Policy Point Wednesday: Inflammatory Science

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you google “inflammation” and “obesity” you will get over 3 million hits. Chronic inflammation has been cited in all kinds of health resources as a cause for everything from obesity to autism to cancer to heart disease; it appears to be the new buzzword in healthcare. Diet is frequently implicated in inflammation, and thus the “anti-inflammatory diet” was popularized by health gurus like Dr. Andrew Weil and nutritionist Monica Reinagel.

Dieticians note that most of these diets have something in common: they are similar to the “Mediterranean Diet” (think Greek, not Italian-American or Greco-American) which is already recommended by the American medical community.  This diet first became known as a result of a study in the 1960s, of diets and death rates in that part of the world. It is characterized by

“high consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids, primarily from olives and olive oil, and encourages daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, and low-fat dairy products; weekly consumption of fish, poultry, tree nuts, and legumes; a relatively low consumption of red meat, approximately twice/month; as well as a moderate daily consumption of alcohol, normally with meals”

Doctors note that these diets do have a modest effect on inflammation, and this may be the reason behind their positive effect on cardiovascular health – but that reducing calories often has an equally positive effect.  While some studies may even indicate that antioxidents (a frequent component of anti-inflammatory diet)  may act in the same way as NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprophen – the studies have not been given rigorous scientific review, and even then it’s likely that the benefits are not significant.  In addition, many people who see immediate benefit from a change of diet may be reacting to the alleviation of a  food intolerance or allergy, not the diet itself.

The take-away? A healthy diet has all kinds of benefits – but it’s unlikely that any diet will give you magical healing powers.

Filed under: Food and Science, Food News

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