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The Connection Between Nutrition and Inflammation

Did you know you can control inflammation with the foods you eat and beverages you drink?

Inflammation is a vital part of the immune system's response to injury and infection. It is the body's way of signaling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.

Without inflammation as a physiological response, wounds would fester, and infections could become deadly.

However, if the inflammatory process goes on for too long or if the inflammatory response occurs in places where it is not needed, it can become problematic.

Chronic inflammation

Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation can have long-term and whole-body effects. Chronic inflammation is also called persistent, low-grade inflammation because it produces a steady, low-level of inflammation throughout the body, as judged by a small rise in immune system markers found in blood or tissue. This type of systemic inflammation can contribute to the development of disease, according to a summary in the Johns Hopkins Health Review.

Low levels of inflammation can be triggered by a perceived internal threat, even when there isn't a disease to fight or an injury to heal, and sometimes this signals the immune system to respond. As a result, white blood cells swarm but have nothing to do and nowhere to go, and they may eventually start attacking internal organs or other healthy tissues and cells. Researchers are still working to understand the implications of chronic inflammation on the body and the mechanisms involved in the process, but it's known to play a role in the development of many diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s and the progression of Parkinsons disease.

One theory suggests that when inflammatory cells stay too long in blood vessels,

they promote the buildup of plaque. The body perceives this plaque as a foreign substance that doesn't belong, so it tries to wall off the plaque from the blood flowing inside the arteries, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). If the plaque becomes unstable and ruptures, it forms a clot that blocks blood flow to the heart or brain, triggering a heart attack or stroke.

Cancer is another disease linked with chronic inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage and lead to some forms of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Chronic, low-grade inflammation often does not have symptoms, but doctors can test for C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation in the blood. High levels of CRP have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease. CRP levels can also indicate an infection, or a chronic inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Besides looking for clues in the blood, a person's diet, lifestyle habits and environmental exposures can contribute to chronic inflammation. It's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep inflammation in check.

Anti-inflammatory diet

Anti-inflammatory diets have become popular in recent years. The recommended foods are typical of a Mediterranean diet and include eating more fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), fresh fruits ( such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges), more tomatoes and green leafy vegetables, and healthy fats; eating moderate amounts of nuts; eating very little red meat; and drinking red wine in moderation (1-1.5 8oz glass for women, 1-2 8oz glasses for men has positive effects). Like the Mediterranean diet, the principles of an anti-inflammatory diet are healthful ones and the approach is nutritionally sound. Anti-inflammatory food components, such as omega-3 fats, protect the body against the possible damage caused by inflammation.

An anti-inflammatory diet also means staying away from foods that can promote inflammation. It's best to minimize the amount of foods you eat that are high in saturated and trans fats, such as red meats, dairy products, fried foods and foods containing partially hydrogenated oils. In addition, limit sugary foods and drinks and refined carbohydrates, such as white rice and bread. And cut back on the use of cooking oils and margarines that are high in omega-6 fatty acids, such as corn, safflower and sunflower oils. Olive oil, while a healthy choice with anti-inflammatory effects has a low smoke point and can cause pro-inflammatory effects if used in cooking at high heat, use only at medium-high temp or lower. Avocado oil is another good alternative.

Your Registered Dietitian can help you tailor an eating plan right for the healthiest you!!

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