Inflammatory Foods: A Guide for Reducing Inflammation – Part 2

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


Read Part 1 | Part 3

Inflammatory Foods Affect Your Health

selecting better food choices over Inflammatory foodsThe foods you eat are your body’s medicine. What you consume is what your body has to work and play on. It even makes a significant difference in how well you heal and in how well any medications, even pain medications, work in your body. This is why it is important to avoid inflammatory foods.

Good food choices build up your body, give it sufficient nutrients to work with, and hasten the healing process. Good foods will keep your gut microbiome performing its functions properly, absorbing the nutrients in your food more efficiently, and working more effectively to rid your body of toxins.

On the other hand, inflammatory foods will do just the opposite. Research has shown a very strong link between what you eat, inflammation, and the experience of pain. These inflammatory foods will not only increase your pain, but they will also decrease the effectiveness of any medication you take for that pain.

Your choice of foods also has been shown by research to affect your genes. Inflammatory foods can affect the way genes produce proteins that increase or decrease your experience of pain. Eating foods that cause genes to make more proteins that increase pain can affect you for three or four weeks.

If you experience chronic pain, your food choices increase in importance. Choosing the right kinds of foods will help your body heal faster, help you sleep better, and help your pain medications work better. Inflammatory foods will make the opposite happen.

Your gut system contains about 70% of your immune system cells. These cells are in constant, daily contact with the food you eat. Once this immune system is triggered by inflammatory foods, bacteria within foods, or begins treating foods as allergens, inflammation results. The same thing can happen if there is an imbalance of important hormones, such as insulin, in the gut system.

A report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed consuming processed sugars or other foods containing starches with high glycemic content increased the redness, pain, swelling, and heat of inflammation.

Diet and Inflammation

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is a prime example of what not to eat if you want to decrease inflammation. It is mainly composed of inflammatory foods such as refined sugars and starches, saturated fats, and trans fats. It is low in natural antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber from vegetables, whole grains, and fruits are lacking.

One study showed women who ate this diet had higher CRP, IL-6, E-selectin, sVCAM-1, and sICAM-1. This was compared to a diet higher in fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish, poultry, and whole grains.

This same study supported previous research findings concerning the link between trans fat consumption and increased inflammation. Women in this study who were in the highest quintile of consumption of trans fats showed a CRP level 73% higher than women in the lowest quintile. IL-6 levels were 17% higher for the same group of women.

Inflammatory foods, fruits and vegetablesOxidative stress is significantly associated with inflammation. Consumption of higher levels of fruits and vegetables leads to lower levels of both oxidative stress and inflammation. Fruits and vegetables have considerable antioxidant properties that are foundational to their modulation of inflammation when added to your diet. Oxidants produced when food is metabolized, such as superoxide radicals or hydrogen peroxide, tend to activate the NF-kB pathway, leading to increased inflammation. Limiting or even reversing the proinflammatory responses to meals that are high in saturated fats may be possible through adding more antioxidants, fruits, and vegetables to your diet.

Whole grains are important in your diet because the refining process of grains removes the fiber, minerals and vitamins, phytonutrients, and essential fatty acids. You’re left with refined carbohydrates, or inflammatory foods. These refined carbs quickly raise blood glucose and insulin levels. The resulting hyperglycemic condition adds to the production of free radicals and proinflammatory cytokines.

It’s easy to see how the choice of these inflammatory foods leads to significant health risk. In addition, there is accumulating evidence that diet also affects your mental health. Inflammation has been shown to be involved in the development of depression, for example. This suggests your dietary choices are important to your mental health through the mechanism of inflammation because diet affects inflammation, which can have a significant influence on the development of, and experience of, depression.

Inflammation, Stress, and Depression

The links between inflammation, stress, and depression are well documented. Clinical and research evidence shows these links very well.

Both stress and depression add to the risk of infection, as well as longer duration of infections and slower wound healing. All of these can increase the production of proinflammatory cytokines as well. Even without physical injury or infection, stress and depression can lead to the production of these proinflammatory cytokines. There is also some evidence that both clinical depression and subclinical depression symptoms can sensitize your body to inflammation, leading to a higher cytokine response when stress is present.

Inflammatory foods and depression In addition, both stress and depression cause changes in health behaviors related to inflammation. Both conditions tend to decrease sleep, which tends to increase IL-6 production. Depression and stress also stimulate increased production of proinflammatory cytokines. Thus, both directly and indirectly, stress and depression stimulate the production of proinflammatory cytokines.

One of the major mechanisms for the production of stress-related proinflammatory cytokines is NF-kB. NF-kB has an activating effect on the genes that control the expression of the proinflammatory cytokines. One study showed a 341% rise in NF-kB activity within ten minutes of a stressor in the laboratory. When stress increases, so does the level of norepinephrine in your body. This increases activation of NF-kB, showing a direct pathway from your endocrine system to inflammation.

Under conditions of chronic stress, long-term changes in proinflammatory cytokine production can also occur. This appears to happen through increased oxidative stress that activates the NF-kB pathway. One longitudinal study comparing the average annual increase in serum levels of IL-6 found a fourfold increase in a group of men and women who were chronically stressed due to caring for spouses with dementia compared to a similar group without the caregiving responsibilities. Another study of mothers caring for a chronically ill child compared with mothers of healthy children showed higher oxidative stress in the first group as measured by levels of F2-isoprostanes. These studies, and others, strongly suggest stress and depression increase oxidative stress, add to NF-kB activation, lead to more sympathetic hyperactivity, and increase production of proinflammatory cytokines.

Influence of Omega-3 and Omega-6

Inflammatory foods and Omega 3Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fish oils are important in your diet, as long as they are balanced appropriately. Lower Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios lead to lower proinflammatory cytokine production. This is because they both compete for the same metabolic pathways. Eicosanoids derived from the arachidonic acid in Omega-6 lead to increases in proinflammatory cytokines, IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-α. These cytokines that come primarily from corn, sunflower, and safflower oils are precursors of the proinflammatory eicosanoids of the prostaglandin-2 series. On the other hand, polyunsaturated fatty acids from Omega-3 can reduce the production of these eicosanoids. Omega-3 fatty acids come from sources such as fish oil, flax seeds, and walnuts.

Stress and The Metabolic Response

The influence of stress on your metabolic response to foods has also been well documented. Those familiar with AFS understand how this relationship works. Stress increases post-meal spikes in symptoms and slows the clearance rate of those same effects. Some of the specifics regarding how stress affects metabolism are significant.

When you eat a meal high in saturated fat, within an hour triglycerides increase in your bloodstream and stay high for up to eight hours. This can lead to increased risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and cardiovascular disorders. These high-fat meals also substantially increase levels of IL-6 and CRP. They also increase oxidative stress and sympathetic hyperactivity.

Read Part 1 | Part 3

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


inflammatory foods