Anti-inflammatory refers to the property of a substance or treatment that reduces inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs make up one half of analgesics, remedying pain by reducing inflammation as opposed to opioids which affect the brain.
Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Many steroids, specifically glucocorticoids, reduce inflammation by binding to cortisol receptors. These drugs are often referred to as corticosteroids, though that is a larger category.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), alleviate pain by counteracting the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme. On its own COX enzyme synthesizes prostaglandins, creating inflammation. In whole the NSAIDs prevent the prostaglandins from ever being synthesized, reducing or eliminating the pain.
In addition to medical drugs, many herbs have anti-inflammatory qualities, including hyssop, Arnica montana which contains helenalin, a sesquiterpene lactone, and willow bark, which contains salicylic acid, a substance related to the active ingredient in aspirin.
On the other hand, there are analgesics like paracetamol, called acetaminophen in the U.S. and sold under the brand name of Tylenol, which are commonly associated with anti-inflammatory drugs but which have no anti-inflammatory effects.
Some are concerned about the long term usage of NSAIDs as they cause gastric erosions which can become stomach ulcers and in extreme cases result in death. The risk of death as a result of use of NSAIDs is 1 in 10,000 for young adults aged 16-45. The risk increases ten fold for those over 75.
Applying ice to a tissue injury has an anti-inflammatory effect and is often suggested as an injury treatment and pain management technique for athletes.
Due to concerns over the gastric problems caused by NSAIDs researchers are turning to more natural solutions to dealing with the problem of inflammation. One ingredient with a great future potential is capsaicin, a naturally occurring ingredient in chili peppers. Studies have shown some success in the control of pain and inflammation when capsaicin is applied topically.
Others advocate the consumption of anti-inflammatory foods as a means of controlling inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods include most colorful fruits and vegetables, oily fish and certain nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Those following an anti-inflammatory diet will avoid refined oils and sugars, and show a preference for anti-inflammatory foods in their meal choices. Several types of “Smoker’s Paradoxes” , i.e. cases where smoking appears to have specific beneficial effects, have been observed; often the actual mechanism remains undetermined. For instance, recent studies suggest that smokers require less frequent repeated revascularization after percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) , . Smoking appears to interfere with development of Kaposi’s sarcoma , breast cancer among women carrying the very high risk BRCA gene , preeclampsia , and atopic disorders such as allergic asthma . A plausible mechanism of action in these cases may be the nicotine in tobacco smoke acting as an anti-inflammatory agent  and interfering with the disease process.
- Health advice regarding NSAIDs
- NSAIDs and adverse effects
- List of anti-inflammatory food
- Topical capsaicin for pain relief