Q: “Recently a friend asked why I wasn’t following an anti-inflammatory diet (gluten, dairy, sugar and red meat free – from a naturopath) for my arthritis. The diet was prescribed to her for psoriatic arthritis. However, mine is osteoarthritis (OA). So, I was looking for some thoughts on arthritis-related diet. Perhaps leaning towards anti-inflammatory vs. diet to help OA -or what diets help this type of arthritis. And no – the sceptic that I am – I didn’t follow her diet info. But I did increase Omega-3s, chondroitin/glucosamine, Vitamin E and Vitamin D (info from Leslie Beck).” says Enlightened Eater Facebook fan, Jennifer Burnham.
Jennifer, anti-inflammatory diets are certainly hot! (Pardon the pun). Considering all of the research pointing to inflammation as playing a major role in many chronic conditions, it’s no surprise. Besides inflammatory ailments such as the various types of arthritis, research is now showing cooling the fires of inflammation can also affect heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer risk as well as the complications associated with diabetes, just to name a few.
To tackle the issue, it’s key to look at two different areas. One is the issue of pro-inflammation or in other words, which dietary factors trigger inflammation in the body while the other is that of anti-inflammatory or which compounds can decrease inflammation.
In part 1, I’ll address the issue of diet and pro-inflammation or those factors which increase the likelihood of developing inflammation.
If you think of a visual example of inflammation, picture a cut that has become very red and possibly swollen around the sore. This reaction is the body’s immune response where it releases substances such as a variety of cytokines to fight a potential infection. Inside the body, chronic inflammation can occur but instead of having a healing effect, the constant release of these types of compounds can be very damaging, possibly affecting arteries or even joints and contribute to heart disease and arthritis (including rheumatoid and osteoarthritis). The good news is that scientists can now measure the blood levels of some of these compounds which can provide direction on how to decrease inflammation. C-reactive protein (CRP) and various cytokines are examples of compounds that may be elevated in individuals due to various diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis but also due to assorted dietary and lifestyle factors in others.
Here are four major contributors to inflammation:
Here’s yet another downside of carrying too much weight for some people. Losing even small amounts of weight has been shown to reduce CRP levels and lower the risk of inflammatory diseases. On the arthritis front, waist management can also help to decrease the wear and tear off weight-bearing joints.
• Diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates
Numerous studies have linked eating too much in the way of quickly digested carbohydrate foods to inflammation. This includes added sugars (especially soft drinks) but also refined grains. But somehow when you say grains, many people translate the word to mean gluten. Gluten is definitely not inflammatory unless you have celiac disease or are gluten-intolerant. Also take note that this doesn’t mean that small amounts of sugar will send inflammatory measures soaring. Perfection is unnecessary and if you strive for it, the emotional cost can take a toll on your health.
• Artificial trans fats
Here’s one substance that should be banned from the food supply. Artificial, or man-made, trans fats not only increase inflammation but also contribute to disease in a host of ways. For example, these fats boost artery-clogging LDL-cholesterol and decrease levels of protective HDL-cholesterol while at the same time increasing insulin resistance and boosting the risk for type 2 diabetes. Maybe soon Health Canada will take a page from the U.S. where trans fats are being regulated out of the food supply. In the meantime, read labels and avoid those products containing partially hydrogenated fats.
• Diets high in saturated fat
While it seems that foods high in saturated fat such as butter are no longer considered public enemy number one when it comes to heart disease, don’t slather it on your foods just yet. Research shows that in excess, it does have a pro-inflammatory effect so moderation is still key when it comes to the fat contained in meat and dairy products.
Up next: Part 2 – What to include in a diet for managing arthritis