The Mediterranean Diet is the most anti-inflammatory diet studied.
The inflammatory response is the body's mechanism to fight infection, repair itself and rid itself of cancer. Inflammation is a coordinated response to trauma, infection, and cancer. Without inflammation, we would be dead within twenty-four hours.
Too much inflammation results in wanton destruction of tissues, pain, fevers, and misery. It is associated with heart disease, cancer, aging. It is that delicate balance of inflammation we need.
Does diet play a role with inflammation? The answer is "sort of."
Inflammation is involved in:
The five signs of acute inflammation and their Latin names:
Medical school teaches inflammation as one of the first series of lectures.
Your finger was hit with a hammer. You have an injury to your finger. Some cells are injured. The cells send a distress signal, and immediately white blood cells begin to swarm into the area to help the injured cells. All that extra blood flowing to the area will lead to redness (rubor) and swelling (tumor). Soon, the finger will feel a bit hot (calor) and will have pain (dolor).
Some cells are so badly injured that they are no longer viable. Your inflammatory reaction breaks down these cells, removes the debris, and recycles the parts to create new tissue in the area.
I love nature walks but like to avoid Poison Ivy.
Sometimes, we want to decrease the immune response. Inflammation is the response of our skin to poison ivy. We reduce the immune response by reducing hives and itching.
Rheumatoid arthritis is another example of unwanted inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease. The resulting inflammation leads to pain, fever, and joint destruction. The aim of the treatment is to reduce the inflammatory response that saves joints and improves well-being.
The inflammatory response of COVID, influenza, or the common cold is reduced by the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or Motrin.
Heart disease is partially the result of inflammation. When you have a heart attack, the coronary arteries are blocked. As a result, a part of your heart muscle is without oxygen. The cells send out inflammatory signals, and you begin to feel pain (dolor). If the blood flow is restored, your cells can heal, but if it takes too long, some of those cells will die. Then your body will get rid of those dead cells and replace them with scar tissue. The result is that your heart becomes less effective.
Plaque formation in the arteries is the result of genetics, diet, and inflammation. The increased cholesterol, either from the genetics or from a diet high in saturated fat, is deposited in the arteries. When cholesterol enters the artery wall, the body's inflammatory response tries to get rid of it, causing inflammation in the arteries. Did you know that 18-year-olds already have signs of early plaque formation in their arteries?
Chronic inflammation is when your body continues to send inflammatory signals, even when there is no acute injury or danger. This is what happens in rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, long Covid, and is involved in diabetes, obesity, dementia, and premature aging.
It is easy to obtain calories in western societies. In human history, we have gone from people on the verge of starvation to being overfed. We have also increased lifespan because of sanitation, vaccination, clean water, availability of food, and modern medicine. Living longer means seeing more chronic diseases. The role of diet in those diseases has never been in doubt since Hippocrates said, "Let thy food be thy medicine." The result has been an increase in inflammatory diseases
Contrary to the Mediterranean diet, the typical US diet has changed to a diet rich in fats. Fat consumption has risen by 11% at the expense of healthy carbohydrates.
Refined sugars have increased from 18 pounds a year in 1800 to over 180 pounds per year in 1999. Since 1999 sugar consumption has been decreasing in the United States.
The typical western diet has decreased in the amounts of fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, legumes, and fish. All while increasing meats, ultra-processed foods, dairy, and alcohol.
Diseases caused by inflammation have increased in the United States. Obesity is now considered an inflammatory disease. But other diseases of inflammation have increased:
Diet contributes to inflammatory conditions. If inflammation is like a fire, then some dietary components are adding kindling to the fire of inflammation. The Mediterranean diet has led to reduced inflammation and improved quality of life.
Antiinflammatory components of the Mediterranean Diet include anti-oxidants, polyphenols, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins, potassium, magnesium, zinc, fiber, and lower sodium and saturated fat consumption.
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