What is an inflammatory response?
First, a little science. Inflammation is more than something that happens to yourtoewhen you stub it. Normally,its a positive thing; theprocess by which your immune system fights infection and repairs damage. It switches on when its needed,and off when its done. Butinflammation has a murkier side, one that scientists refer to as low-grade or chronic inflammation thekind that doesnt switch off.
The effects of low-grade inflammation are being linked to practically all major diseases in the Western world, saysBorelius. So you have increased inflammatory markers connected to certain cancers, heart disease, lung disease, skin disease, joint disease and mental health. Research has shown that lowgrade inflammation wreaks havoc in a number of ways. A recent study from Emory University School of Medicine in the US found that it reduces levels of dopamine the chemical that drives you with researchers believing the body switches it off when it detectsinflammation, encouraging you to rest. Its also being linked with problems such as atherosclerosis the leading cause of heart attacks. It releases proteins called cytokines, which contribute to symptoms of depression, and it switches off genes that balance the body, turning on those that cause damage. As for where inflammation comes from, your body creates it. Fat cells excrete inflammatory substances, sothe more excess weight you have,the more inflamed youre likelyto be. Stress causes it, as doeslack of sleep. And its also triggered by external sources, suchas pollutants and food. But, happily, food is also shaping up to be one ofthe major ways to fight it.
RELATED: How To Reduce Inflammation In Your Body
The idea of an anti-inflammatory diet first caused a buzz in the early 00s, when celebrity dermatologist Nicholas Perricone claimed it was the reason his clients looked so young and glowing. Genuine research followed, with various studies attempting to prove the efficacy of this way of eating. Fast forward to 2013 and Borelius came across the term anti-inflammatory eating while on the board of Lund University in Sweden.
One of their academics had conducted a trial on 44 people changing their diet, she recalls.She was getting such phenomenal results on blood pressure, cholesterol levels and cognitive ability that the doctor monitoring the patients called her and asked, What kind of magic is this diet? When the academic told me what foods the participants in the study were eating, I nearly fell off my chair. It was a diet Id been following under the advice of a fitness trainer for a few years, and it had totally revolutionised my health. The fat around my middle had vanished, backache gone, minordepression lifted.
So make sure youre seated safely while we reveal which foods make up an anti-inflammatory diet: fruit, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, oily fish, turmeric, avocado, chia seeds, fermented foods and bone broth. Yes, theyre the kind of ingredients you read about in these pages every month, and thats the point.
Weve known for years that these kinds of foods are good for us, but we havent always known why, adds Borelius. Before you started eating the rainbow, it was called your five-a-day, and it was based on research that suggested this number was the minimum you needed to hit in order to reap the protective rewards. Oily fish is a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, which a growing body of research is touting as magic for physical and mental longevity. And you canblame a collective obsession with the gut for the fact that fermented foods are enjoying a culinary revival.
In this sense, theanti-inflammatory explanation is a way of understanding why the foods that we know to be healthy are actually healthy, says Borelius. Its one thing drawing a line between diet and inflammation, but trying to discern the foods that trigger it from those that temper it is another. While some studies, including one published inBiomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, have shown that eating, say, turmeric lowered levels of inflammation, they havent shown whether this has a knock-on effect in the body. And scientists have failed to reach a consensus on what foods are pro- and anti-inflammatory.
Even now, opinion differs on some foods, like dairy, asit seems to show different results in different trials, says Aisling Pigott, a registered dietitian. It suggests there may still be something we dont yet know about exactly how foods affect us in terms of inflammation. It may be that individuals react differently, or otherelements of the diet play arole in altering the effects. What we do know, we owe largely to two pioneers in anti-inflammatory eating: Dr James Hebert and researcher Dr Nitin Shivappa from the University of South Carolina. They examined more than 1900 articles on inflammation to create a list of about 45 foods or food components (things such as alcohol,caffeine or omega-3 fats) with either pro- or anti-inflammatory properties. They called this the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII), and its now been used in more than 300 trials.
The passing of time helps, too. Cause and effect is notoriously difficult to prove in nutrition research, since the workings of your body are more complicated than the assembly instructions for an IKEA bookcase, but now researchers are investigating the long-term effects of the whole diet on actual people, with fascinating results. One 2018 study from Manchester Metropolitan University found that those with an inflammatory diet had a 40 per cent greater risk of depression. And a 2018 study published in Journal of Internal Medicine looking at 70,000 people over the course of 16 years found that those who followed an anti-inflammatory diet had a 20 percent lower risk of dying of heart disease and a 13 per cent reduced risk of cancer. In fact, theiroverall risk of dying by any cause during the study was 18 percent lower thanthose who were chowing down on amore inflammatory diet.
Before you go grande on a turmeric latte, know that nutrition science is complicated. Simply adding one food to your diet served by a barista with a beard or otherwise is not anti-inflammatory eating. Experts liken inflammation to a fire, and adding one yellow drink to your daily menu is like trying to put it out with sprinkles of water while dousing the other side with petrol.
Fighting inflammation is holistic your whole diet and lifestyle play a role, adds Borelius. In Health Revolution, she outlines five inflammation-fighting principles, of which food is involved in just two (the others are exercise, calmness and finding awe). Pigott agrees. Its not as simple as this food is good and thisfood isbad. For example, carbswith a low-glycaemic index are generally anti-inflammatory, but eat enough of them to produceexcess kilojoules andthatputs you in a pro-inflammatory state. You need tolook at your diet as a whole.
First, get rid of the petrol. Foods that appear to be most relevant here are white or colourless, lack flavour and aroma [even if they have a strong taste, ie, sweetness], are nutrient-sparse and kilojoule dense, says Hebert. That means refined sugars; white carbohydrates, such as white rice or bread; foods high in saturated or trans fats and vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil (high in omega-6 fatty acids, which, when eaten in too high a ratio to healthier omega-3 fatty acids, have a pro-inflammatory effect). Next, you can turn on the water hose (well, this analogy has legs) by adding more anti-inflammatory eats into your diet.
These are foods that are colourful, aromatic, nutrient dense and kilojoule-sparse, says Hebert. Yes, salads that would give Lola Berry a run for her money, but also whole grains, oily fish and spices, such as turmeric and ginger. Fermented foods can also play a role in fighting inflammation via your gut bacteria. And it isnt just about what youre eating, but when.
The gut bacteria do their best work at fighting inflammation when they have nothing else to focus on, adds Borelius. If you can give them a break from digestion by leaving around 14 to 16 hours between your last meal of the day and your first one the next morning, it helps.
Indeed, a study by Yale University found that when the body is in a fasted state, it produces a substance called BHB, which directly interferes with the process of inflammation. Fasting, fermented foods, fruit and vegetables nothing you dont already know. But, understanding the mechanism by which something works is generally a good thing. Anti-inflammatory eating may not be changing the game, but itll help youunderstand why you play.
RELATED: 6 Things To Eat On An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Dietitian Aisling Pigott gives you a starting point.
This is only an example for one day, she explains. If you atethis way every day, you probably wouldnt get the desired results. Anti-inflammatory eating is all about diversity, so its important to includea variety of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.
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