Inflammation has been found to be associated with just about every health condition, and researchers are furiously investigating chronic inflammation’s effects on health and possible preventive medical applications.
It’s an emerging field, UCLA’s Dr. David Heber says. “It’s a new concept for medicine.”
Why is it a new concept?
It’s new because modern medicine focuses on treating symptoms, not addressing the root cause of an issue.
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. Heart disease is inflammation of the arteries. Instead of taking a medication to reduce joint pain or lower cholesterol, we would be better served by reducing inflammation in the body.
The Root of Most Diseases
Dr. Tanya Edwards, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine, writes that inflammation is now recognized as the “underlying basis of a significant number of diseases.”
Although inflammation has long been known to play a role in allergic diseases like asthma, arthritis, and Crohn’s disease, Edwards says that Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and Parkinson’s disease may all be related to chronic inflammation in the body.
What Causes Inflammation?
What researchers believe is that an overactive immune system results in the body being flooded with defense cells and hormones that damage tissues.
Dietary and environmental toxins may build up in the body, turning the immune system on and keeping it highly reactive.
These foods promote inflammation:
- Corn and soybean oils
- Pasteurized dairy
- Refined carbohydrates
- Conventional meat
- Trans fats
Dr. Edwards points out that anti-inflammatory foods such as fiber, fruits, vegetables, and teas have been used to combat cancer, and vitamin E, curcumin, acetylcarnitine, and catechin have had positive and preventative effects on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Foods high in anti-oxidants help to reduce damage caused by inflammation.
UCLA professor Greg Cole has been looking at how to control inflammation and possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease with food substances such as curcumin, fruit flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, and reservatrol.
The Mediterranean diet contains many anti-inflammatory foods and has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides and reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The diet has also been linked to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Although it isn’t the focus, most people who go on an anti-inflammatory diet also lose weight.
Dr. Andrew Greenberg, of Tuft University, says, “There is no doubt that if you lose weight, inflammation is dramatically improved.” This is because excess fatty acids circulating in the blood promote the inflammatory immune response.
My Healing Foods diet is also anti-inflammatory in nature. By reducing inflammation, you place your body in a state that is conducive to healing from diseases and other health conditions.
Dr. Nicholas Perricone is one of the leading proponents of the anti-inflammatory diet and has authored several books. He says that “all foods fit into three categories: pro-inflammatory, neutral, or anti-inflammatory.”
These are some of Perricone’s anti-inflammatory “super-foods”:
- Acai fruit
- Allium vegetables (chives, garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, and shallots)
- Beans and lentils
- Green foods
- Hot peppers
- Nuts and seeds
Dr. Andrew Weil has created a food pyramid of anti-inflammatory foods. The following are just a handful of the foods he recommends:
1. Vegetables. Eat a minimum of four to five servings per day of beets, carrots, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale), dark leafy greens (collard greens, kale, spinach), onions, peas, salad greens, sea vegetables, and squashes
2. Fruits. Consume three to four servings per day of apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, pink grapefruit, plums, pomegranates, red grapefruit, or strawberries
3. Water. Drink purified water, sparkling water, or unsweetened tea throughout the day.
4. Beans and Legumes. Eat one to two servings per day of Anasazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, or lentils.
5. Healthy Fats. Have five to seven servings per day of avocadoes, expeller-pressed organic canola oil, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed, hazelnut oil, hemp seeds, high-oleic safflower or sunflower oils, sesame oil, or walnut oil.
6. Healthy Herbs and Spices. Include unlimited amounts of basil, chili peppers, cinnamon, curry powder, garlic, ginger, rosemary, turmeric, and thyme
7. Protein. Have one to two servings per week of eggs, grass-fed meats, natural cheeses, organic poultry, or yogurt.
8. Tea. Drink two to four cups of green, oolong, or white tea per day.
9. Red Wine. Have one to two glasses of organic red wine per day.
10. Supplements. Co-enzyme Q10; carotenoids; fish oil; selenium; and vitamins C, D, and E are recommended.
11. Healthy Sweets. Dark chocolate, fruit sorbet, and unsweetened dried fruit are good choices.
Though there are many grains, such as buckwheat and barley, that are considered anti-inflammatory and are also high in antioxidants and other nutrients, I don’t often recommend that people consume large quantities of grains. Grains still turn to sugar in the body faster than other foods and are generally less nutrient-dense than foods like vegetables.
Dr. Axe’s Action Steps
- Eliminate all sources of inflammation from your diet. This includes rancid oils, sugars, conventional meats, pasteurized dairy, trans fats, and sugars.
- Begin incorporating one new anti-inflammatory food to your diet each day. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
- If needed, supplement a healthy diet with 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored “Eat Dirt“and “Gut Repair Cookbook,” and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at DrAxe.com