you too.

Nature’s Bounty Fish Oil (360mcg of Omega-3) Rapid Release Softgels

Remember, always talk to your doctor before beginning a new medication, regimen, or treatment plan. Please read Autoimmune Warrior’s product recommendations disclaimer on our About Us page regarding our participation in Amazon’s Associates Program.

My New Hidradenitis Suppurativa Treatment Plan

Last year, I switched health insurance plans, and as a result, the dermatologist that I was seeing to treat my hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) was no longer in-network. So, I had to find a new physician. I found a new dermatologist in my area that was covered under my health insurance plan, so I made an appointment and saw her for the first time last week.

My last physician – who diagnosed me with this chronic autoimmune skin condition – had been treating my hidradenitis by giving me cortisone (steroid) injections. While this was effective to control the inflammation and pain caused by my HS boils, it wasn’t really a long-term solution. I had also been prescribed clindamycin lotion to put on my hidradenitis lesions after showering, and over-the-counter Hibiclens, a wash that medical staff use to ‘scrub in’ in order to prevent any infections from occurring. However, neither of these topical solutions have gotten rid of my HS boils.

My new dermatologist was very caring, and didn’t rush me at all. She suggested that I use a new topical solution called resorcinol. Resorcinol is not covered by my health insurance, since it’s not made by a typical pharmacy, but rather, a compounding facility. While this is a downside, I did some research about the medication, and according to the Journal of the American Academy for Dermatology (JAAD), a 2010 study found that when patients with Hurley stage I or II HS used topical 15% resorcinol twice daily for 30 days, they saw a ‘marked decrease in pain and mean duration of the lesions’.

Below are the side-by-side results from the study. The first left-side image (A) is the patient’s baseline state, the second (B) is seven days into treatment, and the third image (C) is 30 days into the treatment. The right-side images (D, E, and F) are the respective lesions shown via ultrasonography.

Image courtesy of the JAAD (Journal of the American Academy for Dermatology).

Beyond the resorcinol, I spoke with my dermatologist about a medication called spironolactone for hidradenitis suppurativa treatment. Spironolactone is commonly used to treat acne and other similar skin disorders. Although HS is sometimes referred to as ‘acne inversa’, anyone with the condition knows that it’s not acne – not even close! That being said, HS may be similar to acne in the sense that it may be affected by hormones. Plus, a 2017 study of 46 women with HS found that acne and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) were the most commonly reported comorbidities with hidradenitis. The same study found that spironolactone was effective, even in small doses, for managing patients’ pain and inflammatory lesions.

Though I haven’t decided whether or not to move forward with spironolactone treatment yet, I thought it was interesting that there was a potential connection between HS and hormones, especially since I myself have adult acne and have had multiple ovarian cysts in the past. Plus, I have Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that may also have a hormonal component. I do notice that my hidradenitis boils do worsen on a pre-menstrual basis.

I also discussed with my dermatologist getting laser hair removal in the areas most commonly affected by HS – the groin and underarms. She did say that laser hair removal does help with the follicular occlusion aspect of the disease. Obviously, there are drawbacks – for example, laser hair removal is almost impossible to do in patients with Hurley stage III of the disease, because it’s simply too painful. It’s also not usually covered by insurance, since it’s considered a cosmetic procedure, rather than a medical one. But, it’s another option that I want to consider since I’m still at stage I of the disease, and would rather have laser hair removal than wide-excision surgery.

Do you have hidradenitis suppurativa? If so, what treatments have been most effective for you? Let me know in the comments below!