Is There Any Benefit to an Anti-Inflammation Diet?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
9/3/2009 12:36 PM   :  55 comments   :  14,051 Views

The body's immune system is a marvelous thing. When an unwanted antigen invades the body, armies of white blood cells work hard to provide protection. The body produces antibodies to destroy whatever it perceives to be harmful. Typically, that means antigens such as viruses, bacteria, or toxins. Sometimes, an allergic response occurs due to a reaction to an external antigen that the body would otherwise normally ignore, creating a hypersensitive response. Another type of hypersensitive response occurs when the body responds to normal body tissues. Sometimes this happens in transplant patients because the body doesn't recognize the tissue as its own. It can also happen with the body responds to what is its own in an autoimmune response. These hypersensitive responses can affect almost every major system of the body including the nervous system, gastrointestinal and endocrine systems as well as the connective tissue and skin, eyes, blood and blood vessels. Typically, management of allergic hypersensitive responses is accomplished by reducing exposure to the allergen. Transplant responses can be reduced with specific medications. However, when the hypersensitive response is to normal body tissues causing the body to attack itself, it is not always so easy to identify and control. This autoimmune response many times leads to disorders and diseases that cause tissue deterioration and adverse side effects that can alter day-to-day life more than just avoiding allergens or controlling responses. There are about 50 million Americans living with autoimmune disorders or diseases today and it is estimated that about 30 million of those people are women who are affected about three times more often than men are.

As I shared in my But What if I Can’t Lose Weight blog, I had two-thirds of my thyroid gland removed back in the spring of 2002. What I did not mention in that blog was why.

After finding a goiter on my neck and undergoing blood tests, an ultrasound, and a needle biopsy that was inconclusive and unable to rule out thyroid cancer, exploratory surgery and a partial thyroid removal was necessary. While I was extremely relieved when I woke up after surgery to the news that there was no cancer, I was surprised to learn I had an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Antibodies had reacted against proteins in my thyroid gland and caused increasing inflammation that resulted in a large mushy mass of inflamed tissue as my surgeon explained it. After learning the news, my mother told me my great-grandfather had died of an autoimmune disorder called pernicious anemia. Research on the internet quickly provided a list of around 100 autoimmune related disorderswhich not only included Hashimoto's and pernicious anemia but also Graves disease, lupus, scleroderma and Crohn's disease to name a few. Many of these disorders or diseases I was familiar with from my work in the hospital as well as some of the common issues that accompany them.

Autoimmune disorders do not typically go away but instead go through periods of increased and decreased inflammatory response and disease progression. Many diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis cause chronic systemic inflammation. Those with Hashimoto's have periods where the gland (in my case, the remaining gland) is inflamed more than other times, which influences its ability to function properly. Sometimes medications are required to help reduce the inflammatory response and to provide relief from the pain and discomfort that accompany it. Many times it is as simple as an occasional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen. Other times it takes ongoing therapy with corticosteroids such as prednisone or other medications like methotrexate. Typically, these medications also bring other side effects that must be dealt with as well.

We know that what we eat and how we live have an effect on how we feel. This can be especially true for those with autoimmune diseases dealing with inflammatory issues. There are numerous books based on anti-inflammatory diet principles with each having a slightly different approach or spin. Much of this is nothing more than marketing hype to sell books. However, most of them are centered on the idea of reducing inflammation to help reduce the risk of or improve the consequences of disease. Anti-inflammatory diets grounded in healthy eating practices simply reinforce what we already know to be true, healthy eating reduces your risks of disease. But, what if you have an autoimmune disorder that you want to minimize risks of worsening or to control an inflammatory response? Is there any benefit for them? There are experts that believe following some anti-inflammatory eating guidelines can be beneficial and effective for some medical problems and autoimmune disorders.

