Chronic inflammation plays a devastating role in disease. Most degenerative diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimers, auto-immune disease, neurological disease, pulmonary disease and arthritis begin with inflammation. Initially inflammation is a protective mechanism of the immune system to rid the body of infection, involving host cells, blood vessels and proteins. When inflammation becomes chronic, health is compromised.
Inflammation causes an increase in cancer growth. Tumours often arise at sites of chronic inflammation, and inflammatory cells exist within tumours.[i] Chronic inflammation affects all cancer stages – it increases risk, and promotes genetic mutations, tumour progression and spread.[ii]
What Causes Inflammation?
Inflammation can be caused by injury, allergies, excess toxicity, inadequate liver detoxification, stress, obesity, aging, reactive oxygen species (free radicals), infection and dietary choices. Biochemical markers for inflammation in the body include IL-6, IL-8, TNF- α, IL-1β, IFN-y, hs-CRP, serum amyloid A (A-SAA), homocysteine and fibrinogen.
Foods can either ignite or fuel inflammation, or they can cool and reduce it. When we are conscious of the role food plays in inflammation and disease, we can heal and help prevent disease.
Foods that Decrease Inflammation
You may recognize some of the foods that fight inflammation, such as curcumin or tumeric, ginger, matcha and green tea, reishi and shitake mushrooms, flaxseed oil, fish oil, olive oil, garlic and onions, walnuts, Brazil nuts, tomatoes, leafy greens, blueberries, increased fiber and fruits and vegetables. [vi][vii] An alkaline diet and increased water intake (3 liters daily) also deter inflammation.
Therefore an anti-inflammatory diet will be vegan with healthy servings of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and loads of turmeric and ginger. Since fish are high in contaminants, they are best avoided, although purified fish oils are beneficial.
Nutritional supplements and herbs that decrease inflammation include white willow bark, curcumin, boswellia, fish oil, bromelain, green tea, ginger, quercetin, cat’s claw, chili pepper[viii], flaxseed oil, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A, C, E, B6, and a probiotic containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. A raw food diet can also deter inflammation.
Foods that Increase Inflammation
Less attention has been given to the foods that increase inflammation.
A 2014 study performed in the University Of Navarra in Spain and reported in the Journal Nutrition, revealed that a high animal protein diet can cause higher levels of inflammation in the body. The study recruited 96 obese adults and put them on a reduced calorie diet, consisting of either 30% or 15% protein for 8 weeks. The researchers looked at body composition measurements and blood samples before and after the study. The group studied the levels of vegetable, meat and fish protein and found that after 8 weeks, both groups had lost approximately the same amount of weight, but the important finding was that the participants who got most of their protein from meat had higher levels of inflammation compared to the participants who consumed mostly fish or plant based sources of protein.
The lead nutrition and food science researcher involved in the study, Dr. Patricia Lopez – Legarrea stated that “during the cooking process, high fat, high protein animal foods also develop advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which contribute to inflammation and degenerative disease.”
Meat, dairy, peanuts, sugar, the nightshades (tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers), specific food allergies, peanuts, omega 6 oils, saturated (animal) fats, an overly acidic diet and often wheat and yeast promote inflammation.
High Animal Protein Diets Increase Mortality
Another research study performed by the University of California and published in the Journal Cell Metabolism arrived at the same conclusion – that a high protein diet is positively associated with higher rates of mortality due to cancer and degenerative disease. Researchers from the University of California followed 6,381 adults for 18 years and, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, subjects were placed on one of three protein diets; high protein (more than 20% of calories from protein), moderate protein (11-19% of calories) and low protein (10% or less of calories). The study found that adults under the age of 65 who followed a high protein diet had a “74% increase in their relative risk of all-cause mortality and were more that 4 times as likely to die of cancer” when compared to those of the low protein group. Individuals in the moderate protein group also had a “3-fold higher cancer mortality.”
This study also found that the subjects who consumed higher amounts of animal protein had significantly higher risks for mortality compared to those whose protein intake came from vegetable sources.
A separate study was conducted by the University of Navarra to determine the relationship between diet, inflammation index and cardiovascular disease. This study concluded that a more pro-inflammatory diet is directly associated with cardiovascular disease. This study followed 18,794 middle-aged Spanish University graduates for a median of 8.9 years. They used a validated food-frequency questionnaire to calculate the DII (Diet Inflammatory Index). The DII is based upon scientific evidence about the relationship between diet and inflammatory biomarkers (C-reactive protein, IL-1β, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10 and TNF-α). The dietary habits were assed by using a 136 item, semi- quantitative food – frequency questionnaire previously validated in Spain.
The results confirmed that high animal protein is a promoting factor for inflammation in the body.
Each of these studies concluded that high animal protein had a strong contributing factor towards chronic inflammation as well as inflammation-related diseases such a cancer. Reducing animal protein will reduce inflammation in the body and prevent the consequences incurred by such a diet.
[i] Balkwill F., Mantovani A. Inflammation and cancer: Back to Virchow? Lancet. 2001;357:539–545. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)04046-0.
[ii] Ostan R, Lanzarini C, Pini M et al. Inflammaging and cancer: a challenge for the Mediterranean diet. Nutrients 2015 Apr: 7(4): 2589-2621.
[iii] Mantovani A., Allavena P., Sica A., Balkwill F. Cancer-related inflammation. Nature. 2008;454:436–444. doi: 10.1038/nature07205.
[iv] Chia W.K., Ali R., Toh H.C. Aspirin as adjuvant therapy for colorectal cancer—Reinterpreting paradigms. Nat. Rev. Clin. Oncol. 2012;9:561–570. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2012.137.
[v] Giraldo N.A., Becht E., Remark R., Damotte D., Sautès-Fridman C., Fridman W.H. The immune contexture of primary and metastatic human tumours. Curr. Opin. Immunol. 2014;27:8–15. doi: 10.1016/j.coi.2014.01.001
[vi] Salas-Salvado J, Casas-Agustench P et al. The effects of nuts on inflammation. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2008;17(SI):333-336.
[vii] Colpo E, Dalton DA, Villanova C et al. Brazilian nut consumption by healthy volunteers improves inflammatory parameters. Nutrition. 2014 Apr;30(4):459-65.
[viii] Maroon J, Bost JW, Maroon A. Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief. Surg Neurol Int. 2010;1:80.