Could chronic inflammation be the root of the most common modern diseases?
More and more scientists are now beginning to think the answer is a resounding "Yes!"
This idea stems from the fact that adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of many debilitating diseases. At the same time, it also reduces or completely prevents the occurrence of chronic inflammation.
Such dietary models are now known as anti inflammatory diets, and they involve the consumption of specific foods and nutrients.
Keep reading to discover all you should know about the most potent anti-inflammatory foods that should be the staple of every anti inflammatory diet.
You will also learn which are inflammatory foods to avoid and how to boost the anti inflammatory properties of your diet with the most effective supplements.
Causes of inflammation
Acute inflammation is vital for survival. When not excessive, it helps facilitate recovery by clearing infectious agents, dead cells, and cellular debris in the affected area.
The symptoms of acute inflammation are typical and usually involve increased blood flow in the affected area, redness, swelling, and pain.
Unfortunately, there are cases when the cause of the inflammatory response persists, which leads to chronic inflammation.
In such cases, immune cells continuously release inflammatory molecules that damage the surrounding tissues and lead to persisting pain or even generalized symptoms.
The symptoms may include:
- persisting body pain
- chronic fatigue
- frequent infections
- unexplained changes in body weight
- diarrhea and malabsorption
The exact symptoms of chronic inflammation depend on the affected organs or body parts. In some cases, such as those caused by excess visceral fat, there is a state of systemic inflammation that can affect the whole body (1).
The most common causes of chronic inflammation include:
- persisting pathogen or foreign body
- overuse and lasting injury such as arthritis
- visceral obesity and metabolic syndrome
- allergies and hypersensitivity
- autoimmune conditions
- chronic exposure to toxins
Genetic factors also play a role in the development of chronic inflammation.
For example, the influence of genes on the risk of osteoarthritis is around 35-65%, according to studies (2). Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men.
Some individuals are more prone to storing fat around their waist and developing insulin resistance. In combination with improper diet and physical inactivity, the condition may progress to diabetes, gout, PCOS, and heart disease.
Specific genes also may increase the risk of developing autoimmune conditions such as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) (3).
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are compounds that help your body neutralize active radicals, such as reactive oxygen species (4).
Your body produces activе radicals all the time. Reactive oxygen species are molecules produced by most human cells as a byproduct of metabolizing oxygen.
Your body also constantly synthesizes antioxidants to minimize the adverse effects of radicals. These processes create a balance between oxidants and antioxidants in your body.
During inflammation, your immune cells can lead to the production of extra amounts of active radicals, which help them damage microbial and tumor cells (5, 6)
In chronic inflammation, they are often produced in excess, disturbing the balance between radicals and antioxidants and damaging healthy cells.
Increasing your intake of antioxidants and stimulating your endogenous antioxidant production may help your body minimize the damage and resolve the inflammation faster.
Many essential nutrients that you should consume daily also act as antioxidants for your body (7). Examples of antioxidants with potent anti-inflammatory benefits include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium, etc.
Other common groups of dietary antioxidants are carotenoids and polyphenols, which can be found in various plants and herbs. Thus, products containing such nutrients are often considered anti-inflammatory foods.
Yet, keep in mind that consuming too many antioxidants may disturb the balance of antioxidants and radicals in your body. Studies report that excessive antioxidant consumption can lead to an "antioxidant paradox" and do more harm than good (8, 9).
On the other hand, some foods and herbs contain molecules that help your body naturally produce more antioxidants.
One such molecule is curcumin, which can be found in the popular spice turmeric and possesses well-known anti inflammatory properties.
Such nutrients can help your body regulate the balance between antioxidants and oxidative stress much more effectively and control the process of inflammation, which results in powerful anti-inflammatory benefits.
Food to fight inflammation
Certain foods have potent anti inflammatory benefits and most of them are rich in omega 3 fatty acid and antioxidants are the staple of any anti-inflammatory diet. Anti inflammatory foods must also be free of toxins, pathogens, and harmful chemicals. A healthy eating plan strives to avoid inflammatory compounds such as added sugar, fried food, red meat,and ultra processed food containing trans fat and increse your intake of oily fish, fresh fruits veggies and grains.
Anti-inflammatory foods #1 - Fatty fish
Almost all dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, are potent anti inflammatory foods. Still, salmon stands out from the rest due to its high levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Your body cannot produce these acids on its own, so you must take them with your diet. Once ingested, your body metabolizes them into specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPM) compounds.
SPMs such as resolvins and protectins are the key factors that orchestrate the resolution of inflammation in your body (10).
On the other hand, your body uses omega-6 fatty acids to produce pro-inflammatory molecules. Therefore, it is vital to maintain a healthy ratio between the two types of polyunsaturated fats in your diet.
According to the recommendations, you should consume 2-4 times more omega 6s than omega-3 fatty acids.
Unfortunately, western diets involve consuming up to 25 times more omega 6s than omega 3s. That is considered one of the risk factors leading to increased incidence of heart disease in modern history.
To improve your omega 3s to omega 6s ratio, you should consume fatty fish at least 3 times per week. Fatty fish species high in omega 3s and low in toxins such as mercury include salmon, sardines, cod, herring, trout, etc.
Anti-inflammatory foods #2 - Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is another source of healthy fat and antioxidants. This healthy oil is why it takes a central place in one of the most popular anti-inflammatory diets - the Mediterranean diet.
