Inflammation in the body can both help and hurt. It can help when you sustain an injury, for example if you accidentally cut your finger while chopping vegetables for dinner. Your body will naturally respond by allowing the accumulation of fluid and cells (i.e. swelling) in the area of the injury, which is all part of the healthy healing process. Once the injury has healed, the inflammation will subside on its own. Inflammation can hurt when it is uncontrolled, for example during an autoimmune response in various body joints (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis). In this case, the inflammatory response is being summoned unnecessarily and it is causing damage to the body’s joints rather than repairing them. Other rheumatic diseases associated with uncontrolled inflammation include osteoarthritis, gout and fibromyalgia.
While treatment from several medical professionals is required in helping to control rheumatic diseases, diet can play an important role in reducing flares and therefore the harm caused by uncontrolled inflammation. Some of the best sources of natural anti-inflammatory agents are the fats found in foods such as fatty fish, nuts and seeds. More specifically, including at least two 3.5 oz. servings of fatty fish each week can give you a healthy dose of the omega-3 fats known commonly as EPA and DHA. Some examples of fatty fish are salmon, sardines, herring, arctic char and trout. As well, including healthy servings of nuts and seeds daily can further help in supressing uncontrolled inflammation. The best sources of plant omega-3 fats, known commonly as ALA, are ground flax seeds and whole walnuts.
Of special note, if allergies present a barrier to getting your omega-3 fats from good dietary sources, an omega-3 supplement can be recommended under the guidance of a medical doctor and a registered dietitian (RD). This expert guidance is highly recommended since over-supplementation with omega-3 fats can lead to blood thinning and a possible increased risk of prostate cancer. As with many things in life, you can get too much of a good thing!
Consuming these healthy fats is just one of the ways we can fight inflammation with food – talk to a registered dietitian to get more information on how to follow an ‘anti-inflammatory diet’.