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Guest blog: 9 anti-inflammatory foods

Photo of Sharon PeckMultiple sclerosis is an inflammatory condition. Here MSer and Nutrition Scientist Sharon Peck highlights just some foods that could help reduce inflammation...  

Inflammation is essential to our survival. It’s our first line of defence against the outside world. It attracts cells of the immune system to the site of danger to destroy pathogens and helps heal injury. As a short-lived response it performs excellently as protector and healer. 

In multiple sclerosis (MS) inflammation is ongoing (chronic), with the myelin covering being attached by neurons wrongly identified as pathogens. The immune system attacks pathogens with oxidation. The oxidative damage causes further inflammation.

An unhealthy gut microbiome can be a source of inflammation. Boston researchers found MSer’s microbiome linked to ongoing inflammation. Luckily the microbiome is easily changed with food choices that nourish the microbiome.

Foods described below can have anti-inflammatory effects, either directly helping to resolve inflammation/oxidative stress, or indirectly by feeding our microbiome so anti-inflammatory microbes crowd out pro-inflammatory ones. 

Champion foods (both direct and indirect effect)

1. Vegetables

Particularly rich dark, leafy greens contain polyphenols and antioxidants, which can directly reduce inflammation. Vegetable’s high fibre content feeds the microbiome. A small Italian trial found a high vegetable diet reduced inflammation, improved gut microbiome and helping to improve overall health.

2. Fruits

Especially deeply coloured berries, which are potent antioxidants that can reduce inflammation. They also provide food for the microbiome, helping to keep your gut healthy. Try and make sure you are getting your 5-a-day, and aim for 10 if you can, after the NHS recently reported that 10 portions of fruit and vegetables is even better for us.

Direct anti-inflammatory/antioxidant

3. Oily fish 

Mackerel, salmon and sardines are all sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3s, which UK researcher found increased anti-inflammatory bacteria in the microbiome and may help directly resolve inflammation.

4. Nuts

These are a source of required omega-6 EFA, which can be inflammatory in excess. Walnuts have a balance of omega-6 and omega-3, and research has shown they promote anti-inflammatory microbes. Research found that walnut oil reduced inflammation in a mouse model of MS.

5. Seeds

Another great source of EFAs. Some seeds, such as flax and chia seeds have a high anti-inflammatory omega-3 content.

6. Extra-virgin olive oil 

Extra-virgin olive oil is a source of antioxidant vitamin E and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. A review of multiple trials indicated that this oil could improve inflammatory disease symptoms. 

7. Ginger

Ginger has well known anti-inflammatory properties. An Iranian researcher indicated it may reduce inflammation in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).

8. Turmeric

It’s been in the news a lot recently and is now well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but it has poor absorption. Consume it with healthy fats and black pepper to improve the absorption.

Indirect effect via the microbiota

9. Legumes and wholegrains

Another good source of fibre which has been found to benefit gut microbiota.

Out of the above list seven constitute the Mediterranean diet. Interestingly, the Mediterranean diet is very similar to the high vegetable diet used in the Italian study mentioned in point one. It showed an anti-inflammatory effect in MSers and reduced disability. The anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet is being looked at by a variety of experts and particularly for people with MS. 

About Sharon

Sharon was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 and prompted a career change to nutrition with the goal of empowering people to take positive steps toward feeling better. Sharon aims to share her nutritional knowledge, the latest nutritional and lifestyle research and expertise from healthcare professionals. Visit Sharon’s website for more information about her and her latest articles.

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