Is your diet contributing to ongoing inflammation?

April 16, 2012 at 7:00 am in Healthy Living by Women's Health

Maybe you’ve been hearing lately about inflammation as ground zero for a multitude of health concerns. It’s been linked to heart health issues, brain health issues, and even to lower intelligence scores.

Inflammation is generally a natural, self-limiting healing response that occurs when our bodies deal with damage, irritation or immune challengers. But inflammation can also persist at ongoing low levels because of what we put into our bodies every day – because of inflammatory foods.

Whether a food contributes to inflammation often has to do with the type of Omega fatty acids it contains. There are many types of Omegas, but Omega-3 fatty acid and Omega-6 fatty acid are particularly important. Put simply, Omega-6 fatty acids convert into molecules that can increase inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids can have an opposite, modulating effect. The ideal balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio — likely the ratio maintained by our ancestors in past centuries. This fairly even ratio promotes a healthy balance of inflammation-sensitive molecules.

However, the typical western diet tends to be high in Omega-6s and low in Omega-3s, promoting a significant imbalance as high as 20:1!  [] These Omegas-6s are in many foods, including factory-farmed red meat and refined corn, soybean, cottonseed, peanut, and safflower cooking oils. They’re also in many processed foods. A significant imbalance of Omega-6 fatty acids can lead to a persistent inflammation state.

Getting a better balance of Omegas is key to helping your body’s inflammation response stay healthy and balanced. More Omega-3s can help you achieve a more balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6. Think of Omega-3s as “good fats” that can serve to balance out a surplus of inflammation-­-inducing chemicals. Omega-3s are also the building blocks for resolvins and protectins, chemicals released during the repair phase of the body’s inflammation response.

More antioxidants in your diet can have protective effects. Inflammation boosts free radicals in the body, which in turn can stress healthy cells and contribute to yet more inflammation. Antioxidants act to neutralize free radicals, allowing the body to complete a healthy inflammation response cycle and return to a stable state. Antioxidants are in pigment -; rich fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, apples, and pomegranates. They’re also present in herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, and rosemary. Getting more antioxidant-rich foods or supplements may help the body restore internal chemical balance and a healthy, modulated inflammation response.

What it comes down to is this: Inflammation has a lot of contributing factors. One we have the most control over is the type of foods we choose to eat.

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