We’re inundated by information — and misinformation — about inflammation, and about how eating habits can promote or reduce it. Misunderstandings resulting from the chaos can create a barrier to helping people bypass the hype and focus on what research shows. Our goal: equipping you to focus on an anti-inflammatory eating pattern and lifestyle that’s right for you.
How to Measure Inflammation: What You Need to Know
Inflammation can occur in the body in several forms:
- Acute inflammation occurs quickly following an injury such as a splinter in your finger or an infection. In a masterfully orchestrated defense, increased blood flow to the area brings white blood cells and body proteins that attack the intruder and heal injured tissue. As the threat is resolved, inflammation ends.
- Chronic inflammation involves an ongoing body defense response when harmful forces continue that can end up damaging blood vessels and other body tissues, accelerating the development of long-term health problems. The body keeps sending a defense response when there is no need.
As scientists study how inflammation affects health and how to thwart it, they measure a wide range of cell signaling proteins secreted by immune and other body cells.
What is a CRP test?
A blood test known as CRP (C-reactive protein) is a common way to measure inflammation.
CRP is a marker protein produced in the liver that is used not only in research, but also in clinical care. “Regular” CRP tests (usually reported as milligrams per deciliter – mg/dl) can identify very high levels of inflammation like those seen in major infections or inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Regular CRP is not sensitive enough to pick up low-grade inflammation, however.
High-sensitivity CRP – hsCRP – detects low-grade inflammation that as a chronic condition is a marker of disease risk. For hsCRP, levels are reported as milligrams per liter (mg/L):
- Less than 1 mg/L is healthiest.
- Between 1 and 3 mg/L indicates intermediate risk.
- Above 3 mg/L indicates high risk. But a level above 10 mg/L might not signal chronic disease risk. It could stem from an infection or other short-term cause of inflammation. In that case, recommendations call for a repeat test in 2 to 3 weeks (with the lower value, not the average of the two tests, used to assess risk).
What Does Research Support as a Target for Anti-Inflammatory Eating?
Although anti-inflammatory eating habits may differ somewhat between studies, they show several common threads. Create a personalized strategy with choices that fit individual preferences from a mix of these components:
- Foods rich in antioxidants and compounds that support the body’s antioxidant defenses - Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses (dried beans and lentils), nuts and seeds provide antioxidant nutrients and a wide range of polyphenols and other phytochemicals that seem to influence cell signaling and the complex body system of antioxidant enzymes and other elements. Coffee, tea, cocoa and extra virgin olive oil can also contribute compounds that seem to support antioxidant and anti-inflammatory defenses. Superfoods can include SuperSpices like turmeric and ginger found in Turmeric Gold and Inflammation Relief - these are powerful at significantly reducing inflammation.
- Foods that support health-protective gut bacteria - Certain vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds contain prebiotics, which means they nurture gut bacteria shown to promote health. Others provide compounds that gut bacteria convert to certain fatty acids and other substances that seem likely to be anti-inflammatory. High quality probiotics like Megasporebiotic can make a big difference in increasing diversity in your microbiome.
- Foods supplying omega-3 fatty acids that are used to produce anti-inflammatory compounds - EPA and DHA are two omega-3 fatty acids found mainly in fish and algae that your body can convert to anti-inflammatory compounds. More research is needed on the potential of ALA (the plant form of omega-3s) to counter inflammation, with promising results so far.
Look at your overall eating habits. What proportion of your food choices comes from foods like these?
BOTTOM LINE ON CHRONIC INFLAMMATION:
Chronic low-grade inflammation promotes the development of many different health issues in the body. To promote health in a broader context, experts are consistent in emphasizing healthy eating habits as the starting point to address inflammation. Evidence shows that changing habits can change inflammation. Find the key inputs to help understand why inflammation is causing so many health issues.