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Anti-inflammatory Diet: Road to Good Health?

Experts discuss the potential disease-fighting benefits of diets that try to reduce inflammation.
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Where Is the Proof That Reducing Inflammation Works?

Can a diet really affect inflammation?

Proponents say it can, but they acknowledge that the anti-inflammatory diet needs to be studied more extensively to prove that it actually reduces disease such as heart problems.

"But a related diet, the Mediterranean diet, has been and is associated with improved cardiac outcomes," Cannon says.

Greenfield agrees. "There is ample evidence [of disease risk reduction] on the Asian-style diet and the Mediterranean-style diet," he says. "When you take a look at the components [of those diets], they could easily be called anti-inflammatory diets."

And eating a diet high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 is associated with increasing levels of cytokines -- proteins released from cells that trigger inflammation -- according to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Omega-3, in doses of 3 grams or more per day, has been found effective for those with rheumatoid arthritis, reducing morning stiffness and the number of joints that are tender or swollen, according to a review of the research on omega-3 fatty acids and health in American Family Physician.

Anecdotally, says Greenfield, he hears from patients that avoiding "inflammatory" foods can help their osteoarthritis pain. He recalls talking to patients with arthritis who have vacationed in India, for instance, eating dishes with plenty of curry, and telling him their joints didn't hurt as much while they were there.

Curry, he says, as well as ginger, is a natural anti-inflammatory.

Not surprisingly, the anti-inflammatory diet takes longer to work than, say, an anti-inflammatory medicine. "With an anti-inflammatory drug, you feel better in an hour or two," Greenfield says. For the anti-inflammatory diet, more patience is needed. "I would say clearly within just a few weeks most of the patients I have see a noticeable difference [in symptoms]."

Anti-Inflammatory Diets: More Opinions

It's not surprising that anti-inflammatory diets have gotten popular, says Elisa Zied, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a dietitian in New York City.

While they may have some merit, she cautions: "Individual foods should not be the focus. You need to pay attention to your overall pattern." And reducing inflammation is not just about what you eat, she says.

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