When we think of inflammation, we often imagine a red swollen wrist that shows after a traumatic fracture or an enlarged bump on a toddler’s forehead which he acquired after running too fast and falling over. These forms of inflammation are part of acute inflammation: a protective response that is essential in helping our body heal and recover. Acute inflammation occurs in response to injury or an infection, and it is a well orchestrated system that signals the body in a chain like, domino formation. The body’s security alarm gets activated, and calls on its security guards (known as inflammatory mediators and white blood cells) to begin repair and evacuation of foreign bodies. Normally, the body fights of the threat, repairs itself, and deactivates its security alarm until the next time it’s needed.
However, if the body is unable to repair the damaged tissue, a maladaptive and dysregulatory response known as chronic inflammation begins to settle in. Chronic inflammation involves failed attempts of repair, prolonged recruitment of active inflammatory mediators, and persistent tissue damage. When the body’s security alarm is not able to deactivate itself, it causes us to expend more energy. The result is a fatigued and ill individual, associated with diabetes, atherosclerosis, obesity, osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.
Dysfunction of the body’s inflammatory response is very closely associated with the development of chronic diseases. And so, we must create the most appropriate environment for our body to maintain a regulated inflammatory immune response. Mounting evidence from epidemiological and clinical studies has shown that diet plays a major role in mediation chronic inflammation. The high fat, sugar, and salt Western diet is a culprit for chronic diseases that are caused by inflammation. Glucose (which comes from high sugar diets) and fats act like the key to a lock on the cell’s surface (cell-surface receptors). Once the key is inserted into the lock it opens up a door for pro-inflammatory signals, and so a damaging chemical called CRP begins to increase within the body. Below are some foods that help mediate inflammation, prevent, and sometimes manage certain chronic illnesses:
Fruits and Vegetables
A cross- sectional study in Puerto Rico showed that higher intakes in fruits and vegetables results in a lower concentration of inflammatory markers such as CRP, IL-1, IL-6, TNF-a. Primarily fruits and vegetables containing high amounts of polyphenols and carotenoids (refer to blog post on photochemicals).
The omega – 3 in fish oil antagonizes the inflammatory arachidonic pathway. Plant sources of omega -3 fatty acids include walnuts, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, canola, flaxseeds, and some fortified foods. Brussel sprouts, kale, and mint also contain omega- 3 oils in smaller quantities. Fish oil helps reduce and prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels), plaque formation in blood vessels, and plaque rupture.
Nuts contain an array of phytochemicals which have been shown to lower concentrations of inflammatory mediators IL-6, ICAM-1, and VCAM-1. When these chemicals are lowered, it slows down the domino effect of the inflammatory signalling pathway. It’s like placing a stopper in the middle of a domino structure, preventing the latter pieces from toppling over- or in this case from causing more tissue damage.
Our bodies respond to a comprehensive diet geared towards reducing inflammation and consequently decreasing the prevalence and severity of many chronic illnesses. A diet diversified in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and several other foods high in phytochemicals induces healthy cell to cell communication, and inhibits prolonged inflammation. It seems fairly obvious which fatty and high –in –sugar foods should be avoided to prevent the promotion of inflammation. But it is equally as important to incorporate foods that mediate inflammation and prevent premature cell damage.