So what specific anti-inflammatory guidelines could be helpful? Of course, there are the basics of good nutrition for all such as minimizing saturated and Trans fats, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting your intake of refined carbohydrates in favor of whole grains while limiting refined and processed foods as possible. Here is a more specific eating guideline you may want to keep in mind if you have inflammatory disorders or diseases. Pharmacologic agents such as corticosteroids and cyclosporine have been known to affect a cellular process that reduces the production of cytokines. Omega 3 studies related to inflammation have also shown that they can provide a similar response. Both animal as well as human studies demonstrate that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) suppress cell-mediated immune responses. Specifically, there is good response to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplements that seem to decrease elevated levels of cytokines. At the same time you are increasing intake of Omega-3 PUFAs, it is also important to decrease your intake of Omega-6 PUFAs. Research shows that a lower ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids is needed for the prevention and management of chronic diseases. Some experts suggest a reasonable ratio might be eating one to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. This is a significant reduction since many people consume a ration more in line with a 10:1 ratio.

The Bottom Line
A Mediterranean eating style provides a good framework for anti-inflammatory eating. The beans, vegetables, and fruits provide fiber and are rich in nutrients. Nuts, fish and seafood provide the beneficial omega-3 PUFAs while olive oils help to reduce the omega-6 PUFAs that would be in corn, peanut, sunflower or soybean oils we would be using instead.

If you suffer from autoimmune disorders or bouts of inflammation, you may also want to pay a little more attention to your omega-6/omega-3 ratio. You can reduce your omega-6 intake by eating fewer processed and fast foods that contain omega-6 rich sources of PUFAs from vegetable oils made of corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseeds, and especially soybeans and by reducing your intake of foods made with these items when possible. At the same time, increase your omega-3 PUFAs intake by using extra virgin olive oil for your cooking, sautéing and in salad dressings. Include more oily fish such as canned or vacuum-packed light tuna or salmon as well as walnuts, ground flax seeds and fortified eggs. Fish oil supplements can be an option but care is necessary since the source of the oil is not always from low mercury fish sources. DHA enriched foods or supplements may also be beneficial as well. NO SUPPLEMENTS should be used until you speak with your medical provider especially if you have macular degeneration or take blood-thinning medications. The risks of bleeding outweigh the benefits of the supplement unless followed by your medical provider. Eating omega-3 rich foods does not demonstrate the same risk so use food when possible.

For me, many of these anti-inflammatory guidelines are nothing more than healthy eating guidelines that I have already been following. However, the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio is something new that I will take a closer look at as I make my meal selections.

How about you, anything new you learned that you will use in your daily meal and menu planning to reduce inflammatory responses?


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Comments

  • 55
    MY SH uses soy milk and the Dr said no problem but I keep reading that there are problems. Finding milk substitutes has been difficult. I actually bake a number of baked goods for him with yogurt replacing milk. I must find some other alternatives to put on cereal. He is a cheerio lover, his cardiologist told him to eat them and he always does as he it told. GREAT and informative article thanks Pat in Maine. - 5/31/2013   8:42:49 PM
  • NC.TARHEEL.FAN
    54
    Several members of my family have Lupus. I will pass this on. - 9/13/2009   4:46:54 PM
  • 53
    Thank God I was raised on that famous Mediterranean diet !!!!
    So much delicious, yet simple Sicilian foods.
    Back then it was embarrassing because my "American friends" didn't eat what we ate in our immigrant family home. Now, however, I feel lucky and not at all embarrassed. - 9/9/2009   4:15:05 PM
  • 52
    My fiance's cousin is in her 30s and has a severe case of RA. She totally changed her diet to cut out processed foods, sugar, and gluten, and she has been able to come off most of her RA meds. She swears by her diet and follows it faithfully.
    Blessed be. - 9/9/2009   1:48:29 PM
  • 51
    Thanks for sharing, I love the Meditteranian salad, my husband makes it so good with the olives and has a healthy recipe...anyone want to share their recipe? - 9/7/2009   10:00:20 AM
  • LISAHALLMAN
    50
    I am going to try this. I have psoriasis and my doctors said I should try gluten free, but I had the worst bowel symptoms ever. So could not see how restricting gluten in my diet would have the effect of making liquid stool. Nasty... sorry for that graphic ness but. Anyhow, please keep posting on autoimmune disorders as I'm sure there is a cure for them. - 9/6/2009   11:28:29 PM
  • 49
    thank you this information is really helpful and more reason to try this diet always in pain - 9/6/2009   2:09:49 PM
  • BOOPADOOP5
    48
    I have connective tissue diseases including Lupus and CREST Syndrome, I also have tyhroid problems and had Lymphoma last year. This is a very interesting article and I plan to do more studying on the subject. - 9/6/2009   10:31:09 AM
  • 47
    Thank you for your article. When I was 22 years old (I'm now 37) I had Grave's disease. The treatment was radioactive iodine to reduce the goiter and stop the disease's effects and in the process it took most all of my thyroid gland. Ever since I've had trouble with my weight- at times a significant level of overweight like now. Prior to that I was very slim.
    I didn't know that an anti-inflammatory diet would help. I know of it from Dr. Oz's book and now I'll take another look at it. Thank you! - 9/6/2009   9:34:12 AM
  • SSFEWKES
    46
    I hadn't heard of the Anti-Inflammation Diet before this. I find it interesting and will have to give it more thought and study. - 9/5/2009   11:10:28 PM
  • 45
    I have an auto-immune disease called Celiac Disease. The only treatment is to eat gluten free for the rest of my life and gluten is a protein found in wheat(flour), barley, rye and sometimes oats. I was undiagnosed for over 20 years and have a naturopathic Dr that I found after discovering I had CD. Due to being undiagnosed for so long my organs are way inflamed so my Dr put me on an ant-inflammation diet.

