What is an anti-inflammatory diet?

Quick Answer
Therapy that uses food with anti-inflammatory activities to treat and prevent chronic degenerative diseases.
Expert Answers
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Numerous evidence-based research studies in the twenty-first century support the use of anti-inflammatory diets for the treatment and prevention of chronic degenerative diseases. These studies examined dietary properties that included raw versus processed, organic versus commercially grown, and natural versus genetically modified. The studies also looked at the dietary effects of herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains and legumes, minerals and vitamins, and phytochemicals and polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3.

Mechanism of Action

There are few direct or indirect pathways (based on the specific inflammatory biomarkers) that explain how the anti-inflammatory diet works. The eicosanoid-related anti-inflammatory pathway is typical for foods with high omega-3 fatty acid content. This pathway decreases levels of arachidonic acid and inflammatory mediators such as cytokines, related prostaglandins, and related metabolites. This process also decreases the activities of inflammatory cells in the immune system.

Food with active phytochemicals (for example, resveratol and epigallocatechin galate) works through an inhibitory effect on nuclear transcription (for example, nuclear transcription factor) and through a signaling process.

Therapeutic Uses

Based on recent research studies, the anti-inflammatory diet could be used as a therapy for chronic degenerative diseases that have chronic inflammation as a common denominator. These diseases include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and certain cancers, as well as arthritis, osteoporosis, and other immune system disorders.

Scientific Evidence

Evidence-based research shows that an anti-inflammatory diet is beneficial in treating many chronic degenerative disease conditions. A 2003 double-blind, cross-over study included sixty-eight persons with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Participants were divided into two groups for eight months of observation. One group was on a regular Western diet, and the other group was on an anti-inflammatory diet with specific regulations on arachidonic acid (low intake). Both groups received placebo or fish oil capsules for three months. Persons on the anti-inflammatory diet, but not those on the typical Western diet, showed improvements in tender and swollen joints and showed even higher improvements when fish oil was added. The basic anti-inflammatory diet can augment the beneficial effects of any single, added anti-inflammatory food component.

In a 2010 double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study with a treatment period of five weeks, thirty-six healthy overweight persons received what was called an anti-inflammatory dietary mix (AIDM), which included green tea extract, resveratol (grape extract), vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), tomato extract, and omega-3 fatty acid. All of these food components are described as anti-inflammatory by human and animal research studies. Serum and urine inflammatory biomarkers were measured. The AIDM brought about a decrease in inflammation and in oxidative stress (a marker for risk of inflammation) and changes in lipid metabolism (with a decrease of triglycerides and with improvement of endothelial function).

In a 2010 single-blind, randomized study, thirty-five persons diagnosed with obesity and metabolic syndrome were put on either an anti-inflammatory diet (consisting of green tea or green tea extract) or no diet for eight weeks. The group on green tea beverages or green tea extract showed lower interleukin (one of the biomarkers for inflammation) levels.

Safety Issues

No adverse side effects have been reported with the use of the anti-inflammatory diet. Beneficial changes in bowel habits can occur in the beginning, however.


Adam, O., et al. “Anti-inflammatory Effects of a Low Arachidonic Acid Diet and Fish Oil in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Rheumatology International 23, no. 1 (2003): 27-36.

Bakker, G. C. M., et al. “An Anti-inflammatory Dietary Mix Modulates Inflammation and Oxidative and Metabolic Stress in Overweight Men: A Nutrigenomic Approach.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 91 (2010): 1044-1059.

Basu, A., et al. “Green Tea Minimally Affects Biomarkers of Inflammation in Obese Subjects with Metabolic Syndrome.” Nutrition, June, 2010.

Calder, P. C., et al. “Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, Inflammation, and Immunity.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 56, suppl. 3 (2002): S14-S19.

Dandona, P., et al. “The Anti-inflammatory and Potential Anti-atherogenic Effect of Insulin: A New Paradigm.” Diabetologia 45 (2002): 924-930.

Libby, P. “Inflammatory Mechanisms: The Molecular Basis of Inflammation and Disease.” Nutrition Reviews 65, no. 12 (2007): 140-146.

Roberts, C. K., et al. “Effects of a Short-Term Diet and Exercise Intervention on Inflammatory/Anti-inflammatory Properties of HDL in Overweight/Obese Men with Cardiovascular Risk Factors.” Journal of Applied Physiology 101 (2006): 1727-1732.