Research indicates that inflammation likely plays a role in the development of diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some kinds of cancer. While lifestyle choices and environmental factors can trigger inflammation, it can also be combated with healthy choices, including certain foods.
Causes of Inflammation
When you get hurt, you may experience some swelling, warmth and redness in the affected area for a couple of days. This is because the immune system has sounded an alarm, signaling the rest of the body to send reinforcements to fix the problem. Blood flow increases to the area, bringing with it white blood cells, nutrients and hormones — all used for healing. This process is referred to as inflammation.
Short-term, inflammation is an amazing system. But, in our current environment, because of poor diet, alcohol consumption, pollution, smoking and stress, our bodies are under constant attack. These external stressors can confuse our immune system, so it constantly sends out an alert signal even though the immune cells have nothing specific to react to. This low-level immune response is referred to as chronic or systemic inflammation. When immune cells are summoned but have nowhere to go, they begin to attack the body’s own tissues and organs, leading to chronic disease.
Food-Based Solutions for Inflammation
In addition to changing lifestyle choices that trigger inflammation, you can also help reduce inflammation by adding specific anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. This may help with daily aches and pains and may also help reduce the risk of a variety of diseases. Here are some anti-inflammatory foods that you can consider adding to your diet:
Turmeric is a yellow-colored Indian spice that has anti-inflammatory properties and is chock full of antioxidants. It contains a potent antioxidant called curcumin, which has been found in laboratory experiments to help lower inflammation. Some preliminary studies suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric may help reduce the risk of a variety of diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and arthritis. However, more research is needed into the possible benefits.
Turmeric can be used in a variety of dishes to flavor food and can even be made into a tea. To get the most possible benefit from turmeric, consume it with a little bit of fat, as curcumin is fat-soluble.
Green tea is full of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are also highly anti-inflammatory. The most powerful of these antioxidants is called Epigallocatechin Gallate. The anti-inflammatory properties of green tea may likely be why some research has suggested links between drinking green tea and a decreased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Do not pour boiling water over the tea, as it destroys the sensitive antioxidants. Instead, use water that is approximately 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and let the tea leaves steep for a few minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon, because vitamin C seems to increase the absorption of the antioxidants in the tea.
Wild-caught, fatty fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation by impeding the inflammatory pathway in cells. They’ve also been shown to decrease joint stiffness and pain associated with a form of arthritis called rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3s may also be effective in helping reduce the risk of other inflammatory diseases such as heart disease.
Ideally, in order to get adequate amounts of omega-3s, you should consume at least two servings of fatty fish per week. This includes wild salmon, mackerel and sardines. A plant-based omega-3 found in foods such as walnuts, chia seeds and flax, can also be included to help you get enough omega-3s.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, broccoli and spinach, can offer incredible health benefits. All green leafy vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that may help reduce inflammation and promote health. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy and cauliflower contain a compound that can help stop the inflammatory response at its earliest stages.
Aim to eat at least two servings of green leafy vegetables per day. They can be quite versatile, and you can add them to soups, sauces, casseroles or other dishes. You can also juice them if they are easier to consume that way. Try to include a bit of variety in your green leafy vegetables to make sure you are getting a good mix of nutrients. One week try kale, the next celery, and the week after bok choy. This will keep you from getting bored and help ensure your body is getting adequate amounts of anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Olive oil has long been touted for its many health benefits due to its high content of monounsaturated fat. It’s the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, which is considered an anti-inflammatory diet that may help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of cancer and diabetes.
If you want to add olive oil to your diet, make sure you’re purchasing the highest quality oil you can. Many cheaper oils are not 100 percent pure. Extra virgin olive oil is ideal and is the “first press” of freshly picked olives. A bottle of real extra virgin olive oil should solidify when it’s refrigerated. Add olive oil to your diet by using it for salad dressings, light sautéing or dipping. It should not be heated to high temperatures, as that can destroy its delicate composition.
With the current epidemic of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, many people have considered following an anti-inflammatory diet. The Western diet, with its highly processed foods, can contribute to inflammation and is likely a major contributing factor to many of the health problems we see today. Adding a few of the foods mentioned above, basing your diet on fruits and vegetables, and limiting inflammatory foods can have a significant impact on long-term health and the risk of certain types of disease.
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