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How The Paleo Diet Fights Inflammation

By Jodi M. VerWeire, Lifestyle Writer
January 21, 2022
Fusionstudio/ Shutterstock.com
Fusionstudio/ Shutterstock.com

Reviewed by Dr. Mark J. Smith on January 10, 2022

Inflammation is a popular buzz word in the health and nutrition world, but does it really affect your health?

Here’s why you might experience inflammation, and how your diet can help quell it.

What is Inflammation?

Anything foreign in our bodies can cause inflammation. It is natural and necessary for the body to become inflamed in response to tissue injury and bacteria. [1,2,3,4] In fact, inflammation can be protective to our health when we're combating infection or healing from injuries. [3]

When inflammation becomes repetitive, or chronic, that’s when inflammation becomes a concern. Chronic inflammation can damage cells, tissues, and organs, and is linked to health problems like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. [1,4 5,6]

Research even links chronic inflammation with psychiatric disorders, like schizophrenia and depression. [2]

How Does Diet Affect Inflammation?

Fighting inflammation may be as simple as what we buy at the grocery store. While you won’t find one magic food at your local grocer, it's important to understand that our diet influences inflammation. [1,4] Being attentive to the way you eat will help to develop and maintain an anti-inflammatory diet. [6]

In addition to being mindful of what you eat, another way to stay aware of inflammation is by measuring blood markers for inflammation. C-Reactive protein (CRP) is a marker for inflammation in your blood. Consuming a diet high in inflammatory foods can increase the levels of CRP because they release inflammatory messengers that increase the risk of chronic inflammation.

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Why The Standard American Diet is Pro-Inflammatory

Foods that cause inflammation include refined carbohydrates, wheat and other cereal grains, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, margarine, shortening and lard, and processed meats. [1,2,6] These types of food can alter our gut health, as well as cause insulin to spike which is what contributes the inflammation.

The standard American diet is full of these unhealthy foods, and is also often low in fruits and vegetables, which in turn increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other diseases. [6,7,8]

How The Paleo Diet Can Help

When you eat The Paleo Diet®, you automatically avoid all these harmful foods. Things like blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and lipid profiles are all likely to improve when you follow The Paleo Diet. [2]

Plus, you’ll eat lots of healthy anti-inflammatory foods when you’re Paleo. Fruits and vegetables are great at helping your body combat inflammation and are linked to lower levels of CRP. [4, 6]

Specifically, fresh produce like tomatoes, avocados, beets, berries, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collards are rich in natural antioxidants that help to repair cells, and protective compounds called polyphenols. [1,5] Polyphenols aid in digestion, and help to fight diseases such as diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, and cardiovascular disease.[9]

Maintaining a low omega-6 to omega-3 ratio has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and can improve cardiovascular health. [10,11] The body cannot make α-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, or linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, however they are essential to survive. It is important to maintain a healthful balance of these fatty acids, but unfortunately, most Americans consume 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. [11] In order to keep the fatty acid ratio in your favor, consume more foods with a healthy ratio such as olive oil, nuts like walnuts and pecans, and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. [6,8] According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, regularly consuming these foods has been linked to a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration [9]

The Bottom Line

Inflammation can create all sorts of health problems, ranging from itchy skin and joint discomfort to heart disease and cancer. The best way to prevent or treat inflammation without pharmaceuticals is by consuming a Paleo diet. You’ll naturally get lots of anti-inflammatory fruits, veggies and fish while cutting down on pro-inflammatory foods like grains, dairy, sugar, and highly processed foods. Just one more great reason to go Paleo!

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References:

1. Foods that fight inflammation https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

2. De Punder K. and Pruimboom L. The dietary intake of wheat and other cereal grains and their role in inflammation https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643...;

3. McDonald, E What foods cause or reduce inflammation? UChicago Medicine. https://uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/gastrointestinal-articles/what-foods-cause-or-reduce-inflammation

4. Shivappa N, Hebert J, Rietzschel E, DeBuyzere M, Langlois M, Debruyne E, Marcos A, Huybrechts I, Associations between dietary inflammatory index and inflammatory markers in the Asklepios study. 2015, Associations between dietary inflammatory index and inflammatory markers in the Asklepios Study | British Journal of Nutrition | Cambridge Core

5. Lindeberg S. Paleolithic diets as a model for prevention and treatment of western disease. American Journal of Human Biology 24:110-115 (2012). Lindeberg2012.Paleodiet. (1).pdf

6. Mayo Clinic. Nutrition and healthy eating. https://www.mayoclinic.org/health-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth-how-to-use-food-to-help-your-body-fight-inflammation/art-20457586.

7. Spreadbury I. Comparison with ancestral diets suggest dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity. Diebetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity: Targets and Therapy Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity (nih.gov)

8. Patel S, Suleria H. Ethnic and paleolithic diet: where do they stand in inflammation alleviation? A discussion. Journal of Ethnic Foods. Ethnic and paleolithic diet: Where do they stand in inflammation alleviation? A discussion - ScienceDirect

9. ScienceDaily. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009. Eating Fish, Nuts And Olive Oil May Be Associated With Reduced Risk Of Age-related Blindness -- ScienceDaily

10. Dimitratos, S. Inflammation: What is it, and how can my diet and behavior affect it? American Society for Nutrition Inflammation: What Is It, and how can my diet and behavior affect it? (nutrition.org)

11. Mount Sinai Omega-6 fatty acids Information, Omega-6 fatty acids Information | Mount Sinai - New York

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