The Impact of Diet on Inflammation, Disease, and Aging

Inflammation is a natural process that helps your body heal and defend itself from harm.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes run wild and become chronic.

Chronic inflammation can last for a long time — weeks, months or years — and may lead to various health problems.

On the bright side, there are many things you can do to reduce inflammation and improve your overall health.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s way to protect itself from infection, illness or injury.

As part of the inflammatory response, your body increases production of white blood cells, immune cells and substances called cytokines that help fight infection.

Classic signs of acute (short-term) inflammation include redness, pain, heat and swelling.

On the other hand, chronic (long-term) inflammation is often silent, and occurs inside the body without any noticeable symptoms.

This type of inflammation can drive conditions like diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease and cancer (1234).

Chronic inflammation can also happen when people are obese or under stress (56).

When doctors look for inflammation, they test for a few markers in the blood, including C-reactive protein (CRP)homocysteineTNF alpha and IL-6.

Bottom Line: Inflammation is a protective mechanism that allows your body to defend itself against infection, illness or injury. It can also occur on a chronic basis, which can lead to various diseases.

Insulin Resistance

Chronic inflammation has been long been linked to insulin resistance in numerous clinical studies (89).

Many researchers are now realizing it’s a 2 way street, and Insulin Resistance is a major cause of systemic inflammation (r).

We propose that obesity-related insulin resistance is, at least in part, a chronic inflammatory disease initiated in adipose tissue. (r,r)

Dr Mercola has been a big proponent of a healthy lifestyle for combatting the root causes of disease since the early 1990’s. According to Dr Mercola:

Insulin resistance is the basis of virtually ALL of chronic diseases of aging, and one of the primary reasons for this is because it promotes chronic inflammation throughout your body (1)

An Unhealthy Lifestyle Can Drive Inflammation

Teaspoon Of Sugar Compressed

Certain lifestyle factors can promote inflammation, especially when they occur on a regular basis.

Consuming high amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is particularly bad. It can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity (7891011).

Consuming refined carbs, such as white bread, can also contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance and obesity (1213).

Eating processed and packaged foods that contain trans fats has also been shown to promote inflammation and damage the endothelial cells that line your arteries (14151617181920).

Vegetable oils used in many kinds of processed foods are another culprit. Consuming them regularly results in an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which leads to inflammation (212223).

Excessive intake of alcohol and processed meat can also have inflammatory effects on the body (242526).

An inactive lifestyle that includes a lot of sitting is a major non-dietary factor that can also promote inflammation (2728).

Bottom Line: Eating unhealthy foods, drinking alcohol or sugary beverages, and getting little physical activity all drive inflammation.

How to Reduce Inflammation With Your Diet

Slice of Bread

If you want to reduce inflammation, eat less inflammatory foods and more anti-inflammatory foods.

Base your diet on whole, nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants, and avoid processed products.

Antioxidants work by reducing levels of free radicals. These reactive molecules are created as a natural part of your metabolism, but can lead to inflammation when they’re not held in check.

Your anti-inflammatory diet should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fat at each meal. Make sure you also meet your body’s needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber and water.

One diet considered anti-inflammatory is the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers such as CRP and IL-6 (293031).

A low-carb diet also reduces inflammation, particularly for people who are obese or have metabolic syndrome (323334).

Vegetarian diets have also been shown to help reduce inflammation (35).

Bottom Line: Choose a balanced diet that cuts out processed products and boosts your intake of whole, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods.

Foods to Avoid

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some foods are notorious for promoting inflammation.

Consider minimizing or cutting these out completely:

  • Sugary beverages: Sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juices.
  • Refined carbs: White bread, white pasta, etc.
  • Desserts: Cookies, candy, cake and ice cream.
  • Processed meat: Hot dogs, bologna, sausages, etc.
  • Processed snack foods: Crackers, chips and pretzels.
  • Certain oils: Processed seed- and vegetable oils like soybean and corn oil.
  • Trans fats: Foods with “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list.
  • Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption.

Bottom Line: Avoid or minimize sugary foods and beverages, excessive alcohol and foods high in refined carbs and unhealthy fats.

Foods to Eat

Salmon Steak White Background

Top 15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods 

Small, gradual changes are typically more sustainable, easier for the body to adapt to and can make you less likely to go back to your old ways. So rather than emptying your pantry and sailing off to the Mediterranean, you can pursue an anti-inflammatory diet one step at a time. 

By adding in the anti-inflammatory foods that fight inflammation and restore health at a cellular level, you can begin to repair the body without any drastic changes. Once you find foods that heal your body and satisfy your palate, you can remove the inflammation-causing offenders without feeling deprived. Let’s take a look at 15 of the best anti-inflammatory foods you can add to your diet.

1. Green Leafy Vegetables

The produce drawer is the first spot in your refrigerator or pantry to fill when fighting inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that restore cellular health, as well as anti-inflammatory flavonoids. If you struggle to consume added portions of green leafy vegetables, try this delicious anti-inflammatory juice that incorporates greens alongside some of the strongest anti-inflammatory foods in the list.

