Can the Right Foods Fight Inflammation?

No one likes inflammation, right?

(Photo: sethrt)

There's been a great deal of interest lately in the possible connection between what we eat, and the medical problems that come with chronic inflammation. These problems may include cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, insulin resistance, depression, dementia, arthritis, psoriasis, and bursting into flames.

Researchers have long noticed that some foods make inflammation worse, while other foods make it better. Plus, people with certain inflammatory markers are more likely to end up with an assortment of unpleasant medical conditions.

So not surprisingly, there are now diet books on the subject telling you what to eat and what to avoid. For example, The Zone Diet guy, Barry Sears, has one out called The Anti-Inflammation Zone. And dermatologist Dr. Nicholas Perricone (warning; some think he's a quack) thinks you can keep your skin from aging by following his anti-inflammatory diet.

Should we pay these folks any attention? After all, there are tons of diet and nutrition books by supposed experts, and if you took them all to heart, you might find it simplest not to eat anything at all.

Seriously: according to this Breatharian Book, you don't need food.

So one wonders, is this "eating to avoid inflammation" notion a sensible strategy, or just another trendy nutrition fad?

Well, fortunately the L.A. Times blog Booster Shots had some answers! Not only did they alert me to a recent study testing out a new "dietary inflammatory index" for common foods, but they also linked to a great summary of the relevant anti-inflammation research compiled by one of their interns. This of course had me scurrying to evaluate my diet wondering how we could possible score a few interns here at Cranky Fitness. How sweet would that be? Then Jo and Gigi and I could all kick back and drink beer and eat cupcakes while our spunky, energetic interns slaved away in the Cranky Fitness labs, cranking out the nutrition research.
Go spunky interns, go!
(Photo: Shorpy).

Anyway, So What's the Deal with Inflammation?

According to the L.A. Times anti-inflammation article, the point of an anti-inflammation diet is to fight "chronic silent inflammation," the result of an immune system that isn't shutting off when it's supposed to. To quote:

"The theory goes that long after the invading bacteria or viruses from some infection are gone, the body's defenses remain active. The activated immune cells and hormones then turn on the body itself, damaging tissues. The process continues indefinitely, occurring at low enough levels that a person doesn't feel pain or realize anything is wrong. Years later, proponents say, the damage contributes to illnesses such as heart disease, neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease or cancer."

Sounds like something we'd like to avoid, doesn't it?

And in a round-up of of nutritional studies, both human and animal, (best to read the whole article for more details), it's beginning to look like eating the right foods actually can help with the conditions associated with the inflammatory response. Furthermore, the researchers who came up with the nifty inflammatory index found it was able to predict levels of hs-CRP (which is an inflammatory marker) and "provide additional evidence that diet plays a role in the regulation of inflammation."


Now all we have to do is avoid the foods that cause inflammation, and eat more of the kind that fight it.

And so what foods are those? Well, here's the really cool part, at least if you're a health-conscious Cranky Fitness reader:

The "good" foods are pretty much the ones you already knew were good for you, and the "bad" foods are mostly the junky ones you've been taking pains to avoid!

I love it when things work out like that.

Some Foods That Apparently Help Battle Inflammation:

Generally, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, oily fish, protein sources, spices such as ginger and turmeric, and brightly colored fruits such as blueberries, cherries and pomegranates.

Foods You Might Want to Avoid:

Saturated fats, trans fats, corn and soybean oil, refined carbohydrates, sugars, red meat and dairy.

(Wait... dairy? Damn! I drink a LOT of milk. Hmm. But otherwise, this is pretty much what I've been trying to do anyway.)

There's also a chart on the third page in the inflammatory index study that shows the ratings, but it's kind of tricky. In this chart, high numbers seem to be "good" and low ones seem to be "bad." And while there are a few recognizable foods, like garlic (fine), tea (better) and tumeric (awesome), they mostly track boring nutritional components like magnesium (great), and saturated fats (bad).

Do you buy the idea of foods contributing to or preventing inflammation? Any plans to tweak your diet?

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