Are You Inflamed? It Might be Your Diet. A Growing Body of Research is Making a Connection Between Our Diets and Chronic Inflammation
Regular inflammation—redness, heat, swelling and pain on the surface of the body—is part of the body’s natural defense system against injury and disease. It alerts us of any injury or infection, and directs extra nourishment and immune activity to the site of distress.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is damaging to the body and the primary contributing factor in most, if not all, chronic degenerative diseases.
Stress, lack of exercise, and daily exposure to petrochemicals and heavy metals as well as other toxins in our air, food, water, and environment can all contribute to chronic inflammation.
In fact, food is now being recognized more and more as a major component of this problem.
In addition to common allergy triggers, such as wheat, the proliferation of omega-6 fats, hydrogenated fats, and trans fats in our diets plays a key role in causing inflammation.
Symptoms can manifest slowly or seemingly overnight, and vary from one person to the next. This makes it very tricky to diagnose, and quite often doctors will simply prescribe medication to address the symptoms instead of taking the time to find the underlying cause.
If you don’t identify the root cause of the problem and make the necessary changes to stop creating more inflammation, you have to keep taking whatever pills they prescribe to mask the symptoms and manage the pain. As a bonus, you then get to play medical roulette with all the potential side effects from the meds.
One thing most traditional doctors fail to recognize is that the growth of inflammatory-related illnesses correlates to the deterioration of the typical American diet, and the proliferation of processed food, processed meats, and fast food, as well as all the artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, chemical preservatives, high sugar content, trans fats, and genetically modified organisms that are in most packaged foods.
But luckily some intrepid researchers are making the connection for us.
Some of the Research Making the Diet-Inflammation Connection
Back in 2004, Time magazine reported in a article titled “The Silent Killer”:
“Hardly a week goes by without the publication of yet another study uncovering a new way that chronic inflammation does harm to the body. It destabilizes cholesterol deposits in the coronary arteries, leading to heart attacks and potentially even strokes. It chews up nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. It may even foster the proliferation of abnormal cells and facilitate their transformation into cancer. In other words, chronic inflammation may be the engine that drives many of the most feared illnesses of middle and old age…Making matters worse, it appears that many of the attributes of a Western lifestyle—such as a diet high in sugars and unhealthy fats, accompanied by little or no exercise—also make it easier for the body to become inflamed.”
Here is some of today’s growing body of research on the diet-inflammation connection:
In a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, scientists found that diets high in refined starches, sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids appear to turn on the inflammatory response. But a diet rich in whole foods, including healthful carbohydrates and fat and protein sources, along with regular exercise and not smoking, seems to cool down inflammation.
Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD, MS, director of nutrition at the National Center for Food Safety and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, spoke on diet and inflammation at the American Dietetic Association’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Boston in 2010. And her research was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. She reported that the modern Western diet—high in calories, fat, and sugar and low in nutrients—is proinflammatory. In fact, obesity is a proinflammatory state. But individuals can fight this inflammatory status with diet, she says. “Phytonutrients in plant foods reduce disease risk through multiple inflammation-related pathways,” she said.
In one study, researchers at Vanderbilt University are focusing on whether omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of colorectal cancers and diminish the production of inflammatory molecules. Principal investigator Harvey Murff says many Americans consume far more omega-6 fatty acids, and one aim is to determine a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
According to a 2012 study involving nearly 600 adolescents published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, greater dietary fiber consumption was associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein and other markers in the blood that signal inflammation. Norman Pollock, a researcher at Georgia Health Sciences University, said one explanation may be that fiber is associated with higher levels of a protein hormone that improves insulin sensitivity, which in turn lowers levels of inflammation.
New research funded by the National Institutes of Health is looking at the relationship of diet, inflammation, and cancer. “Cancer is caused by many different processes and inflammation is one of them, and if you could inhibit that process it would be tremendously helpful,” says Young S. Kim, program director in the Nutritional Science Research Group at the National Cancer Institute.