Q: I’ve heard that low-grade systemic inflammation plays a role in some chronic diseases. Are there foods that can fight this inflammation?
A: Maybe, though whether reducing inflammation will actually reduce heart disease, arthritis and other chronic conditions is largely unknown. All kinds of “anti-inflammatory” foods have been proposed, including berries, cherries, dark chocolate, garlic, seafood, soy, flax, orange juice, grapes, wine and tea, as well as fruits and vegetables in general. Researchers attribute their anti-inflammatory properties to various compounds, including flavonoids and anthocyanins.
Some studies have looked at the ability of certain foods to lower markers of inflammation in the body. For instance, two studies last year from Spain linked components of the “Mediterranean diet”—notably olive oil and nuts—to a reduction in C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker associated with cardiovascular disease. Another study in 2012 showed that drinking a lot of tart cherry juice (10.5 ounces twice a day) also reduced CRP (but not other inflammatory markers) in women with osteoarthritis.
But just because levels of these markers go down doesn’t mean that there is necessarily a benefit in terms of disease prevention or treatment. Moreover, we don’t eat “anti-inflammatory” foods in isolation—and some foods and compounds (such as trans fats, beef and sugar) have “pro-inflammatory” effects in the body.
Bottom line: It’s not proven that inflammation is directly responsible for chronic diseases or that consuming “anti-inflammatory” foods will prevent them. But such foods tend to be healthful in many ways and are worth eating. A good diet can also help people avoid obesity, which is linked to inflammation.