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Raw Foods That Fight Inflammation

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Inflammation is a byproduct of the immune system's innate response to an attack on the body. Inflammation facilitates the removal of harmful stimuli, such as allergens and pathogens, and initiation of the healing process. It's a necessity. Without inflammation there would be progressive destruction of tissue, which could compromise one's survival. Chronic low-level inflammation, on the other hand, is detrimental to one's health. At present, chronic inflammation is considered at least partially responsible for 7 out of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. As a result, doctors are writing more prescriptions for drugs that have been proven to ease chronic inflammation, but not without negative side-effects. Fortunately, chronic inflammation can be treated naturally and more effectively through diet. Below, I have listed some of the most effective anti-inflammatory foods commonly available.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

  • Turmeric 
  • Ginger root 
  • Garlic 
  • Onions 
  • Beets 
  • Strawberries 
  • Raspberries 
  • Blueberries 
  • Bell peppers 
  • Walnuts

You'd have to be living under a rock to have never heard of turmeric's anti-inflammation benefits. Turmeric, also known as curcumin, has become a nutritional superstar over the past few years. Multiple studies have suggested that this spice helps arthritis by suppressing inflammatory chemicals in the body. According to the British Journal of Nutrition (June 2010), “For over 4000 years, curcumin has been used in traditional Asian and African medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. There is a strong current public interest in naturally occurring plant-based remedies and dietary factors related to health and disease. Curcumin is non-toxic to human subjects at high doses. It is a complex molecule with multiple biological targets and different cellular effects. Recently, its molecular mechanisms of action have been extensively investigated. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.”

Ginger root, which has been used medicinally for millennium as well, is thought to function in the same way as turmeric. Studies have shown that ginger can significantly lessen the pain of osteoarthritis when consumed in its natural, pure form. One study, 'Ginger – An Herbal Medicinal Product with Broad Anti-Inflammatory Actions', published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, states, “The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger have been known and valued for centuries. During the past 25 years, many laboratories have provided scientific support for the long-held belief that ginger contains constituents with anti-inflammatory properties. The original discovery of ginger's inhibitory effects on prostaglandin biosynthesis in the early 1970s has been repeatedly confirmed. This discovery identified ginger as an herbal medicinal product that shares pharmacological properties with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.”

The vegetable garlic is also a well-known anti-inflammatory; both garlic and onions contain the chemical compound allicin, which breaks down to produce the free-radical-fighter sulfenic acid. Onions also contains the phytonutrient quercetin, a potent anti-oxidant. The anti-inflammatory chemicals in garlic and onions have been shown to work similarly to pain medications like ibuprofen, effectively shutting off the pathways that lead to inflammation. You can read more about it in, 'Effects of garlic extract (Allium sativum) on neutrophil migration at the cellular level', based on a comparative study authored by the Clinical Institute of Medical and Chemical Laboratory Diagnostics, at the University of Vienna, Austria. The study compared the effects of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, ibuprofen and garlic (allium sativum) extract on leukocyte transmigration using an in vitro assay.

The bright red pigment in beets have potent anti-oxidant properties, but this is only part of the reason why beets are able to reduce inflammation. Beets also contain large doses of the powerful anti-oxidant vitamin C and plant pigments called betalains, which are now being called the new “super anti-oxidant”. Altogether, these potent chemical compounds are great for reducing inflammation in the body. According to 'Betalain-rich red beet concentrate improves reduced knee discomfort and joint function: a double blind, placebo-controlled pilot clinical study', published in the March 10, 2014 edition of the journal Nutrition and Dietary Supplements, “... Joint discomfort is often associated with local inflammation, an increase in chlorinated peptides, and elevated levels of myeloperoxidase. An oxidative product of myeloperoxidase, hypochlorous acid, degrades articular cartilage, which may cause further joint discomfort.

“Current medical treatments aim at decreasing discomfort and increasing mobility. They generally include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to control discomfort and inflammation. Unfortunately, chronic use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can lead to significant adverse effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding and loss of kidney function.

Betalains are powerful antioxidants that can inhibit the oxidative activity of myeloperoxidase. Allegra et al reported the effectiveness of the betalains betanin and indicaxanthin in scavenging hypochlorous acid, the most powerful oxidant produced by human neutrophils. Both these betalains reduced the oxidative products of myeloperoxidase. Betalains have also been reported to inhibit the process of chlorination (which also contributes to oxidation). In vitro experiments have shown that betalains from Beta vulgaris root juice and baked, thinly cut slices of beetroot inhibit neutrophil oxidative metabolism and have proapoptotic effects on activated neutrophils. Gentile et al observed the ability of betalains to protect an in vitro model of endothelial cells, from oxidation related to inflammatory response.”

