SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Science continues to expose connections between our food choices, inflammation, and the incidence of chronic diseases like arthritis.
“Out of control inflammation leads to worsening arthritis conditions, poor health, and the risk of many types of chronic diseases, cardiovascular disease and cancers,” said Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
According to Duitsman, what we choose to eat can have a profound effect on inflammation — by either promoting or diminishing our risk of diseases.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation can be divided into two categories: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is a natural part of our immune defense, and it generally lasts from seconds to days. Normally, inflammation is tightly controlled by the body.
However, in chronic inflammation, the inflammatory process goes awry.
“The same biological inflammatory responses can be set in motion even when there is not a legitimate threat to the body. Instead of healing and clearing over a period of days, the inflammatory process can get stuck.
“As the process continues, harmful compounds are released that can worsen our symptoms, and increase our risk for chronic diseases,” said Duitsman.
Omega 6 and 3
Considerable research has accumulated over the last decade regarding how components of the foods we eat become integrated into our cells and influence inflammation and our health.
Fats and carbohydrates are the two leading categories of food that influence inflammation.
“There are two types of essential fats — omega 6 and omega 3. They are essential because we must consume them — we cannot make them ourselves,” said Duitsman.
It is vital that humans have a proper ratio of omega 3 and omega 6, because omega 3 fats help to reduce inflammation, and most omega 6 fats tend to promote inflammation.
A typical American consumes about 14-25 times more omega 6 fats than omega 3 fat. This is much too high on the omega 6 side, according to Duitsman.
Omega 3 fats are essential for healthy growth and development. They have been shown to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. They are essential for proper brain function, and have been shown to be key players in protecting memory, performance of the brain and behavioral function.
In our bodies, omega 3 fats compete with omega 6 for the same enzymes and pathways. If our omega 6 intake is much higher than omega 3, the biological cascades initiated at the cellular level will be pro-inflammatory.
“Compounds elicited by the omega 3 fats block the same inflammatory pathways as aspirin and some other anti-inflammatory medications commonly used to fight arthritis pain,” said Duitsman.
Symptoms of not getting enough omega 3 can include: stiff, sore and swollen joints; fatigue; poor memory; dry skin; heart problems; mood swings or depression; and poor circulation.
Eat plenty of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. They are present in wild salmon and other cold-water fish, freshly ground flaxseeds, omega 3 fortified eggs and walnuts. Fish oil supplements also contain omega 3 fats.
Use canola oil (expeller-pressed is best) and extra virgin olive oil as your primary cooking oils. Both have anti-inflammatory properties.
Duitsman recommends limiting fats that promote inflammation. These include polyunsaturated vegetable oils (such as safflower and corn oils) and strictly avoid the partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) found in many margarines, snack and convenience foods, and vegetable shortenings. These increase inflammation.
Many spices have anti-inflammatory effects
Two with a lot of research evidence include ginger and turmeric. Ginger has been shown to decrease osteoarthritis pain. Turmeric seems to help arthritis by suppressing inflammatory processes in the body. Both are also delicious when added to various foods.
Carbs we eat
“Scientific journals continue to report research linking inflammation to processed foods and other high-glycemic carbohydrates. Combat this effect by eating plenty of whole fruits and vegetables from all parts of the color spectrum along with whole grains,” said Duitsman.
Many phytochemicals have been shown to protect against the aging process, including aging of the joints.
In contrast, refined products offer little nutrition, and promote metabolic pathways that encourage inflammation and favor diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and a host of other chronic diseases.
“Many whole, natural foods provide us the nutrition we need to promote good health and prevent disease. The key to health and your solution to pain may be in choosing your next meal,” said Duitsman.