Health issues related to chronic inflammation have been getting quite a bit of attention in recent years. Ironically, inflammation is an important part of the immune system — in young people, bouts of inflammation actually help fight off disease and help repair damage from injury or exposure to harmful substances.
But according to the National Institutes of Health (more precisely, the National institute on Aging), as people grow older, chronic inflammation often sets in, and it tends to be associated with a whole host of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, frailty, type 2 diabetes, physical disability and dementia.
The challenge is that the science to help us understand this link is still evolving. Does chronic inflammation lead to these conditions? Or is it merely a marker in someone whose body is already trying to deal with them? Or, is it possible that chronic inflammation and these ailments have a more complex relationship?
That said, chronic inflammation is associated with these conditions, some of which can be debilitating. And it appears that an overall healthy diet, especially one that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce mild chronic inflammation. While, again, the evidence isn’t quite clear, it is promising. Knowing that there could be this added benefit to eating right might help nudge you toward reaching for that apple instead of an apple fritter.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional association for registered dietitians, recommends against focusing on a specific food for some type of miracle cure against chronic inflammation. There have been some studies that suggest foods such as fatty fish (salmon, for example), berries, tart cherry juice and other specific foods have anti-inflammatory properties. But instead of focusing on a few food items, considering changes to the whole diet is a better approach.
The Academy, and other trusted sources such as the Harvard School of Public Health, offer anti-inflammatory guidance including:
- Fill up half your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals, and eat a wide variety. For fruit, include strawberries, cherries, oranges and blueberries. Vegetables should include tomatoes and leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards and chard. Avocados, though high in calories, are also considered to have anti-inflammatory properties because of the heart-healthy fat they contain.
- Eat nuts, in moderation, as part of your diet, including almonds and walnuts.
- Incorporate high-fat fish, such as salmon, sardines and anchovies, into your regular meal plan, and choose heart-healthy oils such as olive oil.
Diet isn’t the only thing associated with inflammation. Stress, weight, sleep patterns and physical activity are also among the factors that could have an effect. Strive for balance, not only in your diet but in life, and you may reap more benefits than you realize.
Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.
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