Have you ever heard of the anti-inflammatory diet? It’s very popular, and promises to relieve many ailments by claiming that consuming certain foods trigger an inflammatory response or that others prevent it. How is diet related to inflammation? Here’s an overview of the latest scientific advances in inflammation.
Did you know that approximately 1.4 million people are affected by Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis in the United States alone? In Canada, approximately 260,000 people suffer from it. This high prevalence of cases can be explained by several environmental and behavioural factors, including smoking, diet, contraception, stress, depression, and more. Unlike Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, other people are also bothered by irritable bowel symptoms, which however, don’t create intestinal damage. These diseases are grouped into a broader spectrum that is referred to as inflammatory bowel disease.
Inflammation and diet
Modern science has established a clear link between diet and levels of inflammation as measured by various inflammatory markers in the body, such as C-reactive protein. As a result, the consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a decrease in inflammation, while the consumption of red meat is linked to an increase in the concentrations of the various biomarkers of inflammation in the blood. However, the mechanisms making it possible to explain these phenomena remain unclear and several hypotheses are still being studied. Among all the nutrients studied are omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, FODMAPs, dietary fibers, probiotics and antioxidants.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids
Studies have so far shown that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids of marine origin have beneficial effects on reducing the concentrations of the various inflammation markers. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found in particular in oily fish or in supplements sold in pharmacies, inhibit several reactions associated with the inflammatory state. These molecules also make it possible to increase the concentrations of eicosanoids, resolvins, protectins and maresins, which have anti-inflammatory actions or a lower inflammatory potential than when the reactions come from other fatty acids. In short, the anti-inflammatory action of omega-3s is interesting in certain contexts and it’s important to check with your doctor who can establish the right dosage.
FODMAPs (or Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols) are small molecules derived from carbohydrates that some people may have difficulty absorbing. These molecules are found in several stone fruits, such as apricot, cherry, peach and plum, but also in apples, dried fruits, blackberries and watermelon. FODMAPs are also present in vegetables, such as garlic, asparagus, cauliflower, corn, onion, green peas and leek as well as in other products, such as dairy products, legumes, alcohol, some nuts, sweeteners and wheat products. FODMAPs go to the large intestine and carry a certain amount of water with them. Then, a process of fermentation by the bacteria naturally present in the intestine begins, which has the effect of producing gases. According to some statistics, a diet low in FODMAP can help nearly 50% of individuals affected by irritable bowel syndrome by reducing abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea. According to a recent meta-analysis, a diet low in FODMAPs has very little impact on constipation. One of the only downsides to this diet is the restriction in inulin, a molecule that belongs to a class of dietary fibres called fructans and that acts as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are beneficial to intestinal health since they modify the composition of the intestinal flora by enabling the addition of more protective bacteria.
The role of dietary fibre is not yet fully understood when looking at its effect on inflammation. In fact, a decrease in inflammation is observed following the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grain products, all foods rich in fibre. However, these foods also contain other beneficial nutrients that may also positively impact the inflammatory markers. Fibre also plays a role of prebiotics and promotes the health of the intestinal microbiota by nourishing the good bacteria in the intestine.
Probiotics, living microorganisms similar to bacteria that colonize the intestine, are thought to play a role in the health of the microbiota and in inflammation, but more particularly in individuals with ulcerative colitis. Probiotics are found in kefir, tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, several yogurts and in the form of food supplements. The effects are often dose-dependent. It’s important to consult a healthcare practitioner before taking high doses of probiotics.
Finally, antioxidant molecules are potentially beneficial in relation to inflammation since they fight oxidative stress, a phenomenon that causes inflammation. Antioxidants are found in many foods, such as citrus fruits, berries, spinach, asparagus, carrots, oily fish and legumes.
In short, a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, fermented foods and low in FODMAPs appears to help gut health and reduce inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease.
Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier