Anti-inflammatory Diet: Road to Good Health?
Experts discuss the potential disease-fighting benefits of diets that try to reduce inflammation.
Unlike the typical diet, it doesn't have a catchy name. Nor does it promise you'll drop a size by Saturday. It's not even really a diet, per se, but actually an eating plan for life.
It's the so-called anti-inflammatory diet -- or rather, anti-inflammatory diets.
A half-dozen or more diet books are based on the anti-inflammatory idea -- and numerous web sites promote "anti-inflammatory" eating. Each has its own spin.
Barry Sears, MD, of The Zone diet fame and Andrew Weil, MD, the Harvard-trained natural and preventive medicine physician, say the anti-inflammatory diet is ideal for overall good health. Proponents of the diet say it can reduce heart disease risk, keep existing cardiac problems in check, reduce blood triglycerides and blood pressure, and soothe tender and stiff arthritic joints.
But experts concede that anti-inflammation eating is more effective for some health problems than others -- and that the scientific evidence for the disease-reduction benefits of these eating plans is still being gathered.
WebMD rounded up the top experts on anti-inflammatory diets to get some details.
Why Anti-Inflammatory Diets?
While each plan has its own twist, all are based on the general concept that constant or out-of-control inflammation in the body leads to ill health, and that eating to avoid constant inflammation promotes better health and can ward off disease, says Russell Greenfield, MD, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a private-practice physician who studied under Weil.
"It's very clear that inflammation plays a role much more than we thought with respect to certain maladies," Greenfield tells WebMD.
"We always thought anything with an "itis" at the end involved inflammation," he says, such as arthritis or appendicitis. But even the illnesses without an "itis" at the end, such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, even Alzheimer's disease, may be triggered in part by inflammation, he says.
Sears calls inflammation a silent epidemic that triggers chronic diseases over the years. "You could feel fine but have high levels of inflammation," he warns.
The average American diet, Greenfield says, includes far too many foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids, found in processed and fast foods, and far too few rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in cold-water fish or supplements. When that balance is out of whack, inflammation can set in, Sears explains.
Phytochemicals -- natural chemicals found in the plant foods suggested on the diets -- are also believed to help reduce inflammation.
Anti-Inflammatory Diets: What Do You Eat?
An exact description of the anti-inflammatory diet varies, depending on whom you ask. The anti-inflammatory diet is "probably very close to the Mediterranean diet," says Christopher Cannon, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston. He co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Anti-Inflammation Diet, which includes recipes for anti-inflammatory eating and information on vitamins.