    My Dr didn't say anything really about omega 3/6 but to eat more fish and gave me a list of things to not eat - some very do able and others not so much but the one that sticks out that was mentioned in the article as being good was peanuts. I can eat other nuts and nut butters but not supposed to eat peanuts/peanut butter. Also no tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant and a few others. He wants soy limited, which I do anyway since too much soy can raise my chance of breast cancer. Here's from his website on what to eat and avoid - http://nwnaturalmedicine.com/blog/?
    p=17


    The way my Dr explained it to me was that any auto-immune disease including diabetes, thyroid, and allergies is that our body's immune system is too good so that it attacks itself because it knows that its job is to attack something. Since it can't find anything to attack it attacks itself. - 9/5/2009   3:38:25 PM
  • 44
    I've not heard of an "anti-inflammatory" diet per se. I have had advice from my allergy specialist on certain foods that can aggravate allergic responses that I have found helpful. It includes much of what you've mentioned about avoiding refined flours, and sugars. It also had advice about food cross-sensitivities to pollen allergies (corn, cucucumbers and melon cross-react with ragweed for example; so I limit severely if not avoid them during ragweed season and limit them off season). - 9/5/2009   12:10:12 PM
  • NANNYJO1
    43
    Autoimmune disease is very strange. You read so often how to boost your immune system but we have to try to suppress ours. Totally backwards from conventional wisdom. I've been diagnosed with undifferentiated connective tissue disease (as some one else mentioned, its what the doctor calls it until he can figure out which one it really is) and fibromyalgia. Someone suggested flax oil and it has helped me out quite a bit. - 9/5/2009   11:45:08 AM
  • SALTIIE
    42
    I've been to some food database and saw inflammatory index and felt so confused. Now it becomes much clearer to me what those numbers mean. Interestingly, the inflammatory indeces for foods are somehow matching the Chinese medicine theory of "huo" (means fire in Chiese) which leads to small disorders or even serious diseases. Most of the anti-inflamatory foods are said to be 'cool' and help put out the "fire" in human body. - 9/5/2009   11:26:06 AM
  • 41
    If I had one of these diseases I'd certainly read "LIGHT ON YOGA" by BKS Iyengar and practice it. - 9/5/2009   10:59:56 AM
  • 40
    I have a friend with Lupus, so will send this blog on to her. Very interesting! - 9/5/2009   10:37:18 AM
  • 39
    Thank you. This is something I need to really think about - 9/4/2009   9:42:38 PM
  • 38
    I suffer from sarcodosis, and after joining sp. i finally met somebody else with this very unknown illness / disease and they had their very own spark team. woohoo... since then i have learned so much about it and what to do to live a healthy lifestyle. now an article that really hits home and gives even more info. on this.... thank you, thank you, thank you....
    Ken. - 9/4/2009   8:34:24 PM
  • ELISAROBERTS
    37
    Thanks for the article! I have Crohn's disease and am married to a vegetarian. I found it odd when the nutritionist recommended that I generally stay away from his soy products, but this makes sense now. I will definitely look into this ratio more.