The various carotenoids and flavonoids that reside in bell peppers (capsicums) make it a must have for any anti-inflammation diet. Carotenoids, which include the vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, are very effective antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory agents. The journal Nutrition Research (November 2014) published a study, 'Carotenoids, inflammation, and oxidative stress—implications of cellular signaling pathways and relation to chronic disease prevention', which stated, “Carotenoids represent the most abundant lipid-soluble phytochemicals, and in vitro and in vivo studies have suggested that they have antioxidant, antiapoptotic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Recently, many of these properties have been linked to the effect of carotenoids on intracellular signaling cascades, thereby influencing gene expression and protein translation. By blocking the translocation of nuclear factor κB to the nucleus, carotenoids are able to interact with the nuclear factor κB pathway and thus inhibit the downstream production of inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-8 or prostaglandin E2. Carotenoids can also block oxidative stress by interacting with the nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 pathway, enhancing its translocation into the nucleus, and activating phase II enzymes and antioxidants, such as glutathione-S-transferases.” Scientists sought to explain flavonoids' ability to fight inflammation in the September 2009 edition of Inflammation Research, 'Flavonoids as anti-inflammatory agents: implications in cancer and cardiovascular disease', stating “... Treatment for chronic inflammatory disorders has not been solved, and there is an urgent need to find new and safe anti-inflammatory compounds. Flavonoids belong to a group of natural substances occurring normally in the diet that exhibit a variety of beneficial effects on health. The anti-inflammatory properties of flavonoids have been studied recently, in order to establish and characterize their potential utility as therapeutic agents in the treatment of inflammatory diseases. Several mechanisms of action have been proposed to explain in vivo flavonoid anti-inflammatory actions, such as antioxidant activity, inhibition of eicosanoid generating enzymes or the modulation of the production of proinflammatory molecules. Recent studies have also shown that some flavonoids are modulators of proinflammatory gene expression, thus leading to the attenuation of the inflammatory response.”

What makes walnuts useful for fighting inflammation is their high omega-3 content, specifically alpha-linolenic acid. According to an article published in The Journal of Nutrition (November 1, 2004), 'Dietary α-Linolenic Acid Reduces Inflammatory and Lipid Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Hypercholesterolemic Men and Women', alpha-linolenic acid decreased cardiovascular disease risk “by inhibiting vascular inflammation and endothelial activation beyond its lipid-lowering effects”.

Berries are among the best anti-inflammatory foods, not only because they are rich in vitamin C, a potent anti-oxidant, but also plant pigments like anthocyanins, polyphenols, proanthocyanidins and flavonoids, all of which are effective anti-inflammatory agents in the body. Berries come in a wide variety of colors (pigments) and, specifically, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries have been studied for their anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Raspberries have been shown to help prevent animals from developing arthritis, blueberries help protect against intestinal inflammation and ulcerative colitis, while strawberries help to regulate and lower levels of c-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood.

CRP is a compound produced by the liver; the amount rises when there is inflammation throughout the body, making it an excellent way to measure chronic inflammation in the body. Doctors usually order CRP tests when a patient is experiencing flare-ups of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and vasculitis, or to determine if anti-inflammatory medication is working to treat one of those conditions. A low CRP level doesn't necessarily mean that there is no chronic inflammation present. For unknown reasons, in people with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, CRP levels do not always increase above normal levels. In any case, the only surefire way to keep chronic inflammation under control is to consume foods that keep inflammation in check.

Sure, there are drugs that can significantly lower CRP levels and help keep chronic inflammation under control, but their negative side-effects, which include, but are not limited to, gastrointestinal bleeding and loss of kidney function must not be overlooked. On the other hand, there is no downside to eating a diet high in raw whole foods. The vast majority of fruits and most vegetables contain carotenoids and flavonoids; a great many also contain anthocyanins, polyphenols and proanthocyanidins, so, eating a diet high in raw whole foods pretty much guarantees that one will be decreasing the chronic nature of inflammation in their body. Which means fewer aches, pains and disease, and better overall health and well-being. 

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