Current evidence shows that inflammation can be managed by diet.
In Week 1 we discussed how poor diets are the key contributing factor to premature mortality worldwide.
Western-style diets have a pro-inflammatory impact on the body. They are high in processed meats and foods with added sugar, salt and fat; these types of diets are consistently linked to an increased risk for many diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, common mental disorders, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
How can diet help inflammation?
In contrast, diets high in fibre from whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, seeds and nuts have been shown to support immune functioning, at least partly, through their beneficial impact on gut mucosal immunity that regulates responses to all ingested substances. The diverse types of fibre ingested with plant foods are used by the gut microbiota to produce metabolites such as short chain fatty acids that play a significant role in regulating inflammation.
Furthermore, experimental research conducted in mice shows that dietary intake of fibre is essential to support function of the gut microbiota, preserve mucosal integrity and protect against pathogens.
The effect of fibre in the gut. (Image adapted from Desai et al. 2016.)
Other important characteristics of anti-inflammatory diets are the high intakes of fish and other seafood, which are an important source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and phytochemicals.
Mediterranean diets to decrease inflammation
Notably, Mediterranean-style diets are associated with decreased inflammation. The common components of such diets are the:
- high consumption of grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes
- use of olive oil as main source of added fat (eg in cooking)
- increased consumption of fish
- moderate consumption of dairy
- low consumption of red and processed meat
- low to moderate consumption of red wine.
Is there a direct link to mental health?
As yet, there are no intervention studies that directly test whether anti-inflammatory diets can improve mental health outcomes. However, there are now three randomised controlled trials (two of which, the SMILES and the HELFIMED, we’ll discuss next week) showing that versions of a Mediterranean diet, which has many components known to prevent or improve inflammation, can improve depressive symptoms.
A recent review of research in depressive symptoms and diet also showed that diets with a lower Dietary Inflammatory Index score (a measure that was established to assess the impact of diet on inflammation) reduced risk of developing depression.
Additionally, research in younger people showed that following a Mediterranean diet may benefit future mental health by moderating inflammatory response to stress.
So it’s likely that following an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern with high intakes of plant foods, seafood and olive oil will benefit gut mucosal immunity. This in turn can impact mental health.
Compare and contrast the similarity and differences between the dietary guidelines in your country that we discussed as part of your task in Step 1.13 and common characteristics of anti-inflammatory diets.
Share your thoughts in the comments.
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