Food for Thought: Let’s Defend Against Disease

Food for Thought: Let’s Defend Against Disease

March 2010

Inflammation, once simply considered the body’s healing response, is now the subject of close study as a key component of many diseases such as arthritis.  Inflammatory response is becoming recognized in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease.  And perhaps not surprising is preliminary research showing a possible association of inflammation with diet, activity, and other lifestyle choices.

Inflammation can be a good thing because its response is the mechanism used by the body to combat injury – a cut, burn, or bruise.  However, problems occur when the inflammatory response does not shut off but, rather, goes from being temporary and helpful to being chronic and harmful.  Continuous inflammation can cause changes in cells, contributing to premature cell death and disease.

While some factors associated with inflammation, such as aging, can’t be altered, many healthful lifestyle modifications will decrease inflammation.  One of the most obvious, of course, is avoiding tobacco.  What are some others?

Watch your weight and stay active.  Consuming too many calories (and possibly at the wrong time of day, e.g., during what would be the individual’s sleep phase) and being overweight, especially for those people who are carrying extra pounds around their midsection, leads to greater levels of inflammatory compounds.  C-reactive protein (CRP), which can be measured easily with a simple blood test, is a marker for inflammation.  Obese individuals tend to have high blood levels of CRP.  Regular exercise not only aids weight control and body-fat reduction but also lowers CRP levels.

Eat more unrefined carbohydrates.  A diet full of colorful fruits, vegetables, and whole grains supplies an array of antioxidants.  These antioxidant-rich carbohydrates act by inhibiting free radicals that may contribute to chronic inflammation.  The carbs in sweets and desserts are usually low in antioxidants (the exception is dark chocolate unless it is highly sweetened).  In addition, these sweets often contain saturated and trans fats as well as high fructose corn syrup.

Consider anti-inflammatory measures as well.  Drinking beverages such as coffee and tea (green tea especially as well as the lesser known rooibos, or red, tea) supplies an assortment of antioxidants.  Also, turmeric (found in curry) and ginger have anti-inflammatory properties.

The bottom line is that whether or not curbing chronic inflammation is the cure-all or cornerstone of disease risk reduction, it would appear that embracing a healthful lifestyle affords the best chance of thwarting or, at least, controlling a variety of chronic illnesses.

Reprinted with permission from In Focus, AARDA, Vol. 18 No. 1, March 2010

Source: Based on “Defending Against Disease with an Anti-Inflammation Lifestyle,” Linda Antinoro, R.D., L.D., J.D., CDE, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, December 9, 2009