How to Manage Inflammation by Eating the Right Foods

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Chronic inflammation is the “common denominator” of age-related disease — including heart disease, many cancers, and Alzheimer's disease. Now you’re probably familiar with inflammation on the surface of your body as local redness, heat, swelling and pain. But what you may not know is this: Inflammation also happens on the inside of your body, and this is where it can be the most dangerous to your health.

Inflammation is characterized by an increased blood flow to an area of infection or injury. In this process, your blood carries white blood cells, nourishment and repair cells to the injury site to aid in recovery. But when inflammation persists, it can actually damage your body and cause illnesses.

So what causes chronic inflammation? Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to toxins are all common culprits. However, there’s another major cause that’s often overlooked: the foods that you put into your body. Below, we’ll examine this in detail.

Americans Love Pro-Inflammatory Foods

The typical American diet is rich in animal protein, which is a source of Arachidonic acid — a polyunsaturated omega-6 fat that can increase inflammation. Arachidonic acid generates a number of potent inflammatory compounds, including the following:

  • Prostaglandins
  • Prostacyclins
  • Leukotrienes
  • Thromboxanes
It’s really important for people with inflammatory conditions to do everything they can to avoid increasing Arachidonic acid levels. Below is a short list of foods that anyone with an inflammatory condition should limit or even avoid entirely:

  • Red Meat – Especially fatty red meat
  • White Meat – Chicken, duck & wild fowl
  • Dairy – Any animal milk
  • Eggs – Avoid the yolk
  • Cheeses – Especially hard cheeses
  • Certain fish – Tilapia, catfish, yellowtail
Please note that a healthy diet usually contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation.

Unfortunately, the typical American diet tends to contain far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.1 Fixing this balance can go a long way toward easing inflammation.

What Foods are Anti-Inflammatory?

Fortunately, nature offers us plenty of foods that can help ease inflammation. Even better, these foods work without side effects while supplying us with essential vitamins and minerals that can boost our overall health.

The table below includes some natural foods and beverages that are known to ease inflammation:


Type of Food or Beverage
Food Source
Supporting Research
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies
Suppress multiple steps in the inflammatory process and limit the production of inflammatory cytokines.2,3
Monounsaturated Fat-Oils
Olive oil, canola, walnut, grape seed oil
Olive oil, for instance, decreases C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.4
Seeds & Nuts
Flax seeds, pumpkin, walnuts

Flax seeds contains alpha-linolenic acid which has been shown to lower CRP.5

Whole Grains
Quinoa, bulgur wheat, barley, oats, rye
Lower CRP and are helpful in different types of arthritis.6
Dark Fruits
Tart cherries & dark berries
Tart cherry anthocyanins provide protection against pain and inflammation. The effect is actually comparable to that of the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin.7
Green & black tea
Camellia sinensis
Black tea theaflavins, for instance, can help turn off specific genes in your DNA that express inflammatory cytokines.8
Seaweed
Brown kelp, wakame, arame
Seaweed is rich in fucoidan, a natural compound that reduces inflammation.9 It’s also one of the key nutrients thought to be responsible for the exceptionally long lives of people living in Okinawa.10


Is Your Own Diet Pro-Inflammatory?

Want to measure up your own diet as it relates to inflammation? Try this: keep a food diary for 1 week. Create a table with 5 columns — meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grains. Place a checkmark in the appropriate column every time you eat a serving of food from that category. At the end of the week, simply tally your checkmarks to see where you land.

Here’s an example diary:


If you have more checkmarks to the left of the table, you’re eating what we’d consider to be a pro-inflammatory diet. If you have more checkmarks to the right, you’re eating an anti-inflammatory diet.

Please note: This table is not an exact science. It’s just a simple means of helping you assess your own diet!



How does your diet measure up in terms of inflammation? Have you ever considered this before? Let us know in the comments!

References

  1. Nutr Hosp. 2011 Mar-Apr;26(2):323-9.
  2. J Nutr Biochem. 2003 Sep;14(9):513–21.
  3. Nutr Clin Pract. 2009 Aug-Sep;24(4):508-12.
  4. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Dec;19(10):697-706.
  5. Obes Surg. 2007 Mar;17(3):341-7.
  6. J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):587-94.
  7. Behav Brain Res. 2004 Aug 12;153(1):181-8.
  8. Crit Care Med. 2004 Oct;32(10):2097-103.
  9. Immunol Cell Biol. 1994 Oct;72(5):367-74.
  10. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2001;10(2):159-64.

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12 comments:

balor123 said...

I'm curious why meat is listed as pro-inflammatory. I've read that saturated fats are actually anti-inflammatory and the Paleo diet includes a high quantity of them for this reason.

Life Extension said...

Hello balor123. Red meat is a dietary source of arachidonic acid. If you eat too much red meat and not enough omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, you will "over" activate pro-inflammatory pathways. When following the Paleo diet, try to eat as close as you can to a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fat.

Adolfo David said...

But you also need a balance of arachidonic acid. Liver and egg yolks are also super foods if you consider their high nutrient content.

About Paleo Diet fat content, it depends who you ask about. Loren Cordain supports a low fat paleo diet, very low in saturated fats. Then, there are primal advocates who believes in benefits of traditional saturated fats.

Paul Wakfer said...

Hello balor123,
Further to what LEF replied, the meat of the paleo diet was from totally naturally foraging animals which ate a lot of omega-3 containing feed. Rather than the feedlot animals of today who are fed mostly omega-6 containing feed. So most of those on a paleo diet are not actually duplicating what that diet contained, unless they eat only pasture fed meat and/or wild game. The same goes for animal products such as milk, cheese and eggs. It will be much more healthy (and closer to paleo) only if the animals lead a fully uncaged/penned existence in a setting with a variety of plant foods available for their choosing.

Life Extension said...

Adolfo. You make a good point. Egg yolks, for instance, are loaded with B vitamins. But it's all about balance. Too much of any one food is not necessarily a good idea.

Life Extension said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Life Extension said...

Paul, thanks for your insight!

Anonymous said...

Any possibility that you might publish a "diet" containing the correct ratios?

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous- We're not aware of any plans to publish a diet. However, a good way to balance inflammation is to take fish oil. This provides omega-3s which balance inflammatory omega-6 fats.

Anonymous said...

This article is not correct as grains cause inflammation. What about the GMO factors? Lean organic protein is anti-inflammatory.

I think this article needs to be updated.

Anonymous said...

LifeExtension: This would be an excellent article if you had put in the grassfed meat facts and the fats that are anti-inflammetory

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - Meats are highly inflammatory but grass-fed meats are a better option. Here's a little more info:

http://blog.lef.org/2012/03/is-grass-fed-beef-good-for-you.html

Thanks for reading!

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