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Anti-inflammatory Diets

By Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG)
Huntington College of Health Sciences

Nutraceuticals such as curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids are commonly used as anti-inflammatory agents in the treatment of chronic inflammatory disorders such as arthritis, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), etc. But keep in mind that another effective approach to the treatment of inflammation is diet.

Diets That Cause Inflammation
In a cross-sectional study1 of 730 women, a positive correlation between consumption of saturated fats and plasma biomarkers of inflammation was found. Trans-fat intake was positively associated with IL-6 and CRP only in women with higher body mass index. Dietary patterns high in refined starches, sugar, and saturated and trans-fatty acids and poor in natural antioxidants and fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains was thought to cause an activation of the innate immune system, most likely by an excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines associated with a reduced production of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Likewise, other research2 has shown that saturated fatty acids (SFA) in serum phospholipids positively correlate with HS-CRP and fibrinogen, inflammatory markers.

Diets That Treat Inflammation
By contrast, there are various types of diets that can help reduce inflammation. In one study,3 a healthy diet that included whole-grain products, berries, fruits and vegetables, grapeseed oil, three fish meals per week and low-fat dairy products, improved lipid profile and had a beneficial effect on low-grade inflammation. Similarly, after two years, patients following the Mediterranean-style diet consumed more foods rich in monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and fiber and had a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than the control diet. Patients consuming the Mediterranean-style diet had significantly reduced serum concentrations of hs-CRP, IL-6, IL-7, and IL-18, as well as decreased insulin resistance (P<.001).4

In a study5 with men and women on hypo-caloric low-fat or low-glycemic-load diets, concentrations of IL-6, TNF-a, PAI-1 and leptin were significantly reduced in both groups. Hypocaloric diets improved inflammatory biomarkers and adipokines independently of dietary composition. Likewise, a calorie restricted diet (CRD) consisting of carb (20 to 25 percent), protein (25 to 30 percent), and fat (50 to 55 percent) was compared to the American Heart Association (AHA) diet  consisting of carb (55 percent), protein (15 to 20 percent) and fat (25 to 30 percent). Results were that with the CRD diet, plasma CRP, TNFα, ICAM-1, and MCP-1 were reduced (P < 0.01) both at week 6 and week 12.6

So, when your recommending anti-inflammatory nutraceuticals to your patients, do forget to recommend an anti-inflammatory diet as well.


  1. Giugliano D1, Ceriello A, Esposito K. The effects of diet on inflammation: emphasis on the metabolic syndrome. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006 Aug 15;48(4):677-85.
  2. Galland L. Diet and inflammation. Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6):634-40.
  3. Uusitupa M, Hermansen K, Savolainen MJ, Schwab U, Kolehmainen M, Brader L, Mortensen LS, Cloetens L, Johansson-Persson A, Onning G, Landin-Olsson M, Herzig KH, Hukkanen J, Rosqvist F, Iggman D, Paananen J, Pulkki KJ, Siloaho M, Dragsted L, Barri T, Overvad K, Bach Knudsen KE, Hedemann MS, Arner P, Dahlman I, Borge GI, Baardseth P, Ulven SM, Gunnarsdottir I, Jónsdóttir S, Thorsdottir I, Orešič M, Poutanen KS, Risérus U, Akesson B. Effects of an isocaloric healthy Nordic diet on insulin sensitivity, lipid profile and inflammation markers in metabolic syndrome–a randomized study (SYSDIET). J Intern Med. 2013 Jul;274(1):52-66.
  4. Esposito K, Marfella R, Ciotola M, Di Palo C, Giugliano F, Giugliano G, D’Armiento M, D’Andrea F, Giugliano D. Effect of a mediterranean-style diet on endothelial dysfunction and markers of vascular inflammation in the metabolic syndrome: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2004 Sep 22;292(12):1440-6.
  5. Heggen E, Klemsdal TO, Haugen F, Holme I, Tonstad S. Effect of a low-fat versus a low-gycemic-load diet on inflammatory biomarker and adipokine concentrations. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2012 Dec;10(6):437-42.
  6. Al-Sarraj T1, Saadi H, Calle MC, Volek JS, Fernandez ML. Carbohydrate restriction, as a first-line dietary intervention, effectively reduces biomarkers of metabolic syndrome in Emirati adults. J Nutr. 2009 Sep;139(9):1667-76.


Professor Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the Provost for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 37 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at gbruno@hchs.edu.