What is inflammation?

Inflammation happens when a physical factor triggers a natural immune response against harm, and there are two types: acute and chronic.  Acute inflammation comes on quickly and is short-lived, such as swelling from a sprained ankle or bug bite.  On the other hand, chronic, low-grade inflammation is the long-term inflammation at the root of a multitude of aging diseases, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and some types of cancer. We will be focusing on the latter type of inflammation, sometimes referred to as “silent inflammation.”  Many highly respected researchers contend that when it comes to managing heart disease, reducing chronic inflammation is just as vital as reducing cholesterol.  If this is the case, it only makes sense that we should be infusing more anti-inflammatory approaches into our lifestyle.

Evidence for Reducing Inflammation through Diet

A recent large-scale study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that dietary patterns with a higher dietary inflammatory potential were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Foods that tend to be pro-inflammatory include red meat, high-fat dairy, salt, sugar-sweetened beverages, fried foods, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, candy, and desserts.

Therefore, it is thought that a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods may have the opposite effect by reducing the risk of having a heart event.  Another study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that the body’s inflammatory response was decreased with a diet rich in whole foods, along with regular exercise and not smoking.

The most widely researched anti-inflammatory marker is C-reactive protein.  This inflammatory marker was measured in a randomized, controlled crossover study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which researchers assessed how an anti-inflammatory diet affects arthritis.  They found that C-reactive protein was significantly lower after the intervention, indicating that an anti-inflammatory diet positively impacted those with arthritis.  With all this said, additional studies are needed to confirm that these findings are clinically relevant for disease prevention.

Dietary Strategies for Reducing Inflammation

When it comes to reducing key markers of inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases, research points to an eating plan rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3’s.  This dietary pattern is comparable to the Mediterranean Diet and Pritikin Eating Plan.  Although most research to date has been focused on overall dietary patterns, newer research is looking at specific anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as turmeric, berries, tomato products, ginger, tea, vegetables, walnuts, dark chocolate, red wine, and fish. You can fight inflammation with food with just a few tweaks.

The Outlook for Inflammation and Diet

The concept of fighting inflammation through diet is still a new area of research.  However, it does look very promising, especially when a plant-based diet rich in whole foods is combined with regular exercise and a healthy mind-set.  Until more conclusive research is performed, it is still comforting to know that foods thought to be anti-inflammatory are the same foods that have already been proven to help heal chronic diseases.