    Thanks to Rosiet3 for the links. I also did not know about the inflammation factor. - 9/4/2009   8:25:25 PM
  • 36
    Great article! Coming from a family who has numerous autoimmune disorders; celiac, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and Hashimoto's, this was an eye opening article for me. I didn't realize that maybe diet would help. I kow that it helps control diabetes, but psoriasis? I'll have to tell my brother about this. He's been suffering with it since he was a baby! Great information, thank you! - 9/4/2009   6:18:31 PM
  • 35
    I suffer from Hashimoto's as well, and have a varied family history of various autoimmune diseases. I'll definitely be looking more into the anti-Inflammation diet.

    Thanks. - 9/4/2009   4:36:03 PM
  • PEWISMA
    34
    I am familiar with the idea of an anti-inflammatory diet. I just need to do better with trying to stick to one. I have hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's disease (all the moisture in your body dries up...tears, saliva, etc.) and I don't do well with fish and seafood (major gastric disturbances), so I take a flaxseed oil supplement each day instead of fish oil. I also try to eat certain foods that make me less achy, like pineapple...and avoid some that make me feel worse, like potatoes (white) and tomatoes. I agree that sugar could be an offender as well, so I try to limit that....but that is the hardest one to stay away from. I think that someday we may find that nearly all disease stems from some form of autoimmune disorder or other...including cancer. I also think that we will find that these disorders are triggered in most instances by our encounters with viruses and bacteria. Automimmune and inflamation are words that both point in the same direction....something inside us is triggered to start our cells in open rebellion against our own bodies. If we have genetic predispositions in our makeups, then we are more likely to end up with these diseases. The truly interesting thing is that if you have one autoimmune disease, you will often end up with others as well. I don't think that we have more automimmune diseases today...I just think that the medical community is better at diagnosing them. Good article. Thanks. - 9/4/2009   1:22:12 PM
  • 33
    GREAT BLOG I DID NOT KNOW MOST OF IT THANKS - 9/4/2009   12:21:46 PM
  • 32
    I really learned something new about the importance of increasing Omega 3 yet decreasing Omega 6 in an anti-inflammatory diet. I knew how important Omega 3 is, but as a health educator, I only considered it with people who have cardiovascular disease risk factors. This is especially interesting as I have autoimmune hepatitis, and am very intrigued by the anti-inflammatory diet that Dr. Andrew Weil recommends on his website. However, he did not go into the details like you did regarding the Omegas. Thank you for this informative article!

    P.S. I am a little concerned that some of the commenters are taking away from this article that they should abstain from or decrease their soymilk intake. Isn't soymilk vastly different from soybean oil? - 9/4/2009   12:00:27 PM
  • 31
    This is interesting. I tend to follow a mediterranean type diet because its healthy, so its good to know that I'm also limiting other problems. - 9/4/2009   11:55:03 AM
  • MINVER
    30
    This is what is frustrating. I have suffered from lupus since I was a child, and I am allergic to fish, I don't even know what fish and seafood taste like. I was diagnosed with a fish allergy around the age of 2. I do eat a lot of olive oil and nuts, but that does not seem to help. I wonder if my fishless and seafood-less diet for all of my life has caused me to develop lupus. There is nothing I can do about it cuz I would die if I eat fish or any form of seafood. - 9/4/2009   10:56:35 AM
  • 29
    I'm making my way thru the specialists ... allergist, pulmonologist, GI, and rheumatologist. Haven't been to the rheumatologist yet, but my GI found that my anti-nuclear antibodies were high .. so I'm soon to have a new specialist. One of these years one of the specialists MIGHT find out what's wrong! - 9/4/2009   10:31:41 AM
  • 28
    Great article! My mom has osteo-arthritis, and while this may not be an auto-immune disease (?), she discovered years ago that cutting back on all foods with sugar helped ease her arthritis. She notices now that if she eats even one cookie, she'll have stiffness in her joints the next day! - 9/4/2009   10:29:21 AM
  • 27
    I was eating this way when my inflammatory autoimmune disease first appeared, so I'm skeptical that it's of much use. However, I'll still eat this way because I like it and it's overall more healthy! - 9/4/2009   10:13:22 AM
  • 26
    Funny thing. I heard about low grade inflammatory response on Professor Jay's Weight Loss University free lectures. http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/1886
    600


