A diet aimed at combatting inflammation in the body — combined with weight loss, smoking cessation and regular physical exercise — may assist patients in recovering from or avoiding the most common chronic illnesses, various government agencies and medical researchers say.

Laboratory, clinical and epidemiologic studies are finding that clinical nutrition may be able to battle and reverse the harmful effects of the inflammatory processes underlying such enduring, slow-progression diseases as Alzheimer’s disease, anger disorders and aggressive behavior, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, bone disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, depression, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lung disease, metabolic syndrome, neurological diseases, obesity, Parkinson’s disease and respiratory diseases.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that these severe illnesses — caused and accelerated by environmental pollution, genetic predisposition, sleep health issues, “industrialization, economic development, urbanization and market globalization” — are responsible for 63 percent of all deaths globally and 70 percent of those or 1.7 million per year in the United States.

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Conditions such as arthritis, back pain, fever associated with colds and flus, headaches, menstrual periods, pain, strained or sprained muscles and swelling are typically treated by over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin).

Also known as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), the National Institutes of Health states that they are used in prescription dosages for post-surgical pain relief. The Mayo Clinic reports that researchers seek to learn whether NSAIDS can treat or prevent cancer though, thus far, this has not been proved.

Other such drugs are classified as corticosteroids, which are found in inhalers for asthma sufferers. The Cleveland Clinic says that corticosteroids reduce inflammation and swelling by destroying chemicals that produce them and decreasing the activity of white blood cells, affecting immunity.

However, researchers with the Harvard Medical School say that patients should make changes in their diets and lifestyles instead of waiting for any classification of drugs to treat or prevent inflammation, many of which are a long time in development, will be costly and will include side effects.

Inflammation and Its Causes

Inflammation can involve the major systems of the human body — cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, excretory, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive and respiratory — but most especially the immune system.

The immune system defends against any foreign body such as bacteria, microbe, plant pollen or a chemical that enters the human body via any of these above-mentioned systems. The defense manifests itself as the heat, infection, injury, irritation, pain, radiation exposure, redness and swelling a person experiences after the introduction of such foreign bodies.

The defensive process is known as inflammation and is meant to provide more nourishment or protect the human body against these foreign objects. It works best when it is short term. This short-term form is known as acute inflammation.

At times, however, inflammation can continue for days even when the human body is not under attack. This is when inflammation now becomes long-term or permanent or malignant and leads to both the destruction and healing of human tissue and, thus, the launch and growth of the aforementioned diseases. This long-term form is known as chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation produces deadly oxygen and nitrogen reactants and defensive white blood cells and hormones that release harmful cells known as cytokines and angiogenic factors to treat the site of tissue attack.

Cytokines are normally needed for the healing of wounds and to speed the growth of skin cells as part of the recovery process. These substances are overseen by a nuclear transcription factor, which is considered to be the center of inflammation.

To counter this, aside from weight loss, tobacco cessation and physical exercise, the World Health Organization states in its study findings that plant-based foods, especially the higher daily intake of fruits and vegetables, may guard patients against inflammation or its effects and, thus, chronic illness.

Chronic illness includes various forms of cancers such as pancreatic, lung, oral, esophageal and stomach cancers. Additionally, the WHO connects obesity, an excess of red and preserved meat and alcohol to an increased risk of cancer. The organization’s findings may be found on its website, http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity.

The Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health also reports that foods and beverages high in essential vitamins and minerals may reduce the risk of illness but the exact opposite will only serve to speed up the inflammatory disease process.

Inflammatory foods include refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries; French fries and other fried foods; soda and other sugary drinks; red meat such as burgers and steaks and processed meat such as hot dogs and sausage; margarine, shortening or lard; corn and soybean oils; pasteurized dairy and trans fats.

For example, the Calorie Restriction Society found in its studies that individuals consuming only 1,800 kcal per day decreased their cholesterol levels and improved their body mass index, glucose tolerance, insulin insensitivity and lipoprotein profiles. The overall effect was to reduce its risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other illnesses.

An Australian study of women reported that those who reduced their intake of carbohydrates, namely foods low in fiber and high in sugars and starches, registered a low glycemic index (GI) value and lowered their risk of digestive, respiratory, nervous system and endocrine disorders. They were able to avoid the dangers of obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

A study in the British Journal of Nutrition revealed that trans fatty acids are linked to cardiac arrest, stimulating an inflammatory response in cardiac tissue through their introduction to its cells. Cells clump together, binding to the walls of arteries, producing cytokines and leading to a heart attack.

Other studies found that saturated fatty acids have a similar effect on the inflammatory process. Their presence in the bloodstream incite the production of cytokines and other harmful cells such as macrophages, which typically appear in response to increased body fat.

Still, more studies found that, over the past decades, a diet that includes oils in the omega-6 fatty acid class such as soybean, corn, safflower or sunflower oil lead to the development of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients, Foods

To halt the pro-inflammatory processes of the body and to reverse their effects, dietitians recommend that patients digest such nutrients as calcium; carotenoids; Co-enzyme Q10; magnesium; omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids; polyphenols; prebiotics and probiotics; proteins such as eggs, grass-fed meats, natural cheeses and organic poultry; potassium; selenium; sodium, and; vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D and E.

In particular, a rich source of a variety of minerals are bone broths. Broths made of boiled bones — usually connected to cuts of beef and poultry — feature minerals such as calcium, magnesium, glucosamine, phosphorus, silicon, sulfates, and sulfur. Both sulfates and glucosamine are known to reduce inflammation, arthritis and joint pain.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements and stop the production of inflammatory agents, including cytokines. Rich sources include avocados, canola oil, chia seeds, coconut oil, cod liver oil, cold-water fish, hazelnut oil, hemp seeds, flaxseed oil, salmon, sesame oil and walnuts.

