Do Anti-Inflammatory Diets Really Help?

UW Health Cardiologists explain the reality behind many heart health mythsYou may have heard about an anti-inflammatory diet, perhaps even had one recommended for you. But does it really help?

Well, let’s start with what we mean when we say “inflammation.”

Dr. James Stein, Director of Preventive Cardiology at UW Health, explains that inflammation is a general term that refers to the body’s immune response to injury. In this case, the injury is occurring to the arteries (blood vessels) from exposure to risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and being overweight.

“Atherosclerosis –hardening and cholesterol build up in arteries – is considered an inflammatory disease that eventually causes heart damage, heart attacks and strokes. It occurs as a response to injury due to exposure to risk factors, like smoking or being overweight,” says Dr. Stein. “Inflammation also can lead to the development of certain cancers and chronic diseases such as arthritis.”

The best measure of inflammation in the body can actually be seen anytime we look in the mirror – our belly fat (or central adiposity).

“People who carry their weight in the middle have higher levels of inflammation in their blood because of hormones that fat cells release,” explains Dr. Stein. These hormones cause a chain-reaction– blood cholesterol levels increase, blood sugar goes up, and blood pressure goes up, each of which then leads to other problems.

“Similarly, smoking cause immediate damage to arteries and lungs, which provokes an inflammatory response that causes further damage,” Dr. Stein adds.

The most effective ways to manage inflammation are the old stand-bys – quit smoking if you do, get plenty of exercise and eat an anti-inflammatory diet.


How Foods Can Help

Cassie Vanderwall, UW Health registered dietitian, explains that anti-inflammatory medicines can reduce inflammation in the body. But, food can be helpful, too.

“There are a variety of foods and phytonutrients that have been shown to naturally inhibit enzymes in the body that cause inflammation and ‘put out this fire’ in the body. These are the foods that we recommend as part of a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet,” she says.

Vanderwall explains that an anti-inflammatory diet encourages eating foods that are primarily plant-based, high in fiber, low in added sugar, high in healthy fat and low in saturated fats and sodium.

“There is also some evidence that quality fish oil, curcumin – found in turmeric – as well as anthocyanins, or plant-based antioxidants, found in dark red fruit and vegetables such as cherries, red grapes and berries can be beneficial,” she adds.

Dr. Stein adds, ‘We always prefer that people get these anti-inflammatory compounds through the diet, not through supplements.”

Vanderwall acknowledges that it can be confusing for individuals to know what actually works and what is just hype. “There often is a lot of information out there about the benefits of particular diets, but it’s important to determine what is based on sound evidence. It often is helpful to seek out a registered dietitian – the food and nutrition expert – to help determine what’s right for you,” she concludes.


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Date Published: 02/11/2016

News tag(s):  healthy eatingwellness

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