Anti-Inflammatory Foods

  • Batoul Salamah Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from Damascus University\Syria
  • Amiira Mohamed Jama Access to Higher Education in Science (2023) - currently a BSc Biomedical Science undergraduate

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We always hear of anti-inflammatory medicines and how they are necessary in the process of managing different conditions. On the other hand, it’s continuously recommended that we follow a healthy lifestyle and eat healthy foods to fight diseases and strengthen our bodies against them. But how about foods that can work as both? Let’s figure that out.

Firstly, what is inflammation?

The inflammatory response occurs when something foreign enters the body (such as bacteria, viruses, or toxic substances), or in the case of injuries, the immune system activates and starts to send out cells to trap the foreign agents or to begin healing the injured tissue. As a result of this response, some symptoms manifest, like pain, redness, swelling, or bruising.

Mechanism of inflammatory response

Several immune system cells might be involved when inflammation occurs in your body; these cells, in turn, release various substances called inflammatory mediators that include the hormones bradykinin and histamine. They cause the dilation of the small blood vessels in the tissue, which allows more blood to reach the injured tissue and causes the inflamed areas to turn red and feel hot. This increase in blood flow allows, in turn, more immune system cells to head to the injury site to aid the healing process. The two hormones also irritate nerves and send pain signals to the brain. The inflammatory mediators also make it easier for immune system cells to leave the small blood vessels and head to the affected tissue, and these cells, in turn, allow for more fluid to enter the inflamed tissue, which causes swelling.

These inflammation mediators include cytokines (glycoproteins such as IL1 and TNF-a), proteins, glycoproteins, peptides, arachidonic acid metabolites (such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes), nitric oxide, and oxygen-free radicals.1

Symptoms of inflammation

There are two types of inflammation: acute inflammation (the response to sudden body damage that might continue for a few hours or days) and chronic inflammation (when the body continues to send inflammatory cells even without the presence of an outside danger).

  • Symptoms of acute inflammation: Heat, pain or tenderness, swelling, and flushed skin at the injury site
  • Symptoms of chronic inflammation: fever, skin rash, fatigue, insomnia, abdominal pain, chest and joint pain, mouth sores, stiffness, diarrhoea, constipation, mood disorders, weight loss or gain, and frequent infections

Associated conditions with chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation is potentially involved in the development of several conditions, such as chronic pain, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, autoimmune diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis), gastrointestinal diseases (like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease), cardiovascular diseases (like high blood pressure), lung diseases (like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases), and mental health conditions (like depression and anxiety).

What are anti-inflammatories?

Anti-inflammatories are drugs or substances that manage and reduce inflammation by blocking certain substances that cause inflammation in your body.

Anti-inflammatory nutrients

Not only can we reduce inflammation by using specific medicines, but certain foods contain nutrients that can play a significant anti-inflammatory role as well:

Polyphenols

  • These substances are made by plants fruits, and vegetables while contributing to their flavour, colour, and pharmacological activities. Some of the polyphenols are absorbed immediately in the small intestine, and the unabsorbed ones undergo some chemical reactions to be absorbed. It has been proven that polyphenols have significant effects in terms of fighting inflammation in different ways. Some of them impact immune cell populations in addition to modulating cytokine production and pro-inflammatory gene expression. Polyphenols also have anti-oxidation effects (oxidative stress), and this helps in reducing the inflammation effects as well2
  • Due to their significant anti-inflammatory effects, polyphenols were proven to be effective in reducing insulin resistance, inflammatory cardiovascular diseases (especially the polyphenols in tea, soy, and cocoa), inflammatory neurological diseases (reducing dementia and ageing by 50% in addition to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s), inflammatory obesity (by reducing cholesterol, fatty acids, and triglycerides), and different types of cancer such as lung, liver, spleen, breast, ovarian prostate, bladder, and gastrointestinal cancers (especially the polyphenols in green tea and curcumin)2

Omega 3 fatty acids

It’s estimated that omega-3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), work by reducing the concentrations of the inflammatory modulators (cytokines), proving their effectiveness in preventing or reducing the severity of numerous diseases, such as diabetes, heart and kidney diseases, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, mental diseases like schizophrenia and depression, autoimmune diseases like lupus and multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory diseases like osteoarthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.3

Fibre

  • Studies have shown that fibre intake is associated with a decrease in C-reactive protein (CRP), which is an acute-phase inflammatory reactant that rapidly increases the response to inflammation4
  • There might be, however, sex differences in the relationship between CRP levels and dietary fibre. The reason is that, in two different studies, in young adults and postmenopausal people who were assigned female at birth, there was no association between dietary fibre and CRP concentrations. On the other hand, these studies found that CRP concentration decreased significantly in people who were assigned male at birth when consuming high dietary fibre intake. In other studies, it has been estimated that high dietary fibre intake has been associated with a decrease in cytokine levels. Dietary fibre showed an influence on inflammation by increasing the concentrations of anti-inflammatory compounds in the body as well4
  • The effect of lowering CRP levels by consuming high-fibre foods was shown in a meta-analysis that was conducted on overweight or obese individuals compared with control diets4

Vitamins

  • Vitamin A: It has three main forms (retinoic acid, retinol, and retinal), and it has been demonstrated that the form retinoic acid has both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects5
  • B vitamins: B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate or folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin). They all have a significant role in reducing inflammation5
  • Vitamin C: It has been estimated that it inhibits the expression of pro-inflammatory modulators5
  • Vitamin D: It boosts immunity and reduces inflammation through binding to the sites of some inflammation mediators5
  • Vitamin E: Many studies have show it to enhance immunity and reducing inflammation5
  • Vitamin K: A study showed that its derivatives suppressed the production of several inflammation mediators5

