Inflammation has been found to be associated with just about every health condition. Researchers are furiously investigating chronic inflammation’s effects on health and possible preventive medical applications.
It’s “an emerging field,” says UCLA’s Dr. David Heber. “It’s a new concept for medicine.”
Why is it a new concept? 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.
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 Is Inflammation?
Inflammation isn’t always bad; It is the body’s natural defense against damaged cells, viruses, bacteria, etc. It aims to remove these harmful or foreign invaders and heal itself.
Inflammation can sometimes be mistaken for inflection, but the two are not the same. Infection can, however, cause inflammation because infection is caused by harmful substances like bacteria or fungus. In fact, inflammation is the body’s response to infection. In this way, inflammation is good. But not always.
There are two different types of inflammation. One type is acute inflammation; The other is chronic. While acute inflammation starts quickly and generally disappears in a few days, chronic inflammation can last for months or years as a result of failure to eliminate the cause and minor, repeated exposure to the agent.
A poor diet, stress, minor food allergies, a sedentary lifestyle and more can contribute to chronic inflammation. Let’s look at how a poor diet can contribute.
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.
Foods that promote inflammation are:
- 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 antioxidants 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, 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.
Tuft University Dr. Andrew Greenberg 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.”
Some of Perricone’s anti-inflammatory “super-foods” are:
- 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. A handful of the foods he recommends are:
A minimum of 4 to 5 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
3 to 4 servings per day of apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, pink grapefruit, plums, pomegranates, red grapefruit or strawberries
Drink purified water, sparkling water or unsweetened tea throughout the day
Beans and Legumes
1 to 2 servings per day of Ansazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas or lentils
5 to 7 servings per day of avocados, 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
Healthy Herbs and Spices
Unlimited amounts of basil, chili peppers, cinnamon, curry powder, garlic, ginger, rosemary, turmeric and thyme
1 to 2 servings per week of eggs, grass-fed meats, natural cheeses, organic poultry or yogurt
2 to 4 cups of green, oolong or white tea per day
1-2 glasses of organic red wine per day
Co-enzyme Q10, carotenoids, fish oil, selenium, vitamins C, D and E
Dark chocolate, fruit sorbet and unsweetened dried fruit
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 people consume large quantities of grains. Grains still turn to sugar in the body faster and are generally less nutrient dense than foods like vegetables.
How to Reduce Inflammation
- 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 Tbsp. 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