Unlike most plant oils, extra virgin olive oil is low in omega 6s and high in monounsaturated fats, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
It also contains the antioxidant oleocanthal, which has benefits comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (11).
Anti-inflammatory foods #3 - Fresh fruits and vegetables
Apart from olive oil, the Mediterranean diet is also rich in omega 3 fatty acids and green leafy vegetables. Most vegetables are also potent anti-inflammatory foods, but tomatoes stand out from the rest thanks to their high lycopene content.
Lycopene is a carotenoid with potent anti-inflammatory effects, which may reduce low-grade chronic inflammation in obesity, reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers (12, 13).
Tomatoes are also a great source of the most popular antioxidant - vitamin C. This vitamin has well-known anti-inflammatory benefits and helps fight inflammation caused by toxins such as tobacco smoke.
Out of all fruits, berries are the ones richest in polyphenolic antioxidants. For example, they contain anthocyanins which give berries their specific colors.
Studies show that berries can help reduce the levels of a protein called plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), an inflammatory marker for risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease (14). Berries are a staple food in the Mediterranean diet as well.
Inflammatory Foods to avoid
Minimize food and drinks which contain inflammatory compounds - alcohol, partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats), N-nitroso-compounds (NOC), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
The ethanol found in all alcoholic beverages is significantly toxic to the human body, causing whole-body inflammation and increased risk for cancer. Most notably, it increases the risk of liver, laryngeal, esophageal, and breast cancer (15).
According to the evidence, even moderate alcohol consumption can increase C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the human body (16). CRP is one of the most sensitive markers for inflammation.
Alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of heart disease such as hypertension, cardiomyopathy, and heart attack.
Baked products (and everything else that may contain margarine)
Artificially hydrogenated plant oils are well known for their health risks, which has made companies switch to saturated oils instead. Yet, some manufacturers still use hydrogenated oils in their products, so read the labels carefully.
Trans fat can cause a lot of inflammation in your body, linked to increased risk of diabetes, atherosclerosis, and heart disease.
One study found that people who regularly consume high amounts of trans fats have 73% higher CRP levels when compared to the individuals with the lowest consumption (17).
An inflammatory mediator called TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor-alpha), linked to chronic inflammation, is also elevated by 12% in individuals who often consume trans fats (18).
Processing red meat can lead to the accumulation of toxic chemicals and induce inflammation.
For example, meat processing such as smoking increases the content of PAH, which has been linked to increased inflammation, CRP levels, and cancer risk (19).
The use of nitrites in processed meat also leads to the accumulation of NOCs, which are also carcinogenic. That's why processed meat has been classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning studies have proven that it increases cancer risk in humans (20).
What is Turmeric
Turmeric, aka Curcuma Longa, is native to India and Southeast Asia. For more than 4000 years, the people living in these regions have used its roots as a spice, dye, and medicine.
Traditional Indian medicine, including Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani medicine, have used it for numerous ailments, including (21):
- reducing inflammation
- strengthening the body's overall energy
- relieving gas
- expelling parasites
- improving digestion
- providing antioxidant support
- supporting arthritis symptoms
The herb's roots are rich in antioxidants, with the most prominent one being curcuminoids. These polyphenols contribute to the yellow color and their potent anti-inflammatory properties.
The most abundant curcuminoid found in the roots is curcumin (22). It's also the most studied since scientists have used it in more than 400 clinical trials.
For example, one study noted improvements in the antioxidant capacity, triglyceride levels, liver enzymes, and inflammatory markers in 19 individuals who took turmeric extract for 4 weeks (23).
The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin may also help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Nine months of supplementation prevented the condition in 120 patients with insulin resistance, while more than 16% of the placebo group eventually progressed to type 2 diabetes for the same period (24).
Researchers also report that 8 weeks of curcumin supplementation can help reduce symptoms of depression in individuals with major depressive disorder (25).
None of the studies have shown any side effects of supplementation with turmeric extracts.
According to research, even doses of up to 12 grams per day, which is more than 10x the recommended therapeutic dose, have not caused any severe side effects (26).
The most common adverse reactions include mild gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, flatulence, and reflux (27).
Is a turmeric supplement worth it if you have chronic inflammation?
Taking a turmeric supplement can help you deal with existing chronic inflammation and prevent more inflammation from occurring. Besides, curcumin is not discriminatory towards the location of the inflammation either. It offers whole-body benefits.
Scientists reports improvement in patients with systemic inflammation due to obesity, post-exercise inflammation, heart disease, inflammation in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, etc. (32, 33, 34)
Yet, one of the most well-studied benefits of curcumin supplementation is its effects on chronic joint inflammation.
- Studies report that curcumin supplementation shows good pain relief in helping to support rheumatoid arthritis symptoms but a 12% lower risk for side effects (35).
- Patients tend to experience a 58% reduction on average in symptoms of joint pain, stiffness, and physical functioning (36).
Experiments also suggest that combined with other herbal extracts such as ginger, turmeric appears even more effective in reducing inflammation (37). Osteoarthritis can be a debilitating condition that reduces physical functioning and quality of life.
If you have chronic joint pain, taking turmeric and ginger supplements may be a great natural addition to your healthy diet as it helps you fight inflammation and improve overall well-being.
Before taking any supplement, make sure to consult with your doctor.You can also take turmeric and ginger in addition to many any anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications used to treat chronic conditions but your healthcare provider would be able to guide you on how to proceed based on your unique requirements. .
Note: This article is for informational purposes only, and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.