Diet change helps reduce inflammation

Appropriate change of diet can help in reducing inflammation within six weeks, a study has revealed.

According to University of Auckland Nutrition Professor Lynnette Ferguson, the research, based on short-term studies, could affect the cost of human clinical trials.

“Inflammation can be a catalyst for chronic human diseases, including Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers, as well as various autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s Disease and type 2 diabetes,” she said.

Proper food

Professor Ferguson said that the diet should be high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, fruit and vegetables, nuts and whole grains, and low in refined grains, saturated fats and sugars.

“Many of these dietary components characterise the ‘Mediterranean diet’, which has been shown to protect against chronic disease,” she said.

Professor Ferguson looked for evidence of inflammation in apparently healthy New Zealanders and whether changing their diet for just six weeks would reduce this evidence.

Her research included biomarkers, including the C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a standard marker for inflammation that could be measured through blood tests.

Healthy volunteers

She encouraged 30 healthy volunteers, selected for their initially poor diets, to cut out refined and processed foods and follow a Mediterranean-type diet over the six weeks of the study, with increased amounts of fish, vegetables, unrefined cereals and ‘good’ fats such as olive oil and avocado.

She gave the participants salmon (for one meal a week), and recipes for healthy eating with gluten-free foods.

The participants, randomly assigned to high and lower-intervention groups, provided blood and urine samples at the beginning and end of the study, completed a four-day diary in the final days, and answered a questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle, as well as attending workshops led by expert dieticians.

Larger study

“This was a small study, intended to be a pilot for a much larger study of patients with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, but the results turned out to be statistically significant. Overall, the average daily fat intake was considerably reduced, while lower percentages of saturated fat were consumed,” Professor Ferguson said.

The self-reporting of volunteers was corroborated by the blood tests, which showed a corresponding reduction in the biomarkers for inflammation. It demonstrated that the high-intervention diet had altered gene expression within six weeks.

“This is a remarkable result,” says Professor Ferguson, “since it shows that average people, many of them young and with no health conditions, can, through an improvement in diet, significantly modify the biomarkers that indicate the risk that they could develop a chronic disease later.”

Differing responses

She said that a larger research project would involve people suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

According to Professor Ferguson, there are several genotypes characteristic of people suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease, each of which responds differently to particular types of diet or dietary items.

“The current research project concentrates on the most common genotype for the disease, though the ultimate aim is to formulate different diets tailored to the needs of the whole range of genotypes. Results are being analysed now and look highly encouraging,” she said.

The results of her findings will be published this month.

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