Inflammation may play a role in a number of diseases, including asthma, premature aging, mental health issues, periodontal disease, obesity, skin aging, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Brain inflammation from arachidonic acid found in animal products may explain why those eating plant-based diets have less stress, anxiety and depression, and better moods.
Oxidized LDL cholesterol may trigger the inflammatory response in artery walls which can eventually lead to a heart attack. Coronary artery disease and erectile dysfunction are two manifestations of inflamed and clogged arteries.
Animal products, including eggs, dairy, meat, and animal protein in general may increase inflammation. A single meal of meat, eggs, or dairy may cause a spike of inflammation within hours that can stiffen one’s arteries. Several factors may account for this, such as heme iron, endotoxins, saturated fat, a high bacteria load, TMAO, tapeworms, advanced glycation end products or AGEs, and NeuGc, a foreign meat molecule that may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.
There are non-animal products that also cause inflammation. For example, excessive exposure to plastics with BPA may be linked with liver inflammation; acrylamide, which can be formed from deep-fried carbohydrate-rich foods; large doses of vitamin supplements; titanium dioxide; and carrageenan.
Dr. Dean Ornish has written that healthy living and eating habits, which include eating a primarily whole-foods, plant-based diet, can downregulate genes that promote inflammation. Whole plant foods tend to be anti-inflammatory. This may explain higher blood protein levels in vegans. This is possibly due to the fiber, dietary magnesium, and phytates present in many plant foods.
Though important to eat a variety of whole plant foods, fruits and vegetables with the highest antioxidant levels seem to reduce inflammation the most. Other specific plant foods identified as being anti-inflammatory include apples; black pepper; broccoli; broccoli sprouts; Ceylon cinnamon; cilantro; citrus fruits; ginger; cloves; rosemary; chamomile; dragon’s blood; dried apples and dried plums; berries; crimini, oyster, maitake, and white button mushrooms; nutritional yeast, flaxseed oil or flaxseed; green leafy vegetables; turmeric, which may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, treat knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and reduce post-surgical pain; tomato juice, legumes, purple potatoes, nuts in general, and specifically English walnuts, which may be so effective that the equivalent of eating a single walnut half per day may cut the risk of dying from inflammatory disease in about half. Eating a plant-based diet may be as anti-inflammatory as taking aspirin (without the side effects), and sweet Bing cherries and watermelon specifically may be good NSAID alternatives. Fish oil, possibly due to the presence of industrial pollutants, has not been shown to reduce inflammation.
From 28 weeks until birth, pregnant women may want to avoid large amounts of anti-inflammatory foods as these may harm the baby in the same way can anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin.
Image Credit: Vonschonertagen / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.
Topic summary contributed by Randy
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