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Systemic Inflammation and Use of Diet to Stem Disease

Systemic Inflammation and Use of Diet to Stem Disease

Payal Kohli, MD, UCSF
Christopher Cannon, MD, Brigham and Women's

The popular media recently took a look at the connection between systemic inflammation and the many human diseases it’s responsible for. A lengthy article in the Wall Street Journal focused on the role of daily diet in the development and modulation of inflammation and noted the clinical use of biomarker C-reactive protein to measure inflammation levels. Harvard cardiologist Christopher Cannon offered tips on eating to beat inflammation and shed pounds at the same time from his new book titled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Anti-Inflammation Diet. Alarming health news paired with a new book on diet can create a perfect storm of questions from you patients.

•  Just what is the scientific basis for an anti-inflammation diet? Is this something new or a recognized way of eating?

•  Do we know if changing dietary habits can actually impact levels of inflammation?

•  How can primary care physicians help patients eat to minimize the inflammatory response?


Podcast: Systemic Inflammation and Use of Diet to Stem Disease

Podcast: Systemic Inflammation and Use of Diet to Stem Disease

To answer these questions and offer tips on talking to patients about inflammation and dietary choices are Drs Christopher Cannon and Payal Kohli. Dr Cannon, a senior investigator with the TIMI Study Group, is Editor in Chief of Cardiosource Science and Quality. He is also Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Associate Physician in the Cardiovascular Division of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Dr Kohli graduated from Harvard Medical School, completed her internal medicine training in Boston, and is currently a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at the University of California San Francisco.

Take-Home Points

1. Inflammation is one of the mechanisms that leads to myocardial infarction (MI) and stroke, and can be easily tested for using high-senstivity C-reacitve protein (hs-CRP). Levels above 2 mg/L are associated with higher risk of MI, stroke, and cardiovascular death.

2. Changes in diet can reduce inflammation and hs-CRP levels in two broad approaches:
    a. Reducing the intake of pro-inflammatory foods, such as saturated fats, trans fats, refined sugars, and simply too many calories in general.

    b. Increasing the intake of anti-inflammatory foods, such as fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids; anti-oxidant fruits and vegetables; and more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain foods.

3. A brief discussion with your patient about a balanced diet can be helpful in encouraging him or her to pursue a better diet that can reduce inflammation.

Further reading:

Landro L. The new science behind American’s deadliest diseases. The Wall Street Journal. July 16, 2012. 

Cannon CP, Vierk E, Beale L. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Anti-Inflammation Diet. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc; 2006.

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