Inflammation in the body continues to be linked to an increasing amount of diseases. The Cleveland Clinic associates the inflammatory response with autoimmune disorders, the American Heart Association links inflammation to heart disease, and the American Cancer Society states “there is much evidence that chronic inflammation leads to an increased cancer risk”. Although inflammation is caused by a variety of factors, including environmental and physical stressors, one of the largest considerations is food. Every food stimulates a particular reaction in the body, with whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and fish providing nutrients that inhibit inflammation, and with refined carbohydrates, sugar, and caffeinated beverages stimulating the release of the hormone prostaglandin, which activates the inflammatory response.
Consume large amounts of fruits and vegetables, organic as much as possible, because, according to a study report in the Journal of Neuroscience, pesticides have been linked to inflammatory diseases such as Parkinson’s. Lean meats such as chicken and turkey, and small amounts of lean beef, provide nutrients that protect the body against inflammation, and provide quality protein that maintains blood sugar levels, increasing energy. Seek out free-range meats. Several herbs and spices are known for their anti-inflammatory effects and should be included, such as turmeric, cumin, and ginger.
One of the most important parts of an anti-inflammatory diet is consuming food rich in Omega-3s, such as flax, walnuts, hemp, seaweed and oily fish. The body more readily processes the omegas found in fish.
Foods that should be diminished greatly, if not eliminated completely, are: vegetable oils (which are high in inflammatory Omega-6s) with the exception of olive and grapeseed, refined grains and cereals, sugar, fast food, and caffeinated beverages such as soda, coffee, and black tea. Green tea is one caffeinated drink that may have anti-inflammatory properties, according to a study published in January 2007 in the Journal of Inflammation.
What to Expect
The first two days of the anti-inflammatory diet may stimulate cravings for refined and high-sugar content foods, particularly if those were consumed in abundance prior to beginning the diet. Use fruits such as apples and berries, which are lower in sugar than other fruits, to satiate a sweet tooth. Also, the introduction of Omega-3s through increased fish intake or fish oil supplementation should help with these types of cravings. After three days, a severe drop in cravings, along with a marked difference in muscle soreness, should be noticeable.
Most will notice a decrease in joint and muscle pain. The World’s Healthiest Foods notes that the diet also benefits those with allergic reactions such as asthma. Other common ailments connected to inflammation include headaches, neck pain, and back pain. Those who contend with digestive disorders such as IBS also may find relief from this diet.
Those dealing with more serious diseases such as diabetes or heart disease usually need a longer period of time to feel relief from their particular symptoms, though the symptoms previously mentioned should show marked improvements.
Several studies have shown this diet to help with a variety of ailments. A review titled “Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases” noted that experimental studies have indicated that Omega-3 fatty acids change inflammatory and immune reactions. Dr. Frank Leung found a substantial reduction in C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, along with reductions in cholesterol and insulin levels over a 30-day period in those who participated in an anti-inflammatory diet. Also, Dr. Andrew Weil suggests that “following an anti-inflammatory diet can help counteract the chronic inflammation that is a root cause of many serious diseases, including those that become more frequent as people age.”
Before undertaking any new diet, a licensed specialist should be consulted. For some, this dietary approach may not provide all necessary nutrients or may aggravate other conditions such as colitis. Also, the anti-inflammatory herb turmeric should not be used by people with gallstones. Fish oil should not be consumed by those on blood thinning drugs. Any food that is a suspected allergen should not be eaten.
Work in conjunction with a health professional to achieve optimal results for individual health concerns.
About this Author
Christine Garvin is a certified nutrition educator and holds an M.A. in holistic health education. She is co-editor of Brave New Traveler and founder/editor of Living Holistically… with a sense of humor. When she is not out traveling the world, she is busy writing, doing yoga and performing hip-hop and bhangra.