Blake Ebersole, President

April 17, 2012

3 Min Read
The Omnivore's Inflammatory Dilemma

A balanced diet and lifestyle are part of the holy grail to good health. Michael Pollan, in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, sums it up nicely: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Simple, yes, but based on the underlying science on the role of diet in health: A diet lacking in plants, coupled with our distaste for climbing the stairs and our imperfect genetics, leads to a profound chronic inflammatory imbalance. Inflammation fans the flames of Alzheimer’s disease and the other top health issues of our time. Control your inflammation and you reduce your risk, say the experts.

But how do we control inflammation? With the double-edged sword of synthetic NSAIDs like aspirin, many public health experts believe that dietary interventions like the ones Pollan mentions are key to improving public health:

Eat Good Fats: Fats are energy, and they serve as key hormonal and inflammatory signals. They make up the membranes that compartmentalize and keep all our cellular and molecular processes separated…so let’s just say they’re important.  The body uses whatever fats come from our diet, which is not necessarily a good thing--especially for those of us who like red meat and Twinkies.

Luckily, there are good plant-based fats like DHA and phospholipids, which in study after study support areas of health impacted by chronic inflammatory states. Herein may lie a key link between health, inflammation and diet: for example, the Framingham Heart Study showed that the top quartile of subjects with the highest levels of phosphatidylcholine and DHA in the blood from diet had a significant 47% decrease in all-cause dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Eat Mostly Plants: Again, Pollan was simply summarizing what the research is telling us. Plants are in, and high-protein, high-glycemic foods are out. The recent DiOGenes study explains why: “Low-glycemic-index carbohydrates and, to a lesser extent, low-protein intake may specifically reduce low-grade inflammation and associated comorbidities in overweight/obese adults."

So why eat plants? Of course, they do not contain as many ‘bad’ compounds as our other alternatives. Yet a truth often hidden from plain sight is that plants and fish are more or less our only source of dietary anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds are known in the mainstream as “NSAIDs."  

Whole fruits, including peel components –apples with peels, whole blueberries, pomegranate juice squeezed from peel compounds like the punicalagins—are some of the richest sources of natural NSAIDs known. (Note: In my experience, preserving and ensuring stability of these potent compounds can be tricky, so it is important to characterize an ingredient as much as possible using suitable and valid analytical methods.)

Add some spices.  Pound for pound, spices represent the richest source of antioxidants and natural NSAIDs known. Turmeric, cinnamon, holy basil–all have been used since time immemorial for preservation of food. Now, we suspect they may be used for preserving life. However, the relatively low amounts of NSAID compounds in whole spices as typically found in our diet may not overcome the onslaught of a chronic pro-inflammatory lifestyle, especially as we age. This is where science and supplements come into play.  

At some point, key parts of the science-based, pharmacometric paradigm need to be adopted for food-based medicine, so that we can prove what really works and meets the scientific requirement for replication of results. In this paradigm, the spice compounds likely to work are also likely to be the ones that are well-characterized, concentrated beyond their food forms, and able to reach therapeutic and/or preventive blood and tissue levels.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a trained M.D. whose core messages have only recently gained popularity in the mainstream, has always been consistent about his interpretation of the science: good fats and potent NSAIDS in plants and spices really are good for us

So how to solve the “Inflammatory Dilemma”?  Eat (and supplement) with science-based "good" fats, plants, and spices.   

About the Author(s)

Blake Ebersole

President, NaturPro Scientific

Blake Ebersole has led several botanical quality initiatives and formed collaborations with dozens of universities and research centers. As president of NaturPro Scientific, Ebersole established quality compliance and product development services for supplements and ingredients such as ID Verified™. Follow him on Twitter at @NaturalBlake.

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