Are You Pro or Anti-Inflammatory?
With all the conflicting information out there about which foods are pro- or anti- histamine, pro- or anti- inflammatory, it can be difficult to navigate the supermarket. Some anti-inflammatory foods can be high histamine (avocado, walnuts), and high histamine levels lead to inflammation. How do we know what to eat to resolve our chronic inflammation and promote health and wellbeing?
As I’ve discussed before, certain healthy foods, while causing some level of inflammation due to one or two constituents (histamine, oxalates, salicylates, etc) may have enough beneficial effects for the body to make them worth incorporating (perhaps in small amounts) into an overall low histamine, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet plan. At the very least on a longer rotation (but please always rule out allergies and check with a doctor before adding anything new).
Since histamine intolerance and mast cell activation are conditions of chronic inflammation, it’s really more important to focus on promoting the resolution of inflammation than agonizing over whether a phytonutrient-rich, higher histamine or salicylate food is completely on or off the diet.
The most important thing to understand is that inflammation is not just something to be avoided. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural process of problem-solving and healing. In fact, just as there are pro-inflammatory agents that induce inflammation and anti-inflammatory agents that inhibit inflammation, so also there are a family of chemicals in the body that promote the resolution of the inflammatory state, encouraging the repair of tissues and helping the body return to a state of homeostasis.These chemicals are called specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs), and they are produced when white blood cells called neutrophils arrive at the site of injury.
These problem-solving SPMs are produced from omega 3 fatty acids (particularly DHA and EPA), so it’s easy to see how much of a role our dietary choices play in resolving chronic inflammation. It’s actually much more important to promote the production of these SPMs through diet than it is to try to prevent inflammation from occurring. After all, anti- damage isn’t the same as pro- healing.
How can we help the body produce more of its natural inflammation-resolvers? Of the 4 varieties of SPMs produced by the body, 3 of them (resolvins, protectins, and maresins) come from the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA and 1 of them (lipoxins) is derived from the omega 6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid (AA).
Since these are essential fatty acids, meaning they must be taken in through foods because the body cannot manufacture them, then it’s a good idea to make sure we get enough EPA and DHA in our diets. Omnivores, of course, can get them in through consumption of wild caught fatty fish like salmon and sardines. Vegans will have to supplement with an algal based oil, such as Dr. Fuhrman’s DHA+EPA Purity.
Beyond the omega 3s for SPM production, it is a good idea to incorporate as many nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods as possible, even if some of them promote a small amount of inflammation. Just use your own judgment and consume according to tolerance. The combination of inhibiting inflammation to some extent while also promoting its resolution may be the best strategy for not only reducing levels of chronic inflammation in the body, but also for healing and returning to a balanced state.
—- REFERENCES —-
Buckley, C. D., Gilroy, D. W., & Serhan, C. N. (2014). Pro-Resolving lipid mediators and Mechanisms in the resolution of acute inflammation. Immunity, 40(3), 315-327. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.immuni.2014.02.009