Nine signs you have inflammation in your body. Can an anti-inflammatory diet help?

Nine signs you have inflammation in your body.  Can an anti-inflammatory diet help?

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There is a lot of health buzz around the term “inflammation” today. From new scientific discoveries to celebrities and social media influencers, it seems like everyone is talking about this important bodily process and its potential impact on our health.

“Inflammation” is a niche term that you may also have seen. This is an age-related increase in persistent, low-grade inflammation in the blood and tissues, which is a strong risk factor for many conditions and diseases.

So, can an anti-inflammatory diet help reduce inflammation? Let’s see.

What is inflammation?

When our body is injured or has an infection, the body’s defense mechanism will activate to protect itself. It does this by instructing our cells to fight off invaders. This fighting process causes inflammation, which often appears as swelling, redness, and pain.

In the short term, inflammation is a sign of your body’s healing, whether from a scratched knee or a cold.

If the inflammation lasts a long time it is called “chronic”. It could indicate a health problem such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, dementia or another autoimmune disorder.

Signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation can last from months to years and include:

  1. persistent pain
  2. chronic fatigue or insomnia
  3. joint stiffness
  4. skin problems
  5. increased blood markers (such as C-reactive protein)
  6. gastrointestinal problems (constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux)
  7. depression, anxiety and mood disorders
  8. unwanted weight gain or loss
  9. frequent colds or flu.

What is the role of diet?

The link between diet and inflammation is well known. Overall, several dietary components can activate the immune system by producing proinflammatory cytokines (small proteins important in cell signaling) or reducing the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.

A “pro-inflammatory diet” can increase inflammation in the body in the long term. Such diets are typically low in fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and high in commercially baked goods, fried foods, added sugars and red and processed meats.

In contrast, an “anti-inflammatory” diet is associated with reduced inflammation in the body. There is no single anti-inflammatory diet. Two recognized and evidence-backed examples are the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

An anti-inflammatory diet usually includes the following elements:

1. high in antioxidants. These compounds help the body fight free radicals or unstable atoms, which in high amounts are linked to diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The best way to consume antioxidants is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Research shows frozen, dried, and canned fruit and vegetables can be just as good as fresh

2. high in “healthy” unsaturated fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna), seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils (olive and flaxseed oil)

3. High in fiber and prebiotics. Carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and green vegetables are all good sources of fiber. Prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in our intestines and can come from onions, leeks, asparagus, garlic, bananas, lentils and legumes.

4. Low processed food. It contains refined carbohydrates (pastries, pies, sugary drinks, fried foods and processed meats).

Rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, depression

There is mixed evidence for the role of an anti-inflammatory diet in the pain management of rheumatoid arthritis. A recent 2021 systematic review (in which researchers carefully categorized and examined available evidence on a topic) found that eating anti-inflammatory foods is likely to cause significantly lower pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis when compared to other diets.

However, the 12 studies included in the review had a high risk of bias—likely because people knew they were eating a healthy diet—and so the confidence in the evidence was low.

Inflammation is heavily implicated in the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and evidence suggests an anti-inflammatory diet can help protect the brain.

A 2016 review suggests an anti-inflammatory diet may protect against cognitive impairment and dementia, but further large randomized controlled trials are needed. A 2021 study followed 1,059 people for three years and looked at their diet. They reported those with a greater pro-inflammatory diet had an increased risk of dementia.

Inflammation has also been linked to mental health, with people consuming pro-inflammatory foods reporting more symptoms of depression. Diet is a fundamental element of a lifestyle approach to managing anxiety and mental health.

More broadly, a 2021 review paper examines recent research on anti-inflammatory diets and their effect on reducing inflammation associated with aging. It was found that compounds commonly found in anti-inflammatory diets can help relieve inflammatory processes that stem from disease and unhealthy eating patterns.

How about turmeric?

A favorite on social media and vitamin shelves, turmeric is touted for its anti-inflammatory benefits. This is related to a specific compound called curcumin, which gives turmeric its characteristic yellow color.

Research suggests curcumin may act as an anti-inflammatory agent in the body but high-quality clinical trials in humans are lacking. Most of the existing research has been done in the laboratory using cells or in animals. So it’s not clear how much curcumin is needed to see anti-inflammatory benefits or how well we absorb it.

Overall, adding turmeric to your diet can provide your body with several health benefits, but don’t rely on it to prevent or treat disease itself.

Eat safe

Inflammation is a major factor in the link between diet and many health conditions.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet is considered safe, likely to support health and prevent chronic conditions in the future. If you are looking for customized dietary advice or an anti-inflammatory meal plan, it is best to speak with an accredited dietitian.

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