Connections between chronic inflammation and increased risk of cancer and other health disorders have led researchers to develop a tool that ranks a person’s diet according to an index of foods that lead to pro- or anti-inflammatory effects. This dietary inflammatory index ranks 45 foods, nutrients and phytochemicals for their inflammatory properties.
Using this index, researchers at the University of South Carolina and University of Minnesota assessed the diets of more than 34,000 cancer-free women to determine the relative level of inflammation they consumed. They then monitored their health to observe whether they remained cancer-free.
The results indicated that women who consumed higher levels of pro-inflammatory foods faced a 20 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer compared to women whose diet scores reflected a greater intake of anti-inflammatory foods. In particular, the authors found diets high in anti-inflammatory elements such as fiber, spices, carotenoids and healthy fats reduced the risk of colorectal cancer for research participants.
“We’re beginning to understand that diet influences inflammation and inflammation is associated with colorectal cancer,” explained Dr. Susan Steck, a co-author on the study. The study, published in the November issue of Cancer Epidemiology and Biomarkers Prevention, concludes that individuals can take steps to increase their consumption of anti-inflammatory foods to reduce inflammation effects, which can in turn reduce cancer risks. This means choosing more fruits, nuts, green leafy vegetables, fish and whole grains over pro-inflammatory foods, such as red meat. The team consisted of lead author Dr. Nitin Shivappa of the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, Drs. Susan Steck and James Hebert of the Arnold School and Drs. Anna Prizment, Cindy Blair and David Jacobs of the University of Minnesota.
The researchers recently published another study examining inflammation among police officers’ diets and the corresponding linkages to risk factors for heart disease and poor metabolic health. Their current project involves translating the aforementioned index into a tool for health professionals and eventually consumers. The interest in applying the researchers’ findings in individual health contexts, as evidenced by the study’s attention in popular press coverage and invited presentations (e.g., http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nourish/201410/inflammatory-diet-linked-colon-cancer-metabolic-risk; http://www.aicr.org/press/press-releases/2014/pro-inflammatory-diet-linked-to-colorectal-cancer-poor-metabolic-health.html), suggests that the targeted users of this tool will likely recognize its utility in improving public health outcomes.