Minerals

  • Zinc: It plays a key role in the immunological response, and its deficiency appeared to cause an increase in some inflammation mediators5
  • Iron: It’s critical to understand that although iron is an essential nutrient in our bodies, high amounts of it can be harmful and might increase the activation of inflammation5
  • Selenium: It plays a significant role in reducing the response of some inflammation mediators5
  • Iodine: It’s essential for immunity and fighting infections5
  • Magnesium: It has protective effects in inflammatory reactions, and its deficiency increases the ability to produce some inflammatory mediators5
  • Copper: Although it’s very important for immune protective functionalities, excessive amounts of it could play a role in increasing some inflammation mediators5

Anti-inflammatory foods

Our food intake must be varied and have all the essential nutrients for our health.

  • Polyphenols: Found in apples, berries, carrots, green tea, dark chocolate (due to the high amount of cocoa), broccoli, chilli pepper, onions, red cabbage, sesame seeds, flax seeds, ginkgo biloba, spinach, olives, olive oil, ginger, turmeric, cumin, oats, and whole grains.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc.), flaxseed oil, linseed oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts (especially walnuts), and seeds (especially flax seeds, in addition to pumpkin, chia, and hemp seeds).
  • Fibre: Found in fruits (such as raspberries, pears, apples, bananas, oranges, and strawberries), vegetables (such as green peas, broccoli, turnip greens, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, sweet corn, cauliflower, and carrots), grains (such as whole-wheat spaghetti, barley, bran flakes, quinoa, oats, popcorn, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and rye bread), and legumes, nuts, and seed (such as split peas, lentils, black beans, chia seeds, almonds, pistachios, and sunflower kernels).
  • Vitamins:

Fat-soluble vitamins

  • Vitamin A: Beef, eggs, fish, shrimp, liver, fortified milk, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, pumpkins, and mangoes
  • Vitamin D: Fatty fish, fortified milk, and cereals
  • Vitamin E: Vegetable oils, nuts, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains
  • Vitamin K: Eggs, milk, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, and kale

Water soluble vitamins

  • B vitamins: B1 (ham, soymilk, watermelon, and acorn squash), B2 (milk, yoghourt, cheese, whole and enriched grains and cereals), B3 (meat, poultry, fish, fortified and whole grains, mushrooms, and potatoes), B5 (chicken, whole grains, broccoli, avocados, and mushrooms), B6 (meat, fish, poultry, legumes, tofu and other soy products, and bananas), B7 (whole grains, eggs, soybeans, and fish), B9 (fortified grains and cereals, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, and legumes), and B12 (meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, fortified soy milk and cereals).
  • Vitamin C: Citrus fruit, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, spinach, and Brussels sprouts.
  • Minerals:
    • Zinc: Meat, shellfish, legumes, and whole grains
    • Iron: Red meat, eggs, poultry, green vegetables, fruits, and fortified bread
    • Selenium: Organ meat, seafood, and walnuts
    • Iodine: Iodized salt and seafood
    • Magnesium: Broccoli, spinach, seeds, legumes, and whole-wheat bread
    • Copper: Shellfish, nuts, seeds, whole-grain products, beans, and prunes

Summary

Inflammation is a serious condition when chronic and leads to numerous dangerous illnesses that impact your quality of life. However, we can fight inflammation and strengthen the body through healthy foods that have anti-inflammatory features and can boost immunity. Therefore, it’s yet another reason for the importance of following a healthy lifestyle and eating healthy foods.

References

  • Juhn SK, Jung MK, Hoffman MD, Drew BR, Preciado DA, Sausen NJ, et al. The role of inflammatory mediators in the pathogenesis of otitis media and sequelae. Clin Exp Otorhinolaryngol [Internet]. 2008 Sep [cited 2024 Feb 23];1(3):117–38. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2671742/
  • Yahfoufi N, Alsadi N, Jambi M, Matar C. The immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory role of polyphenols. Nutrients [Internet]. 2018 Nov 2 [cited 2024 Feb 23];10(11):1618. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/11/1618
  • Zivkovic AM, Telis N, German JB, Hammock BD. Dietary omega-3 fatty acids aid in the modulation of inflammation and metabolic health. Calif Agric (Berkeley) [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2024 Feb 23];65(3):106–11. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4030645/
  • Swann OG, Kilpatrick M, Breslin M, Oddy WH. Dietary fiber and its associations with depression and inflammation. Nutrition Reviews [Internet]. 2020 May 1 [cited 2024 Feb 23];78(5):394–411. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/78/5/394/5637303
  • Mitra S, Paul S, Roy S, Sutradhar H, Bin Emran T, Nainu F, et al. Exploring the immune-boosting functions of vitamins and minerals as nutritional food bioactive compounds: a comprehensive review. Molecules [Internet]. 2022 Jan [cited 2024 Feb 23];27(2):555. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/27/2/555

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Batoul Salamah

Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from Damascus University\Syria
Associate’s degree in Health Sciences from the University Of the People\United States

Batoul has significant expertise in various domains of pharmacy. For instance, she worked in several community pharmacies, where she worked directly with patients. She worked as a senior pharmaceutical representative as well, where she worked directly with doctors and physicians. And currently, she’s working as a freelance medical writer, where she puts her humble expertise into helping people get the correct information about their health and how to take care of it.

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