Foods linked to inflammation can significantly increase risk for heart disease, stroke

WASHINGTON — Inflammation can have a devastating effect on the human body. A new study by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) finds what you eat can play a big role in how much inflammation impacts your life. Researchers say diets high in red meat and sugary beverages can not only lead to more inflammation, but also greatly increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

On the other hand, study authors say walnuts can have the exact opposite impact on your health, protecting the body from several markers for inflammation. These biomarkers include interleukins, chemokines, and adhesion molecules. All have also been associated with atherosclerosis, the build-up of fats and cholesterol in the artery walls.

Researchers say previous studies have discovered healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet — which includes more olive oil, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and seafood — can lower many of these biomarkers. Less research has been done however on what foods actually raise these levels, and eventually increase heart disease risks.

The study examined over 210,000 participants who took part in the Nurses’ Health Studies I and II. These reviews began in 1986 and studied each respondent’s diet every four years.

“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,” says lead author Jun Li of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in an ACC release. “Our study is among the first to link a food-based dietary inflammatory index with long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Which foods will help or hurt your chances for heart disease?

The results find consuming proinflammatory diets can raise the risk of heart disease by an unnerving 46 percent. A person’s risk of stroke also increased by 28 percent when eating red meat, processed meat, organ meat, fried foods, refined grains, and sugary drinks like soda.

The study’s proinflammatory dietary index, based on 18 pre-defined food groups with ties to inflammation, reveals foods rich in antioxidants and fiber can cut this risk. These inflammation fighters include green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, cabbage and arugula. Yellow vegetables like pumpkin, yellow peppers, and carrots, whole grains, coffee, tea, and wine are all good sources of anti-inflammatories.

“A better knowledge of health protection provided by different foods and dietary patterns, mainly their anti-inflammatory properties, should provide the basis for designing even healthier dietary patterns to protect against heart disease,” says Ramon Estruch at Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain. “When choosing foods in our diet, we should indeed beware of their proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory potential!”

Walnuts a ‘secret weapon’ for better heart health, lower risk of inflammation

Researchers say another study of over 600 participants finds walnuts can act as a secret weapon in fighting harmful biomarkers. Studies have previously shown eating walnuts lowers heart disease risk and cholesterol levels. The new report reveals eating 30-60 grams a day significantly drops six of 10 biomarkers for inflammation.

“The anti-inflammatory effect of long-term consumption of walnuts demonstrated in this study provides novel mechanistic insight for the benefit of walnut consumption on heart disease risk beyond that of cholesterol lowering,” Montserrant Cofán, PhD from the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain concludes.

The study appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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