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Fighting Inflammation with Food

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Omega-3 fatty acids may help lower the risk of dying from inflammatory disease by more than 30%
Omega-3 fatty acids and foods such as nuts are known to have a wide range of important health benefits, and now a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that they may help lower a person’s risk of dying from inflammatory disease by more than 30%.

When nutty is a good thing

In this study, researchers explored whether dietary omega-3 fatty acids—primarily alpha-linolenic acid, EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid], and DHA [docosahexaenoic acid]—and/or a diet high in fish and nuts were associated with a reduced risk of dying from non-cancer and noncardiac inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Participants were 2,514 people age 49 years or older who enrolled in the Blue Mountains Eye Study. They were surveyed through food questionnaires about the amount of dietary omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, and fish they ate, and were followed for 15 years. Results showed:

  • Women who ate the most total omega-3 fatty acids had a 44% lower risk of dying from an inflammatory disease compared with women who ate the least.
  • Men and women who ate the most nuts had as much as a 51% lower risk of dying from an inflammatory disease compared with people who ate the least.
  • For both men and women, eating increasing amounts of alpha-linolenic acid was also associated with a decreased risk of dying from an inflammatory disease.

The study authors comment that “increasing the consumption of nuts by as little as 1.4 g per day…was associated with a 49% reduced risk of dying from chronic inflammation-related diseases.”

Further fatty acids and inflammatory disease facts

  • Eat the right balance of fatty acids. The typical American diet includes more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids, yet health experts recommend getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids for optimal health. Foods that contain the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid include nuts, green veggies, and some vegetable oils.
  • Keep an eye out for more research. Some studies have shown benefit from omega-3 fatty acids for certain inflammatory conditions, while others have not. This particular study is an observational study, and the study design does not prove a cause-and-effect association. Further research is needed to understand the role of omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, and other foods to manage and treat people with inflammatory diseases.
  • Talk with a knowlegable healthcare professional. Important new research emerges all of the time. If you have an inflammatory disorder such as inflammatory bowel disease, talk with your doctor, nutritionist, or other healthcare professional about what specific nutrients and foods may support and optimize your health.

(Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.009977)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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