Inflammation is not just another health buzzword. Research has shown there is a link between inflammation and disease. There are several things we can do to decrease inflammation in the body, including selecting the right foods.
Before learning which foods have an anti-inflammatory effect, it’s helpful to understand a little more about inflammation. For example, the role inflammation plays in the body is not all bad. In certain instances, inflammation is part of a normal response to injury.
But inflammation can also have several negative effects on the body and lead to a host of health problems. Fortunately, the foods we eat can have an anti-inflammatory effect, which helps disease the risk of disease.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation can be either acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is part of the immune system response and can be a defensive process against injury and harmful substances, such as bacteria. Inflammatory cells release chemicals that help trap harmful bacteria or substances and repair injured tissues.
In some cases, inflammation can also become chronic. For instance, if the body is unable to eliminate whatever is causing acute inflammation, it can become chronic.
Diseases Caused by Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is thought to be a contributing factor in several diseases. It is the root cause of disease. For example, chronic inflammation is linked to conditions including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Inflammation is associated with all stages of atherosclerosis, which involves narrowing of the arteries increasing a person’s risk of a heart attack or stroke. It also can lead to thickening or scarring of the connective tissue, which increases stiffness in the joints and contributes to arthritis.
Chronic inflammation is also linked to diabetes. In the Journal of Nature and Science, research indicated that cytokines, which are released as part of the inflammatory process, affected insulin sensitivity in animal studies. It’s thought the cytokines may lead to spikes in blood sugar.
Inflammation occurs in vulnerable regions of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain. Inflammation is a critical component of tumor progression in cancer. Many cancers arise from sites of infection, chronic irritation and inflammation.
Eating Anti-Inflammatory Foods Can Improve Your Health
Diet plays a big role in your health. Eating foods high in saturated fat and sugar is linked to an increase in inflammation in the body. But loading up your plate with anti-inflammatory foods can decrease the inflammatory response and reduce your risk of several conditions and improve your overall health.
Anti-inflammatory foods contain antioxidants, which decrease the number of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are molecules that are thought to damage cells and increase a person’s risk of certain diseases. Foods that have an anti-inflammatory effect also often contain nutrients, such as omega-3 or phytochemicals.
Eating anti-inflammatory foods may help reduce inflammation, which might decrease some symptoms. For example, foods that fight inflammation may ease joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Eating anti-inflammatory foods is a win-win for your health. Not only do anti-inflammatory foods decrease inflammation, but they also contain important nutrients for overall health. Below are ten of the top anti-inflammatory foods.
- Salmon: Salmon contains omega-3, which is thought to decrease C-reactive protein, which increases during the inflammatory response. It’s also high in vitamin B, which helps with cellular repair. If you are not a fan of salmon, try other fatty fishes, such as albacore tuna and mackerel. Not a fish eater at all? Then take a quality fish oil supplement instead to get your omega-3s.
- Blueberries: Blueberries are a powerhouse when it comes to anti-inflammatory foods. In a study published in Nutritional Research, the effects of eating blueberries daily on inflammation and oxidative stress related to strenuous exercise were evaluated. The study involved 25 athletes that were divided up into two groups. One group ate 250 grams of blueberries daily for six weeks, and one group did not. The results indicated that after running 2.5 hours, the group that ate the blueberries had decreased inflammatory markers and oxidative stress. Blueberries also contain anthocyanins, which are an antioxidant that is believed to have anti-cancer benefits. Other berries, which also have similar anti-inflammatory effects include raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.
- Olive Oil: Olive oil is often on heart-healthy food lists because it contains healthy fatty acids. But it is also a good choice for the heart because it helps fight inflammation. Olive oil contains polyphenols, which decrease free-radicals and inflammation.
- Avocados: Avocados are a good choice as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. They contain the anti-inflammatory nutrient omega-3. They also contain selenium, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E, which help combat inflammation. Add a little avocado to salads, toast, or sandwiches. They are high in calories, so watch portion size.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin. Curcumin is thought to have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. In research published in Alternative Medicine Review, animal studies and clinical trials indicated that curcumin may be an effective therapeutic agent in conditions such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and some types of cancer. To incorporate turmeric into your diet, add a little to seafood, rice, and chicken dishes. You can also get curcumin in supplement form.
- Flax Seed: Flax seed may decrease C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation in cardiovascular disease. Sprinkle a little on yogurt, cereal, or add to a smoothie. You may also take flax seed in a soft gel form.
- Spinach: Leafy greens, such as spinach, are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Spinach is high in polyphenols and other natural antioxidants to combat inflammation. It’s also a good source of vitamin E.
- Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables, which are high in fiber, vitamin C, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals have anti-inflammatory effects. Other types of cruciferous veggies include cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are a good choice to tame inflammation. Walnuts contain omega-3, free-facial fighting polyphenols, and juglone. Juglone is an uncommon antioxidant, which also helps decrease inflammation.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain anti-inflammatory nutrients and antioxidants including potassium, vitamin C, and lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid that is thought to have anti-cancer benefits. Research published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine indicated that in clinical trials and animal studies, lycopene might decrease cancer risk.
Hormone Decline and Imbalance can Also Lead to Inflammation
Eating a healthy diet including these anti-inflammatory foods will help keep you healthy. Besides an unhealthy diet, did you know that low thyroid function and hormone decline can also lead to inflammation in your body? Take our symptom checker to find out if you have symptoms of hormone decline so that you can take action to protect your health today!
Harvard Medical School. Foods that fight inflammation. (2017, August). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
Jurenka, J. S. (2009). Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Alternative medicine review, 14(2). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19594223
Lopez-Candales, A., Burgos, P. M. H., Hernandez-Suarez, D. F., & Harris, D. (2017). Linking chronic inflammation with cardiovascular disease: from normal aging to the metabolic syndrome. Journal of nature and science, 3(4). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5488800/
McAnulty, L. S., Collier, S. R., Landram, M. J., Whittaker, D. S., Isaacs, S. E., Klemka, J. M., … & McAnulty, S. R. (2014). Six weeks daily ingestion of whole blueberry powder increases natural killer cell counts and reduces arterial stiffness in sedentary males and females. Nutrition Research, 34(7), 577-584. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22111516
Trejo-Solís, C., Pedraza-Chaverrí, J., Torres-Ramos, M., Jiménez-Farfán, D., Cruz Salgado, A., Serrano-García, N., … & Sotelo, J. (2013). Multiple molecular and cellular mechanisms of action of lycopene in cancer inhibition. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine, 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23970935
Havard Health Publishing, Havard Medical School: Inflammation: A Unifying Theory of Disease? https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Inflammation_A_unifying_theory_of_disease
Inflammation and Cancer: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2803035/
Inflammation and Alzhiemer’s Disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3887148/