Do you have it? You do if you have allergies, asthma, arthritis, gum disease, peptic ulcers, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, obesity, or an auto-immune condition. Have what? Inflammation. Inflammation initially starts as a protective mechanism that prevents the spread of disease. However, persistent inflammation fuels practically all chronic diseases and acute ones, too.
News flash: A healthful diet can greatly curtail or even prevent detrimental inflammation in your body. So, if you want to improve your quality of life and in many cases save substantially on your medical bills, read on.
Skip the Western Diet
The typical Western diet (characterized by higher intakes of red and processed meats, sweets, desserts, French fries, and refined grains) increases inflammatory markers in the blood. In contrast, the regular consumption of a more prudent diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and monounsaturated fats reduces inflammation.1
Saturated fats (fats solid at room temperature) cause jet lag phenomena in our body and upset our circadian (24-hour) body rhythm. This upset also occurs in the immune cells that regulate inflammation. As a result, inflammation becomes worse after consuming a high fat meal.2
Meat contains arachidonic acid. Excessive consumption of this fatty acid, as well as saturated fat, pushes the chemistry of inflammation. Neu5GC is a compound in red meat that pushes inflammation and encourages tumor growth.3
Sugar consumption causes spikes in blood sugar and consequent spikes in insulin which encourages inflammation. The average American drinks 216 liters of soft drinks annually. Low to moderate consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increased bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, blood glucose levels, and an inflammatory marker (hsCRP) in healthy young men in just three weeks.4
Pass the Fruit, Please
Fruits are loaded with anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Many of these exert cancer-preventive and anti-oxidant activity as well. Resveratrol in grapes reduces inflammation, but there are other polyphenols in grapes that help to reduce inflammation in at least five known ways. Other flavonoids found in blueberries and cranberries protect our small blood vessels from inflammatory assaults and improve mental performance by increasing anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity within the brain. Strawberries significantly reduce the natural rise of inflammation that occurs after a high fat meal and improve the body’s ability to respond to insulin.5 That is important because obesity, excess insulin, or poor glucose control promote inflammation.
Anthocyanins in any red, purple, or blue fruits have also demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, and anthocyanin-rich interventions have indicated beneficial effects on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors. Apples and citrus also contain anti-inflammatory compounds. In addition, fresh fruits are rich in vitamin C, a natural anti-histamine.
Although drinking a glass of fruit juice improves the anti-oxidant level in your blood, more than that can actually increase inflammation inside the body. How? The sudden rise in blood sugar and triglycerides from fruit juice actually contributes to inflammation. Obese individuals, or individuals whose blood glucose levels run in high normal range, would fare better if they skipped fruit juice and ate the whole fruit.
Don’t Scrimp on Veggies
If you are serious about reducing inflammation, eat a liberal serving of greens every day. Chlorophyll in dark green leafy vegetables and sulforaphane in broccoli reduce inflammation by several different mechanisms. Other cruciferous veggies like cabbage and Brussels sprouts also contain valuable anti-inflammatory agents as well. Greens are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. The carotenoids found in orange and red vegetables also help to reduce inflammation, but not as strongly as green vegetables do.
Want a great anti-inflammatory vegetable with pain-reducing properties? Eat celery. Medical botanist James Duke points out that celery contains two dozen known analgesic compounds, more than two dozen anti-inflammatory substances, inhibits histamine, and exerts anti-allergy activity.6 Don’t like raw celery? Use it liberally in soups, legume dishes, and entrées. A veggie cocktail of half carrot juice and half celery is excellent.
Win While You Lose
About 32% of Americans are obese, another 32% are overweight. Approximately one out of six Americans have metabolic syndrome – a condition characterized by obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, and elevated blood sugar. Low-muscle mass combined with high body fat triggers inflammatory problems. Fat cells are actually endocrine cells that make a whole host of chemicals, many of which, if produced in excess, promote inflammation. This means that obese people:
- generate more free radicals and much more inflammatory compounds and activity
- have a substantial risk for developing an undesirable blood clot
- have more responsiveness in the stress activation system known as the sympathetic nerves
- experience a greater rise in blood sugar and blood fats after a meal than is normal
If you are one of these individuals, don’t lose heart; there is good news. Studies show that plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts markedly blunt the post-meal increase in glucose, triglycerides (blood fats), and inflammatory markers. Choose foods that have a low or moderate rating on the glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index measures the blood-sugar response to a food compared to straight sugar. Foods with low to moderate GI scores help one to control blood sugar, lose weight, and reduce inflammation.7Obese, overweight, and anyone who has or is at risk for diabetes should avoid high-glycemic foods.
You Can Easily Do This Much
Both obese and diabetic individuals produce and have less adiponectin. This hormone, made from the fat cells, increases the metabolic rate, improves the ability of the cells to respond to insulin, preserves the ability of the blood vessels to dilate, and helps with the clearance of blood fats known as triglycerides. Gradual weight loss in obese individuals, when accompanied by exercise, increases adiponectin levels. In fact, a number of studies show that increased physical activity leads to lower circulating levels of proinflammatory cytokines and higher levels of adiponectin.
