When the human body encounters stress, infection, germs, injury, or toxins, it responds by activating proteins meant to protect cells and tissues. In a healthy body, the inflammation caused by this process serves to heal the body. But if the immune system starts to overreact, that inflammation can become chronic and lead to serious health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, and even periodontal disease.
Many doctors now encourage their patients to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle, to reduce the occurrence of age-related disorders. This diet also serves as a treatment for inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus. According to Andrew Weil, M.D., the Harvard-trained natural and preventive medicine physician:
“Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help counteract the chronic inflammation that is a root cause of many serious diseases, including those that become more frequent as people age. It is a way of selecting and preparing foods based on science that can help people achieve and maintain optimum health over their lifetime.”
More and more people are embracing these healthy lifestyle changes to address illness and prevent disease. In addition to combating inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet also provides steady energy and ample vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty acids. There are numerous books and websites dedicated solely to promoting anti-inflammatory diets and lifestyles, and some that are tailored for specific health conditions. Many of us have heard of (or follow) the Paleo or the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diets, both of which focus on eliminating inflammatory foods, and increasing anti-inflammatory foods.
Inflammation and Periodontal Disease
Proponents of an anti-inflammatory diet say its focus is on taming the internal inflammation of our blood, lymph, organs, etc. Dental health professionals understand the key role that inflammation plays in periodontal health as well. They recognize similarities between the inflammatory process in periodontal disease and that of other chronic inflammatory diseases.
“It is uncanny how the inflammatory reaction occurs in other chronic inflammatory diseases and periodontitis,” said Samuel Low, DDS, a past president of the AAP and a professor of periodontology at the University of Florida College of Dentistry. “With diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, if you review the way the inflammatory process works in those diseases, it is very close to the way it works with periodontal disease.”*
Researchers recently published a study that found that a low-carb diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and D, antioxidants, and fiber can significantly reduce periodontal inflammation. Other researchers have concluded that an anti-inflammatory diet could even be associated with fewer missing teeth.
In addition, it has been found that treatment of periodontitis may actually improve other chronic inflammatory conditions. So the anti-inflammatory diet that your doctor may prescribe for disease prevention and management will also go a long way in preserving the health of your teeth and gums, and the treatment of your periodontal disease in turn may also assist you in managing other serious health conditions.
So what do you eat on an anti-inflammatory diet?
Descriptions of an anti-inflammatory diet vary, depending on whom you ask, but in a nutshell it will decrease the amount of foods known to cause inflammation in the body, and increase the intake of foods that are known to reduce inflammation.
Barry Sears, M.D., of The Zone diet fame, says specifics vary from diet to diet, but in general anti-inflammatory diets suggest:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Minimize saturated and trans fats (unhealthy saturated fats).
- Eat a good source of high-quality omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish or fish oil supplements and walnuts.
- Watch your intake of refined carbohydrates such as pasta, white rice, and sugars.
- Eat plenty of whole grains such as brown rice and bulgur wheat, but decrease or eliminate gluten.
- Reduce or eliminate dairy, if you find that it contributes to inflammation in your body (as many do)
- Eat lean protein sources such as chicken; cut back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods.
- Avoid refined foods and processed foods.
- Spice it up. Ginger, curry, turmeric, and other spices can have an anti-inflammatory effect.
So preserve your health, including your dental health, by cooling down your body’s inflammatory response with a healthy anti-inflammatory diet. Your body will thank you!