Harvard Study Finds Anti-inflammatory Diet Lowers Heart Disease, Stroke Risk


New research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found diets higher in foods known to contribute to chronic inflammation can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The research suggests certain pro-inflammatory foods may generate a synergistic effect amplifying the development of heart disease.

A great deal of study has effectively established the relationship between poor diet and disease, however, little research has homed in on the cumulative influence of particular dietary components. This new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, focuses specifically on the pro- or anti-inflammatory potential of certain foods.

The new research first established the inflammatory potential of a number of individual foods by using an empirical dietary inflammatory pattern (EDIP) score that was calculated for individual foods based on their capacity for increasing, or decreasing circulating levels of three inflammatory biomarkers. Then, the researchers collated historical data from three massive longitudinal health studies encompassing over 200,000 subjects, all followed for several decades.

“Using an empirically-developed, food-based dietary index to evaluate levels of inflammation associated with dietary intake, we found that dietary patterns with higher inflammatory potential were associated with an increased rate of cardiovascular disease,” explains lead author on the study, Jun Li. “Our study is among the first to link a food-based dietary inflammatory index with long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Compared to those subjects consuming anti-inflammatory foods, those eating a pro-inflammatory diet had a 28 percent greater risk of stroke and a 46 percent greater risk of heart disease. These increased rates of disease were seen after adjusting for other factors such as body weight, heritable risk, exercise frequency and multivitamin intake.

The study focused on 18 food groups previously established as most predictive of influencing inflammatory biomarkers. The food groups range from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory, with pro-inflammatory foods including processed and red meat, refined sugars and grains, fried foods, and sugary sodas. Meanwhile, anti-inflammatory foods, with higher levels of anti-oxidants, include whole grains, tea, coffee, green leafy vegetables and yellow vegetables.

The study notes a possible “synergistic effect between pro inflammatory foods, because highly pro inflammatory diets were associated with a markedly augmented [cardiovascular] risk.”

An accompanying editorial from a trio of Spanish researchers, not affiliated with the Harvard study, suggests this kind of granular approach to constructing healthy dietary patterns could be important in personalizing eating behaviors to individual patient needs. Chronic inflammation is a critical factor in the development of many diseases and understanding the way certain foods influence inflammation should fundamentally underpin the construction of heathy dietary patterns.

“These protective effects could also be used for other highly prevalent chronic diseases in which chronic inflammation plays a relevant role, such as diabetes, cancer, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease,” the trio writes in the editorial. “When choosing foods in our diet, we should beware of their pro- and anti-inflammatory potential!”

The new study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Source: American College of Cardiology

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