Inflammation and nutrition


(Photo courtesy Camilla Elms)

This month I want to focus on inflammation as it is a topic which affects us all at some point during our fitness training. Inflammation is the body’s means of self-protection; it can be acute and sudden, caused by an injury, or it may be chronic and persistent, acting as a precursor to many grievous disease states.

Inflammation is part of the body’s adaptive immune system; it is a fast-acting chain reaction of events. Whether we strain a muscle in the gym or stub our toe on the way out of the door, the swelling, pain, heat and redness, which flare up at the site of the injury, are all signs of the inflammation cascade leaping into action; blood vessels dilate, enabling white blood cells (T-Cells) to rush to the area, engulfing and destroying bacteria and toxins that have entered the damaged cells. The result of this first line defence initiative is to eradicate infection, but it may also result in collateral damage of surrounding cells, leading to the production of damaging free radicals.fig-1707104_1920

Acute inflammation, whilst aggravating and sometimes painful, is a ‘necessary evil’ to help us recover from injury or infection and all living organisms depend upon the ability to protect and heal themselves from trauma. Nevertheless, the effect of chronic and recurring inflammation resulting in over-reactivity of the adaptive immune response, is now shown to be a trigger for many chronic diseases.

The chronic inflammation response can be activated by food sensitivities, by toxins in our external environment, by stress and by over exercising; in short it may be aggravated by a modern Western lifestyle.

The modern Western lifestyle exposes us to myriad conditions including diets high in saturated animal fats, salt and sugar leading to an increase in the prevalence of obesity; exposure to external toxins including pesticides, chemical pollutants and solvents associated with an increased prevalence of asthma and allergies (Yang et al. 2014) and high levels of stress. Studies show us that a high BMI and obesity are strongly correlated with inflammatory conditions including the metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (Manzel et al. 2015) and many cancers are known to arise from sites of infection, chronic irritation and inflammation (Coussens and Webb).

High-fat, high-salt, high-sugar diets are associated with an increase in Leptin, a key hormone, crucial in the regulation of energy expenditure and body weight, but also associated with stimulating the T-Cell response initiated during the inflammation cascade (See above Paragraph 2). T-Cells are implicated in almost all autoimmune diseases and also in sensitivities including gluten intolerance.

Whilst in cases of acute inflammation it is always recommended that you seek the advice of your GP or medical practitioner, in some cases, the temptation to reach for the Ibroprufen in the medicine cabinet is not necessarily the answer! Suppression of inflammatory symptoms with Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) introduce the risk for upper gastrointestinal bleeding with regular use (Mellemkjaer et al. 2002).

To help reduce the action of pro-inflammatory T-cells in our bodies it is important to increase the quantity of anti-oxidant polyphenols in our diet, those found in richly coloured fruit and vegetables and especially abundant in anti-inflammatory super heroes, including turmeric, ginger, green tea, dark chocolate and berries. Omega-3 is used by our bodies to produce ALA, EPA and DHA, required by the body to reduce the action of the bodys’ inflammatory response system.

Pro-Inflammatory foods

  • Foods high in saturated animal fat – such as red meats, cheese, processed meats of any kind including ham, bacon, sausages.
  • A high intake of salt and sugar
  • Fried foods
  • Diets generally low fibre

(Seaman, D. 2002)

A traditional Western Diet with its average 20-25 fold uplift ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 may lead to the increased production of pro-inflammatory eicosaoids (James, et. Al. 2000), (Watson and Meester 2014).

Anti-inflammatory Foods

Foods rich in Polyphenols – including flavonoids and non-flavonoids, Resveratrol, Quercetin and Curcumin

  • Resveratrol: pistachios, grapes, red & white wine, blueberries, cranberries and dark chocolate and cocoaberry-1238249_1920
  • Quercetin: citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley, sage, tea, olive oil and dark berries
  • Curcumin: Turmeric, you can now buy this fresh from supermarkets looks like    ginger, so get adding this magic spice to your curries

Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Omega-3: your oily fish, mackerel, sardines, salmon and also flax seeds, walnuts and soybeans.


Foods high in fibre

  • High fibre: (avoiding gluten proteins found in wheat), alternatives include oats, dried fruits and almost all fresh fruits especially apples and pears; black beans, chickpeas, avocado (around 10g in a whole avocado ) brown rice. Raspberries are fibre rich and also full of Polyphenols (these are great bought frozen and added to a flaxseed or oatmeal porridge for brekkie). Think also peas, broccoli and almonds.



Coussens, L. and Webb, Z. (2002) Inflammation and Cancer. Nature. (420), p.860-867.

James, M.J., Gibson, R.A. and Cleland, L.G. (2000). Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory mediator production. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 71(1), p.343S-348S.

Manzel, A., Muller, D.N., Hafler, D.A., Erdman, S.E., Linker, R.A. and Kleineweitfeld, M. (2014) Role of “Western Diet” in inflammatory Autoimmune Diseases. Current Allergy and Asthama Reports. (14), p.404.

Mellenkjaer, L., Blot, W.J., Sorensen, H. T., Thomassen, l., McLaughlin, J.K., Nielsen, G.L. and Olsen, J.H (2002) Upper gastrointestinal bleeding among users of NSAIDs: a population-based cohort study in Denmark. British Journal of Pharmacology. 53(2), p.173-181.

Seaman, D. (2002) The diet induced pro-inflammatory state. The journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics. 25 (3), p. 168-179.

Watson, R.R. and de Meester, F. (2014) Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Brain and Neurological Health. Elsevier, London. P.207.

Yang, S-N., Hsieh, C-C., Kuo, H-F., Lee, M-S., Huang, M-Y., Kuo, C-H. and Hung, C-H. (2014) The effects of Environmental Toxins on Allergic Inflammation. Allergy, Asthma and Immunolgy Research. 6, (6), p478-484

Camilla Elms – Year 4 student

DISCLAIMER – this article is intended for information only and should not be considered to be nutritional advice. If you would like to change your diet please see a qualified registered practitioner for professional advice.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s