Just a modest weight loss of 5 to 10% can significantly reduce elevated blood sugar and blood fats and reduce inflammatory markers. Australian researchers found that when an obese pre-diabetic or diabetic individual loses just a little over 12 pounds, the level of pro-inflammatory chemicals can return to that of lean individuals.8
Check the Adequacy of Your Diet
Deficient or marginal intakes of magnesium, zinc, vitamins C, E, and A, B3, and B6 interfere with the production of anti-inflammatory compounds (PGE-3). Nutritional epidemiologists estimate that 50% of the population in North America and Western Europe has an insufficient or deficient amount of active vitamin D in their bodies. This is unfortunate because in its active form, vitamin D is a marvelous anti-inflammatory, immune-bolstering, and cancer-fighting compound. A substantially higher risk of being deficient is found in those living in the northern latitudes, or those who use sun screen, as well as those who are elderly, dark-skinned, obese, or have kidney disease. We now know that we do not store up enough vitamin D to hold us through the winter months. Vegans should supplement with vitamin D.
Both omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats can help. Frequent consumption of nuts reduces inflammation, including that which occurs in blood vessels. Olives reduce the rise of inflammatory markers that occur after a meal. Use omega-6, found in corn, safflower, sesame, and sunflower oils, sparingly. Excessive amounts of omega-6 encourage the production of the pro-inflammatory hormone, PGE-2.
Use Anti-inflammatory Herbs and Seasonings
Certain herbs can reduce inflammation. Cox-2 is a beneficial enzyme in small amounts, but in excess amounts it pushes inflammation and cancer. Cox-2 inhibitor drugs are used in the treatment of arthritis. Unfortunately, they also increase the risk for serious cardio-vascular events. There are safe, natural Cox-2 inhibitors that yield anti-inflammatory benefits without the side effects of drugs and, in many cases (if consumed regularly), phytochemicals that can actually help to protect us from cardiovascular damage. Herbal sources include:
- Carnosol from rosemary and sage
- Garlic and onions
- Curcumin in turmeric
Curcumin, the yellow-orange pigment in turmeric, inhibits the release of histamine from the body’s mast cells and is a natural Cox-2 inhibitor. In fact, turmeric inhibits inflammation in at least 14 known ways. Please note: that curcumin is sensitive to the exposure of light. Purchase and keep it in a dark container.
5-LOX is an enzyme that generates inflammatory leukotrienes, which are known to be potent inflammatory mediators that play a role in pain, allergic reactions, respiratory, and cardiovascular inflammation. Inhibitors of both the Cox-2 and 5-LOX pathways might have additive, or even synergistic effects in quenching inflammation. These dual inhibitors include:
Just add a scant teaspoon of peppermint, spearmint, rosemary, or ginger root into one cup of simmering water for a tasty anti-inflammatory tea. Individuals taking either prescription or over-the-counter drugs should consult with their pharmacist first before using any herb in medicinal amounts as to avoid any possible drug or herb interactions. Individuals with iron-deficient anemia should not use any medical amount of tea because the tannins present in many teas decreases iron absorption. Pregnant or lactating women should not use medicinal amounts of any herbs without consulting their physician.
What Eats You?
As important as good nutrition is, it isn’t everything. Negative emotions and stressful events often fuel inflammation. Major depression, burnout, chronic anxiety, hostility, and sleep deprivation—all increase inflammation. Replacing distorted thought patterns with healthy ones, pro-active thinking, forgiveness, and an eternal value system are essential for the anti-inflammatory diet to have its optimal effect.
I have often seen it here at Wildwood. A patient comes with a dozen medications—one to lower his blood pressure, one to reduce elevated cholesterol, another to control blood sugar, still another to relieve his depression, and yet another one for arthritis, and so forth. The anti-inflammatory diet not only targets inflammation using multiple mechanisms, but, when consumed regularly and combined with moderate exercise and stress management, it reduces the risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer. The anti-inflammatory diet can also prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis. It helps to combat depression and preserve cognitive performance. What a diet! Enjoying a wholesome anti-inflammatory diet often creates a new and healthier you.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is helpful and is educational. It is not the author’s or authors’ or Wildwood Health Institute’s intent to substitute the blog article for diagnosis, counseling, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
Copyright through December 2023. All rights reserved by Wildwood Sanitarium, Inc.
- Galland L, Diet and inflammation. Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec; 25(6):634-40
- Texas A&M University. “Saturated fats ‘jet lag’ body clocks, triggering metabolic disorders, study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160406124625.htm
- University of California – Davis Health System. “Neu5Gc in red meat and organs may pose a significant health hazard.” ScienceDaily., 19 October 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161019160201.htm
- Aeberli I, Low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug; 94(2):479-85
- Collin Ellis, et al., Strawberry modulates inflammatory markers and insulin response to high fat meal in overweight men and women, The FASEB Journal. 2008; 22:702.24
- Duke, James, The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods, Rodale Books, 1008, p. 88-89
- Gogebakan, O., et al, Effects of weight loss and long-term weight maintenance with diets varying in protein and glycemic index on cardiovascular risk factors: the diet, obesity, and genes (DiOGenes) study: a randomized, controlled trial. Circulation. 2011 Dec 20; 124(25):2829-38
- Virdot A, et al, The effects of weight loss and gastric banding on the innate and adaptive immune system in type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jun; 95(6):2845-50