What is general “inflammation” and why does every single superfood, supplement, and diet claim that it will reduce inflammation as a benefit?


I’ve never heard inflammation used outside of the context of an injury, yet every product out there claims to reduce inflammation.

In: 5

Inflammation is also a cause or symptom of some other chronic illnesses, such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disorder. In general, when something is going wrong on any kind of time scale in our bodies, it will cause inflammation because inflammation is our bodies trying to get more blood and nutrients to the problem to help out. Because the causes and effects of inflammation are so generalized, it’s really easy to claim that a supplement helps with “inflammation” and then market it as a miracle cure for everything from toothaches to cardiovascular disease

Unless its a specific medication, its mostly just a gimmick used to sell products. It will depend on the typecause of the inflammation.

Inflammation is the body’s standard response to damage to cells, organs, etc.

Through most of human history the main threat to our health was infection by microorganisms. The response to this is inflammation which is a rapid influx of immune cells and molecules that cause local destruction to kill the bacteria/virus/parasite, but has collateral damage (pain, redness, swelling, local destruction of your own cells).

With modern medicine, combined with bad health habits and an increase in environmental toxins, non-infectious causes of tissue damage are far more prevalent including chronic diseases. Your body responds the same way, but if the stimulus never goes away, as is what happens in chronic disease, the inflammation is not helping and is in fact detrimental long term for multiple reasons.

Many foods *do* have anti-inflammatory processes ([turmeric](https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jcpt.12703) is a great example), but using turmeric instead of ibuprofen for knee pain is like using a thimble to transport water instead of a bucket. That said there is likely long term benefit to eating those foods, especially in place of artificial [processed foods](https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abe4841) that contribute to inflammation.

Edit: How much inflammation it reduces and how meaningful that is, I’m sure is probably minimal for 99% of the products espousing that as a benefit.

Imagine Times Square, New York City, on an average day. Suddenly someone yells “hey, there’s a fight going on over there, check it out!”

This causes people to pause, and either look to where the action is happening, or possibly head over there out of curiosity to get a better view of the fight. Eventually, the cops are called, who break up the fight and arrest the instigators, and tell the crowd to disperse, which they slowly do.

Inflammation is similar to the crowd in the example above: it calls attention to a particular spot where infection has been detected by nearby cells. This is a good thing, because you want harmful pathogens like bacteria and viruses to be killed by your immune system as quickly as possible. Inflammation can be a bad thing if it doesn’t stop after the immune system has been alerted and responds, such as if the crowd suddenly turned into a riot, or if inflammation causes your body to start attacking itself (auto-immune disorders), such as if the cops suddenly started arresting everyone regardless if they had any role in the fight.

Claims that superfoods reduce inflammation is a tricky one for ELI5, because the rationales for the claims can vary. One example is superfoods may contain things like Vitamin C which can reduce inflammation, but this is similar to claiming Vitamin C is a cure for the common cold: it can help treat and prevent a cold, but it’s not a miracle cure, and taking a lot of Vitamin C in itself won’t cure or prevent you from catching a cold. A healthy diet that includes things you need like vitamin C will be a better prevention for catching a cold and recovering from one than taking handfuls of Vitamin C tablets the moment you sneeze.