    I go to http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/
    nut-and-seed-products/3061/2

    to get nutrient information on things I didn't find in the Spark file, and there is an Inflamitory index shown for food, something I had never heard of and now this article. Food for deep thought and careful consideration, thankyou. - 9/4/2009   10:11:49 AM
  • 25
    Thank you for posting this. I have arthritis and did not know about the omega connection. - 9/4/2009   10:10:36 AM
  • 24
    Thank you for this article! I never heard of an anti-inflammitory diet but it seems interesting! I was diagnosed with graves disease a year ago and know what a battle these autoimmune diseases are! Awesome article :) - 9/4/2009   7:41:27 AM
  • 23
    I have an undifferentiated autoimmune disease...which only means the doctor has so far not been able to identify which one it is. Thank goodness it has been in remission for several years. I didn't know there was an "anti-inflammatory diet," but having read this post, it would seem that I'm already doing a lot of the right things. I'm going to do some more research on that ratio of Omegas. I will do everything I can not to go back to what it was like before!

    Thanks for posting this information. Now that I know what I've been doing right, I'm going to focus on those things more. - 9/4/2009   6:38:36 AM
  • 22
    Thank you for this VERY informative article. I've battled Lyme disease (one of the AA's) for almost 3 years now (currently in remission - hoping it might be gone for good finally). In all my reading on the condition (and I've read a LOT), I'd never come across this nutritional advice for managing the associated chronic inflammation issues. I will make a point of reading more about it and incorporating this info the best I can. Thanks again for this very valuable article! - 9/4/2009   5:56:08 AM
  • 21
    Obviously, we all need to read and heed for sure. As a nurse I take care of people all the time who are younger and younger these days with more and more serious illnesses. I do not doubt they are all largely due to poor diets.

    It makes me want to keep on managing my health with all the supplements I take. I have been laughed at for all those I do take, but I may have the last laugh in the long run!!!

    GREAT blog! - 9/4/2009   4:43:44 AM
  • STARLING02
    20
    Wow, this article has been a extremely helpful!! It has shed a bright light on my diet choices!! Thank you!! - 9/4/2009   3:19:47 AM
  • 19
    I didn't realize that pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disorder and having a relative with it puts you at risk. My dad has pernicious anemia. I will need to pay more attention to
    my omega 6 / omega 3 ratio. - 9/4/2009   2:50:00 AM
  • 18
    I have been moving more and more in the direction of preparing my own food instead of buying processed food, and buying more organic produce. For example, I just started making my own pesto with pine nuts and olive oil. Yum!! I have an autoimmune disorder which primarily affects the nerves in my feet, but I am very skeptical of supplements. I prefer to focus on as healthy a diet as possible. I use olive oil exclusively, for salads, cooking and also for baking. Even in the chocolate cake I make once a year. No one has complained! - 9/4/2009   2:35:38 AM
  • BHAWKINS00
    17
    Wow! I never realized that what I thought was the healthy addition of soy to my diet might be aggravating my auto-immune issues (Crohn's, psoriasis). I have increased my intake of Omega 3's and switched to Olive Oil whenever possible, but I will definately pay closer attention to the ratio and strive to learn more about how this may be affecting me.
    Thanks for such an informative article. - 9/4/2009   1:50:59 AM
  • 16
    Thank you for this great artical. - 9/3/2009   11:32:32 PM
  • 15
    Great article, lots of information about the autoimmune disease that I didn't know. Watching ones diet can be really helpful in many ways. Thanks - 9/3/2009   10:08:32 PM
  • JULIE0309
    14
    Great article. I had my thyroid removed 2-1/2 years ago. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's also. After multiple biopsies, it was decided it to be removed--mine was malignant. I've struggled with keeping my weight level since that time. The information in your blog was good data. Thanks! - 9/3/2009   9:09:02 PM
  • 13
    Thank you! This article is very timely and informative for me. I have thyroiditis and auto-immune related hives (yeah, I'm allergic to myself). Last week I had a really bad flare up and ended up at urgent care getting a steroid injection because my throat was swelling up. My father has type I diabetes and pernicious anemia.