Researchers found that a dosage of four grams of fish oil for six weeks led to the reduction of plasma levels for patients with type 2 diabetes and decreased cell content of cytokines.
Additionally, patients experienced relief from rheumatoid arthritis in several studies involving supplementation of two to four grams of fish oil for three to six months.

Vitamin C defends against the oxidation of lipids, which make up proteins, and deals with oxygen and nitrogen reactants, which otherwise contribute to cellular and tissue damage. It also destroys macrophages.

Vitamin E exists in several chemical forms with the most common ones being alpha – and gamma-tocopherols. Varieties of seeds, nuts and vegetable oils are rich sources of gamma-tocopherols.

They cease the release of cytokines and are found to treat rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. A clinical study shows a decrease in joint stiffness and pain following dosages of 600 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol.

Another set of nutrients that fight cytokines and other inflammatory agents are a class known as polyphenols. They appear in beans such as Ansazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas or lentils; chocolate; coffee, and fruit such as acai fruit, blueberries, pineapples, tomatoes and watermelons.

Polyphenols are also present in whole grain foods such as barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur wheat, oats and quinoa; olive oil; tea such as green, oolong or white tea; and; vegetables such as beets, bok choy, broccoli, celery, chives, garlic, leeks, onions, peppers, scallions, shallots, sprouts and Swiss chard; and wine.

Though research has discovered thousands of different polyphenols, they typically fall into two categories, flavonoids and lignans.

Flavonoids are found in apples, berries, celery, citrus fruit, cocoa, coffee, grains, olive oil, onions, peanuts and tea. Lignan are contained in flaxseeds.

Yet another category of nutrients are called prebiotics and probiotics. These are substances that are fermented by bacteria in the gastrointestinal system and improve health. Prebiotics include a form of fiber. Rich sources include chicory, Jerusalem artichokes and onions.

According to WHO, probiotics are bacteria found in dairy products such as yogurt or kefir.


Researchers have begun to recommend that patients utilize spices — which have been used in holistic, organic medicine against illness for thousands of years — to minimize their risk of inflammation.

Meanwhile, clinical trials are being launched to study the effect of spices on chronic disease but with some measure of difficulty because of the slow growth of most chronic illnesses.

Spices — which can come in the form of dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetative substance — are useful towards the end of averting inflammation when taken with vegetables, as medicine, as a part of religious rites, personal care or perfume.

The Mayo Clinic promotes the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which includes greater consumption of spices, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts; modest amounts of low-fat dairy products; low sums of animal protein and sweets, and; lower sodium intake. DASH has also been found to be pivotal in preventing cancer.

In a similar vein, the clinic recommends caution for patients when using herbal supplements to stem inflammation as they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to the Mayo Clinic, the University of Maryland Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, examples of herbal supplements are the Devil’s claw for short-term relief of osteoarthritis; the Cat’s claw for rheumatoid arthritis joint pain and osteoarthritis knee pain; mangosteen to fight allergies, bacterial infection and inflammation; frankincense for inflammation, and; willow bark for pain and inflammation.

The University of Wisconsin counts cayenne, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, oregano, rosemary and turmeric in the spice category. Other spices include basil, chili peppers, cinnamon, curry powder, garlic and thyme.

Gradual Approaches

Physicians, nutritionists or dietitians or a medical team can encourage or assist patients, especially seniors, to make incremental changes in their diet and lifestyle, including weight loss, quitting cigarettes and daily exercise — to fight and reverse the effects of inflammatory chronic illnesses.

Taking minimal steps at a time makes the practice steadier and easier, ensuring that patients won’t revert to their old habits. Physicians and dietitians can help plan meals for patients if hospitalized or institutionalized or persuade them to begin their diets at home or elsewhere by aiming for a variety of foods and choosing to eat fresh meals as much as possible.

They can also urge adult patients to take four to five servings of fruits and vegetables daily; digest no more than 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day with more for men and less for women; eat the correct number of calories for their level of physical activity to maintain a consistent, healthy weight; include carbohydrates, fat and protein at each meal, and; consume pure or bottled water, tea or water tinctures with small percentages of fruit juice or lemon, instead of fruit juice outright.

With newer anti-inflammatory foods slowly added to the diet of a patient, he or she can begin to recover to optimum health on a cellular level and boost his or her energy as the body repairs itself.

Once doctors, nutritionists and other medical staff help patients strike the balance between foods that help with this repair and are pleasing at the same time, these patients can start to get rid of inflammation agents without effort.



Bauer, Brent, M.D. General Internal Medicine, Editorial Board member. Buzzed on Inflammation. Mayo Clinic Health Letter. 2016.

Franz, Mary. Nutrition, Inflammation, and Disease. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 16. No. 2: 44. February 2014.

Prasad, Sahdeo, and Aggarwal, Bharat B. Chronic Diseases Caused by Chronic Inflammation Require Chronic Treatment: Anti-inflammatory Role of Dietary Spices. J Clin Cell Immunol 5: 238. July 25, 2004.

Sundbom, Karrie. The Paleo and Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What You Should Know. http://www.mollysfund.org/category/lupus-information/lupus-and-nutrition/anti-inflammatorypaleo-diets/ Accessed Nov. 29, 2016.

Szalay, Jessie. Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms & Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Live Science. Sept. 30, 2005.