Avoid inflammatory foods to lower heart disease and stroke risk

heart disease and stroke

Chronic inflammation has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Plenty of researches have shown that inflammatory biomarkers, such as interleukins, chemokines and adhesion molecules, are associated with early and late stages of atherosclerosis.  For example, a study by a group of US researchers published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) reported that diets high in red and processed meat, refined grains and sugary beverages, which have been associated with increased inflammation in the body, can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke when compared to diets filled with anti-inflammatory foods.

Researchers used the men and women from the Nurses’ Health Studies I and II starting from 1986 and included up to 32 years of follow up. After excluding participants with missing diet information or previously diagnosed heart disease, stroke or cancer, over 210,000 participants were included in the analysis. The participants completed a survey every four years to ascertain dietary intake.  Using an empirically-developed, food-based dietary index to evaluate levels of inflammation associated with dietary intake, researchers found that dietary patterns with higher inflammatory potential were associated with an increased rate of cardiovascular disease.  

The food-based proinflammatory dietary index based off 18 pre-defined food groups that together show the strongest associations with an increase in inflammatory biomarkers. After controlling for other risk factors such as BMI, physical activity, family history of heart disease and multivitamin use, the participants consuming proinflammatory diets had a 46% higher risk of heart disease and 28% higher risk of stroke, compared to those consuming anti-inflammatory diets.

The US researchers suggested consuming foods with higher levels of antioxidants and fiber to help combat inflammation: Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, cabbage, arugula), yellow vegetables (pumpkin, yellow peppers, beans, carrots), whole grains, coffee, tea, cocoa and turmeric. The researchers also suggested limiting intake of refined sugars and grains, fried foods, sodas, and restricting processed, red and organ meat. These foods are among the major contributors to the proinflammatory dietary index.

Previous studies have found that certain healthy dietary patterns to lower concentrations of some inflammatory biomarkers and lower heart disease risk.  The example diets include Mediterranean diet and diets with regular nut consumption.  In a separate JACC study by a group of researchers from Spain, the Spain researchers assessed the positive effects eating walnuts, an anti-inflammatory food, had on decreasing inflammation and heart disease risk.  Specifically, researchers assessed how incorporating walnuts into an individual’s usual diet would improve inflammatory biomarkers. 

A total of 634 participants were assigned either a diet without walnuts or a diet with regularly incorporated walnuts (about 30-60 grams per day). After a follow up period of two years, those who ate a diet with walnuts showed significantly reduced levels of inflammation in the body in 6 out of 10 of the inflammatory biomarkers tested.

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.

What’s the take home message?  For a healthy heart, try an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of nuts, seafood, leafy green, unsaturated fats (such as olive oil, avocado oil) and avoid processed meat and sugary beverages.  Of course, lots of walnuts help too!

Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference: Jun Li, Dong Hoon Lee, Jie Hu, Fred K. Tabung, Yanping Li, Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, Eric B. Rimm, Kathryn M. Rexrode, JoAnn E. Manson, Walter C. Willett, Edward L. Giovannucci, Frank B. Hu. Dietary Inflammatory Potential and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Among Men and Women in the U.S.Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2020; 76 (19): 2181 DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.09.535