Novel strategies to lower inflammation through diet

Featured article in the Summer 2016 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Kristen Arnold, RDN, LD

The two leading causes of death for women in the United States, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer, are associated with elevated chronic inflammatory markers. Strategies to reduce inflammation are a possible treatment strategy to prevent rampant chronic diseases in postmenopausal women, a population particularly vulnerable to elevated chronic inflammation.1 Improved overall diet quality is associated with reduced chronic inflammatory markers and is a possible avenue for treatment in postmenopausal women. Low added sugar (less than 10% of daily calories from added sugar), omega-3 fatty acids (from fatty fish), and high fiber (20 g fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) in the diet are three strategies proposed to improve diet quality and lower chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation triggers the release of inflammatory cytokines which contribute to cellular damage leading to the onset and progression of disease.1 Certain chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis have an inflammatory component. Current treatments to lower chronic inflammation, such as steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), have several negative long-term side effects. Therefore, there is a critical need to develop therapies that are safe and efficacious in order to lower chronic inflammation and improve health outcomes, specifically in postmenopausal women. Focusing on improving diet quality, with attention to certain dietary components known to have anti-inflammatory properties, is a safe and novel approach to reducing inflammation and the associated risk for disease.

Higher scores obtained from the Healthy Eating Index 2010 (HEI) are inversely related to inflammation, independent of body weight, in epidemiological studies of postmenopausal women.2 HEI is a validated tool to measure overall diet quality. It consists of 12 dietary components that match the USDA Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Improving diet quality is a viable approach to reducing inflammation and improving long-term health outcomes and quality of life.Through improving specific dietary components, overall diet quality can be improved.

Omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 FAs) from fatty fish, and plant foods rich in fiber (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) have well established anti-inflammatory properties.4,5 Other dietary components such as added sugars have been shown to increase inflammatory markers and are associated with higher mortality from inflammatory diseases in postmenopausal women.6 The World Health Organization recommends that adults consume less than 10% of total daily calories from ‘free sugars,’ a term that refers to all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices.7 Not only may added sugars promote inflammation, but studies conducted on animals suggest that they may also compromise the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.This leads to the exciting possibility that a diet low in added sugars and high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids (LAS-O3) may be effective in lowering inflammation in postmenopausal women. Improving overall diet quality through specific dietary components proposed to lower chronic inflammatory blood markers has the potential to reduce postmenopausal women’s risk for their most common killers. More research is needed to investigate the effects of combining various dietary components to improve diet quality and reduce chronic inflammation.



Kristen Arnold, RDN, LD, is from the Department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University. She also provides nutrition counseling services and promotes nutrition and wellness as a source of empowerment at speaking engagements and as author for scientific journals, newsletters, blogs and listservs.

1. Calder PC, Ahluwalia N, Albers R, et al. A consideration of biomarkers to be used for evaluation of inflammation in human nutritional studies. Br J Nutr. England 2013:S1-34.
2. George SM, Ballard-Barbash R, Manson JE, et al. Comparing indices of diet quality with chronic disease mortality risk in postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study: evidence to inform national dietary guidance. Am J Epidemiol. United States: Oxford University Press. 2014:616-625.
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4. Calder PC. Marine omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: Effects, mechanisms and clinical relevance. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2015;1851(4):469-484.
5. Li K, Huang T, Zheng J, et al. Effect of marine-derived n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on C-reactive protein, interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. United States 2014:e88103.
6. Buyken AE, Flood V, Empson M, et al. Carbohydrate nutrition and inflammatory disease mortality in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(3):634-643.
7. Who Study Group on Diet NaPoND, World Health O. Diet, nutrition, and the prevention of chronic diseases: report of a WHO study group. Geneva: World Health Organization 1990.
8. Ma T, Liaset B, Hao Q, et al. Sucrose counteracts the anti-inflammatory effect of fish oil in adipose tissue and increases obesity development in mice. PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21647.
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