Swiss chard nutrition, for example, is extremely high in the antioxidants vitamin A and C, as well as vitamin K, which can protect your brain against oxidative stress caused by free radical damage. Eating chard can also protect you against the common vitamin K deficiency.

2. Bok Choy

Also known as Chinese cabbage, bok choy is an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins and minerals. In fact, recent studies show that there are over 70 antioxidant phenolic substances in bok choy. These include something called hydroxycinnamic acids, which are robust antioxidants that scavenge free radicals. (5) A versatile vegetable, bok choy can be made in many dishes outside of Chinese cuisine, so make it one of your go-to anti-inflammatory foods.

 

3. Celery

In recent pharmacological studies, benefits of celery include both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities that help improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as prevent heart disease. Celery seeds — which can be found either in whole seed form, extract form or ground-up — have impressive health benefits on their own, as they help to lower inflammation and to fight bacterial infections. It’s an excellent source of potassium, as well as antioxidants and vitamins.

Also, balance is the key to a healthy body free of inflammation. A good example of mineral balance tied to inflammation is the proper mix of sodium foods and potassium-rich foods. Sodium brings in fluid and nutrients, while potassium flushes toxins. We know that processed foods are high in sodium, but our SAD diets aren’t as rich in potassium. Without this pairing, toxins can build up in the body, once again inviting inflammation. One of the benefits of celery is that it’s an excellent source of potassium, as well as antioxidants and vitamins.

4. Beets

A marker of a food chock-full of antioxidants is its deep color, and beets are a prime example! The umbrella category of antioxidants includes a great deal of substances. In general, they fight to repair the cell damage caused by inflammation. In the case of beets, the antioxidant betalain gives them their signature color and is an excellent anti-inflammatory. (6) When added to the diet, beet benefits include repairing cells and adding high levels of inflammation-fighting potassium and magnesium.

Beets also contain quite a bit of magnesium, and a magnesium deficiency is strongly linked with inflammatory conditions. (7) Calcium, while a vital nutrient, is not processed well within the body without magnesium. When calcium builds up in the body, it becomes unwanted — this unpleasant buildup, such as calcified kidney stones, then invites inflammation. But when a balanced diet is consumed, with anti-inflammatory foods rich in calcium as well as magnesium, the body better processes what’s consumed.

5. Broccoli

The poster vegetable for healthy eating, it’s no secret that broccoli is a valuable addition to any diet. For an anti-inflammatory diet, it’s invaluable. Broccoli is high in both potassium and magnesium, and its antioxidants are particularly potent anti-inflammatory substances in their own right. (8)

Broccoli is an antioxidant powerhouse, with key vitamins, flavonoids and carotenoids. These work together to lower oxidative stress in the body and help battle both chronic inflammation and the risk of developing cancer. (9)

6. Blueberries

One antioxidant in particular stands out as an especially strong anti-inflammatory, and that’s quercetin. Found in citrus, olive oil and dark-colored berries, quercetin is a flavonoid (a beneficial substance or phytonutrient that’s prevalent in fresh foods) that fights inflammation and even cancer. (10) The presence of quercetin is one of the health benefits of blueberries.

In a study seeking treatment for IBD, an extract from the noni fruit was used to affect the gut flora and colon damage done by inflammatory diseases. Of the effects the extract had, quercetin created the prominent anti-inflammatory actions.

Another study found that consuming more blueberries slowed cognitive decline and improved memory and motor function. The scientists in this study believed these results were due to the antioxidants in blueberries protective the body from oxidative stress and reducing inflammation.

7. Pineapple

Usually, when it’s packaged in supplement form, quercetin is often paired with bromelain, a digestive enzyme that’s one of the benefits of pineapple. After being used for years as part of an anti-inflammatory foods protocol, bromelain is observed to have immune-modulating abilities — that is, it helps regulate the immune response that so often creates unwanted and unnecessary inflammation. (11)

Pineapple also helps improve heart health because of the effects of powerful bromelain. which can fight blood clotting and is nature’s answer to those taking an aspirin a day to lower the risk of heart attack. Bromelain has been shown to stop blood platelets from sticking together or building up along the walls of blood vessels – both known causes of heart attacks or strokes.

The benefits of pineapple are due to its high supply of vitamin Cvitamin B1, potassium and manganese, in addition to other special antioxidants that help prevent disease formation. Pineapple is filled with phytonutrients that work as well as many medicines do to reduce symptoms of some of the most common illnesses and conditions we see today. 

8. Salmon

Salmon is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, and considered one of the best omega-3 foods. Omega-3s are some of the most potent anti-inflammatory substances, showing consistent relief of inflammation and reduction of the need for anti-inflammatory medications. (12)

Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. (13)

The source of fish and meat among anti-inflammatory foods is a vital component. One of the dangers of farmed fish is it doesn’t have the same nutrients as wild-caught salmon.

9. Bone broth

Bone broths contain minerals in forms that your body can easily absorb: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and others. They contain chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, the compounds sold as pricey supplements to reduce inflammation, arthritis and joint pain. (14)

When my patients suffer from leaky gut syndrome, I ask them to consume a lot of bone broth it contains collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine that can help heal leaky gut and the damaged cell walls of the inflamed gut.