    Four years ago, when I first started having my symptoms, it was really hard to find information about it. Basically even when multiple allergists were convinced that I must have an environmental trigger, I knew that there was something else going on. It wasn't until a year ago that I finally found an allergist who recognized my condition as autoimmune.

    Thank you so much for the information about addressing this with nutrition. I'm planning to take this information to my allergist to see what he recommends. I love the idea of being prescribed a Mediterranean diet! - 9/3/2009   8:42:26 PM
  • 12
    I didn't know soy was high in Omega-6. That's a bit of a nuisance, since soy is a principal protein in my diet, and it was amazingly helpful when I went through menopause. I'll have to regroup, because inflammatory problems have run in my family--about the only consistent physical problem that does, adg.

    GREAT article, thanks. - 9/3/2009   7:18:03 PM
  • 11
    I guess I've read this but somewhat forgot. Makes total sense though. And since I also suffer from Hashimotos (and have psoriasis, allergies and just over active allergies to many things like bug bites) I'll look into my Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio. Now I'm curious if the food tracker will help me in that area... I'll go look now! - 9/3/2009   6:53:33 PM
  • DROPCONE
    10
    I don't think that there has necessarily been an increase of autoimmune disorders or other disease, but rather that medical science has improved its ability to understand and detect various disorders, their causes, effects, and early stages. Many conditions that were formerly attributed to "just getting old" - like arthritis, for instance - are now understood to be treatable conditions that one need not suffer if you are able to afford medical attention and treatment (which is another can of worms).

    I do agree that there may be environmental causes of disease that are poorly understood, and could use investigation.

    In any case, it is always fascinating to know the science behind the latest nutritional recommendations! Thanks for the info! - 9/3/2009   6:00:57 PM
  • 9
    The main question is, WHY the increase in auto-immune disorders? What has changed in the last few decades?
    My theory is, that we are increasingly trying to make our immune system "obsolete" by doing more and more of its work. Over-sanitation, germ-o-phobia, anti-bacterial this and sterilized that leaves less and less for our immune system to do - and like a muscle that does not get exercised, our immune system deteriorates - or gets "bored" - like our kids when they have nothing to put their energy toward. In the absence of a real enemy, our immune system attacks the own body.
    - 9/3/2009   4:53:43 PM
  • 8
    I wish this article had been a little more specific about this: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that can be controlled by avoiding gluten in the diet. I have read a book by Peter Green that explained the potential of some autoimmune diseases to "cluster"--if you have one in a group you may be likely to develop others. I have celiac, and I am very careful to stay on a gluten-free diet. Some of the research I read indicates by avoiding gluten I may be able to avoid triggering other autoimmune diseases like Lupus or Hashimoto's. - 9/3/2009   1:35:41 PM
  • SP_COACH_NANCY
    7
    I am so glad to read this because I am reading more and more about the role inflammation plays not only in autoimmune disease, but cardio-vascular disease and cancers, too.

    I even discovered when I have had too many refined foods in my diet, my knees tend to bother me more after my runs, so for well over 9 months I have given up the refined foods for the most part, and so far so good. I will definitely look at the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio, too!

    THANKS! - 9/3/2009   9:11:51 AM
  • 6
    I've never heard of this before, but with my husband's crohn's, and my asthma and Hashimotos, it would be worthwhile to try. - 9/3/2009   8:41:18 AM

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