What if there was a pill you could take daily to help prevent multiple diseases and health conditions? Not just minor issues like acne or stiff joints, but the big ones, too: cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, diabetes. Not only would this pill prevent these and other conditions, but it could also help increase your energy, tone your body and reverse aging—with zero side effects. People would line up around the block to get their hands on the miracle drug!
While there isn’t currently a drug that can do all these things, there is something that can help: nutrient-dense food—specifically a large selection of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. Countless degenerative diseases and health conditions are tied to chronic inflammation, which damages organs, cells—even DNA—and accelerates the aging process. However, the foods mentioned below, and many others, have been shown to subdue chronic inflammation and support numerous areas of health in the process. How many of these health-promoting foods are you eating?
Two Faces of Inflammation
Under normal conditions, a small amount of inflammation is a good thing. It’s our body’s natural reaction to illness and injury. The immune system triggers an inflammatory response (such as swelling around an injury) that can be temporarily painful. This type of acute inflammation is important, though: It forces you to rest your body while ensuring proper recovery.
But then there’s chronic, ongoing inflammation—one of our biggest silent health threats today. This variety often happens inside the body and goes unnoticed. But over time, it can significantly undermine your health. It’s often caused by acute inflammation that’s gotten out of control, or an injury that never healed (for example, if you kept walking on a sprained ankle instead of resting it). Chronic inflammation can also be caused by an unhealthy diet, a buildup of toxins, smoking, lack of exercise, frequent stress, allergies and much more. Essentially, an unhealthy lifestyle puts the immune system on high alert, causing it to flood the body with inflammatory chemicals that over time significantly damage our health and lead to chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that we have the ultimate control over chronic inflammation. We know what causes it, and we know what defeats it. We just need to make the right choices. Chief among them is eating a healthful diet along with exercising and reducing stress.
Anti-Inflammatory Food to the Rescue
You’ve probably heard about the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean proteins and healthy oils. This diet has been making headlines because it's been shown to fight chronic inflammation with its excellent combination of nutrient-dense whole foods.
There are also specific foods that are shown to fight inflammation because they contain an abundance of beneficial compounds such as antioxidants, healthy fats, and polyphenols. These compounds positively impact health in a number of ways and work to squelch inflammation at the cellular level. Here is a list of some of the top foods found to offer these benefits:
As a general rule, colorful foods tend to be high in antioxidants and other healthy compounds. Fruits certainly fall into this category. Acai, blueberries raspberries and blackberries are very high in anthocyanins, a class of polyphenols that helps give them their vibrant color. A study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis found fruits high in anthocyanins provide both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as protection against cancer. Learn more about the health benefits of berries.
The main ingredient in chocolate, cacao is rich in flavanols, which are also polyphenol compounds, and seem to be particularly good for cardiovascular health. Research in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology found that cacao reduced inflammation by lowering levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body. Dark chocolate is best. Here's how to pick the healthiest chocolate.
3. Green Tea
Long touted as a healthier alternative to coffee, green tea has powerful anti-inflammatory effects that even affect our DNA. Research conducted in Korea found that a green tea extract reduced activity of the COX-2 gene, which produces an enzyme that triggers inflammation. Get more green tea health facts and learn how to brew the perfect cup here.
4. Red grapes
The same Korean study also looked at resveratrol, the antioxidant compound found in grape skins, red wine and other sources. Resveratrol reduced the inflammatory effects of both COX-1 and COX-2 genes. It also inhibits nitric oxide, a chemical that, in excess, contributes to inflammation and cellular destruction throughout the body.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower, contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol, which has also been found to control nitric oxide. In addition, these vegetables contain other compounds that reduce inflammation and help detoxify the body.
This common spice contains the compound curcumin, which has also been shown to control COX enzymes and reduce inflammation.
Another seasoning that fights inflammation is ginger, which contains gingerol, a compound that inhibits nitric oxide production and reduces inflammation.
''An apple a day'' may be more than just a saying. Apples are high in antioxidants and a study in The Journal of Neuroscience showed they inhibit an inflammatory protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF-a). In addition, apples are high in quercetin, a polyphenol that has also been found to suppress inflammatory proteins.
In addition to containing vitamin C and other nutrients, citrus fruits also have a powerful effect on inflammation. Research published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that citrus bioflavonoid compounds offered good anti-inflammatory activity, without side effects. Get more citrus health facts here.
10. Olive oil
Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, and has been found to offer protection against inflammation with its abundance of beneficial compounds. A study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design showed that one olive oil compound in particular, called oleocanthal, offers similar anti-inflammatory benefits to ibuprofen.
The Big Picture
The more we learn about chronic inflammation, the more we know we should try to avoid it. Changing your diet is an excellent start, but it’s not the only tool we have. Exercise and stress reduction are also important factors in the fight against inflammation. By combining these practices, we can address chronic inflammation at its roots and control a significant risk factor for cancer, heart disease and many other conditions.
Had you heard about the connection between inflammation and disease before? How many of the foods above are a regular part of your diet?
About the Author
Dr. Isaac Eliaz is an integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, product formulator, and frequent guest lecturer. A pioneer in holistic medicine since the early 1980s, Dr. Eliaz is founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in California, an integrative health center specializing in the treatment of cancer and chronic conditions. His approach integrates modern science and leading edge research together with traditional healing wisdom, to help people achieve optimal wellness and vitality. To learn more about his work and unique health recommendations, visit www.dreliaz.org.
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