• Inflammation and diet - what’s the connection?

Inflammation and diet - what’s the connection?

Chronic inflammation has been linked to a number of degenerative diseases, however certain foods can reduce the risk of these developing by decreasing the likelihood of inflammation.

In general, healthy diets rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains tend to be anti-inflammatory, while poor diets high in saturated fat, trans-fat and processed sugar are likely to be pro-inflammatory.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s immune system responding to an irritant by seeking to remove it and start the healing process.

Inflammation can be acute or chronic. Acute inflammation develops quickly—within minutes or hours—but only lasts a short time—a couple of days or weeks.

Symptoms of acute inflammation include redness, pain, heat, swelling and loss of function, with the most common causes being physical injuries, pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses or fungi, and chemicals or radiation.

If chronic inflammation occurs, then the response is slow and long-term, lasting several months or years.

Unlike its acute counterpart, chronic inflammation has a harmful effect on the body and is a key factor in almost all chronic degenerative diseases, as well as being the most significant cause of fatalities worldwide.

Sixty per cent of people die due to chronic inflammatory diseases, such as stroke, heart disorders, chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

Other illnesses in which chronic inflammation is a factor include cardiovascular diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, allergic asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s, chronic kidney disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

Recognising chronic inflammation:

Chronic inflammation can be caused by:

  • the failure to eliminate an irritant causing acute inflammation
  • exposure to low levels of irritants, potentially over a long period
  • autoimmune disorders, where the body attacks healthy tissues
  • recurrent episodes of acute inflammation
  • oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, such as an imbalance of free radicals or antioxidants

Risk factors for developing chronic inflammation include increasing age, obesity, poor diet, smoking, low levels of sex hormones, stress and sleep disorders.

Common signs and symptoms include body pain, chronic fatigue and insomnia, depression, anxiety and mood disorders, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux or other gastrointestinal complications, weight gain and frequent infections.

Unfortunately, chronic inflammation can also develop and progress ‘silently’ and is often only diagnosed when it occurs in conjunction with another medical condition.

Diet and inflammation:

With such a widespread impact on health, it’s important to reduce your likelihood of chronic inflammation to avoid the risk of developing ongoing health problems.

Research shows that diet can impact inflammation, whether increasing or reducing it.

The Mediterranean diet has particularly been identified as having an anti-inflammatory effect due to its preference for fruits, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains, fish and healthy oils.

An anti-inflammatory food plan should minimise or avoid saturated fat, trans-fat and processed sugars, refined carbohydrates, red meat and processed meat, and high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids.

Instead, you should increase intake of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, Omega-3 fatty acids, spices and foods rich in natural antioxidants and polyphenols.  Magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc and selenium also have anti-inflammatory properties and should form part of an anti-inflammatory food plan.

In addition to dietary changes, minimising the use of antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight, sleeping longer and reducing stress all contribute to preventing chronic inflammation.

Pro-inflammatory foods

Anti-inflammatory foods

Refined carbohydrates, eg. white bread, pastries

Tomatoes

Fried foods and refined vegetable oils, eg. corn, soy, sunflower and safflower oils

Olive oil

Sugar-sweetened drinks

Green leafy vegetables, eg. spinach, kale

Red meat and processed meat

Other vegetables, eg. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower

Margarine

Nuts, eg. almonds, walnuts

Omega-6 fatty acids, eg. corn-fed animal products, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils

Fatty fish, eg. salmon, mackeral, tuna, sardines

 

Fruit, eg. strawberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, apples

 

Omega-3 fatty acids, eg. grass-fed animal products, flax, canola and camelina oils

 

Spices, eg. turmeric, ginger, cinnamon

 

Information compiled from Harvard Health Publishing and the University of Washington.