10. Walnuts

When following a diet without a lot of meats, nuts and seeds can make up the difference for protein and omega-3s. Add omega-3-rich walnuts to green leafy salads drizzled with olive oil for a satisfying anti-inflammatory meal, or grab a handful for an on-the-go snack.

Phytonutrients can help protect against metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes. And some phytonutrients in walnuts are hard to find in any other foods. (15)

11. Coconut oil

So much can be written about the way herbs and oils work together to form anti-inflammatory partnerships. Lipids (fats) and spices create strong anti-inflammatory compounds, especially coconut oil and the components of turmeric (see #15). (16In a study in India, the high levels of antioxidants present in virgin coconut oil reduced inflammation and healed arthritis more effectively than leading medications. (17

Also, oxidative stress and free radicals are the two biggest culprits of osteoporosis. Since coconut oil benefits include fighting such free radicals with its high levels of antioxidants, it’s a leading natural treatment for osteoporosis.

Coconut oil uses include topical preparations as well as culinary — and as a heat-stable oil, it’s excellent for sautéing anti-inflammatory vegetables.

12. Chia seeds

Fatty acids found in nature are more balanced than the fats we typically consume in our typical diets. Chia seeds benefits, for example, offer both omega-3 and omega-6, which should be consumed in balance with one another. (18

Chia are an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory powerhouse, containing essential fatty acids alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid, mucin, strontium, vitamins A, B, E, and D, and minerals including sulphur, iron, iodine,  magnesium, manganese, niacin, thiamine.

Chia seeds’ ability to reverse inflammation, regulate cholesterol and lower blood pressure make it extremely beneficial to consume for heart health. (19) Also, by reversing oxidative stress, someone is less likely to develop atherosclerosis when they’re regularly consuming chia seeds.

13. Flaxseeds

An excellent source of omega-3s and phytonutrients, flaxseeds benefits include being packed with  antioxidants. Lignans are unique fiber-related polyphenols that provide us with antioxidant benefits for anti-aging, hormone balance and cellular health. Polyphenols support the growth of probiotics in the gut and may also help eliminate yeast and candida in the body.

Before you use them alongside your other new anti-inflammatory foods, consider grinding them in a coffee grinder to ensure the digestive tract has easy access to their many benefits. (20)

14. Turmeric

Turmeric’s primary compound, curcumin, is its active anti-inflammatory component. Documented for its affects against inflammation in numerous circumstances, turmeric health benefits prove invaluable in an anti-inflammatory diet. (21)

The journal Oncogene published the results of a study that evaluated several anti-inflammatory compounds. It found that aspirin (Bayer, etc.) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.) are least potent, while curcumin is among the most potent anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative agents in the world. (22)

Due to its high anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is highly effective at helping people manage rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A recent study out of Japan evaluated its relationship with interleukin (IL)-6, the inflammatory cytokine known to be involved in the RA process, and discovered that curcumin “significantly reduced” these inflammatory markers. (23)

15. Ginger

Used fresh, dried, or in supplement form and extracts, ginger is another immune modulator that helps reduce inflammation caused by overactive immune responses.

Ayurvedic medicine has praised ginger’s ability to boost the immune system before recorded history. It believes that because ginger is so effective at warming the body, it can help break down the accumulation of toxins in your organs. It’s also known to cleanse the lymphatic system, our body’s sewage system.

Sample Menu For an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

It’s easier to stick to a diet when you have a plan. Here’s a great sample menu to start from, featuring a day of anti-inflammatory meals:

Breakfast

  • 3-egg omelet with 1 cup mushrooms and 1 cup kale, cooked in coconut oil.
  • 1 cup cherries.
  • Green tea and/or water.

Lunch

  • Grilled salmon on a bed of mixed greens with olive oil and vinegar.
  • 1 cup raspberries, topped with plain Greek yogurt and chopped pecans.
  • Iced tea, water.

Snack

  • Bell pepper strips with guacamole.

Dinner

  • Chicken curry with sweet potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli.
  • Red wine (5–10 oz or 140–280 g).
  • Dark chocolate (preferably at least 80% cocoa).

Bottom Line: An anti-inflammatory diet plan should be well-balanced, incorporating foods with beneficial effects at every meal.

The Rewards of an Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle

Woman on Tablet in Kitchen with Fruits and Vegetables

An anti-inflammatory diet, along with exercise and good sleep, may provide many benefits:

  • Improvement to symptoms of arthritis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, lupus and other autoimmune disorders.
  • Decreased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, cancer and other diseases.
  • Reduction in inflammatory markers in the blood.
  • Better blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Improvement in energy and mood.

Bottom Line: Following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle may improve markers of inflammation and reduce your risk of many diseases.

Take Home Message

Chronic inflammation is a strong contributor to disease and aging.

Our lifestyle and diet are major contributors to inflammation.

With a little effort, you can make changes that have a big impact in lowering inflammation levels and improving you health.