Can I decrease inflammation by changing the food I eat?

Author: Dr. Michelle Durkin on 26 January 2016


Of course! Food is not just a source of calories. Think of the food you eat as messages that go directly to your genes. You have the choice to send positive messages or negative messages and this depends on the foods you choose to eat.

In the case of inflammation, you can choose to send messages to your genes to upregulate inflammatory mediators like cytokines, prostaglandins, and eicosanoids OR their non-inflammatory counterparts, depending on the foods you eat.


So let’s discuss 3 major categories of foods that will upregulate inflammation:

  1. Artificial ingredients
  2. Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats
  3. Refined carbohydrates and sugar

Artificial ingredients

This would include anything that is difficult to pronounce or sounds like a chemical on a nutrition label. If the food doesn’t have a label, it almost always has no artificial ingredients in it. Some common examples of artificial ingredients are high fructose corn syrup, BHA, BHT, MSG, aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners (this does not include stevia or xylitol).

Omega 6 Polyunsaturated fats

Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats have become a significant part of the modern diet. It is now estimated that the omega 6 content of our diet is 20X higher than it should be. No wonder so many people are suffering from all different types of inflammatory conditions! These pro-inflammatory fats are found primarily in the oh so popular vegetable oils (corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, shortening, margarine, and canola oil). All of these oils can be found in salad dressings, mayonnaise, corn chips, potato chips, popcorn, any fast food, muffins, cookies, graham crackers, brownies, and even cereals! Just to name a few.

Refined carbohydrates and sugar

Refined carbohydrates, even whole-grain ones, have taken over as the main source of our calories in the modern world. We are also eating several pounds of sugar per year. This was unheard of before agricultural industrialization. No longer are vegetables the staple on everyone’s plate. It is usually some type of refined wheat product at every meal, and breakfast is usually the worst! Think of bagels, cereal, muffins, toast, sandwiches, tortillas, rice and pasta. All of these foods cause a massive bolus of insulin to be released and insulin is a very pro-inflammatory hormone. On the other hand, insulin is our friend when secreted in small manageable amounts, such as after eating a big salad. It ends up being our enemy in large amounts secreted time after time after time in response to refined carbohydrate foods like a bowl of pasta or cereal.

So, what should you focus on instead to reduce inflammation?

In two words, real food. This is food you pick or dig from the garden, buy at the butcher, catch in the lake, pick off a tree. Even though this advice is simple, it is not always easy. That is why help is available. That is why people, including myself, have chosen careers to help people improve their health by improving the quality of the food they eat.

Now I would love to hear from you! What is one change that you could make today that would send positive messages to your genes to reduce inflammation? OR What is one change you have been wanting to make but haven’t been able to quite do it yet and why?

I look forward to chatting with you in the comments below! I'll have a new article for you next week on Doctor as Teacher Tuesdays.

12 Replies to “Can I decrease inflammation by changing the food I eat?”

Pat Koets

Would you suggest taking a fish oil? Does it help with inflammation? Great article….thanks😄

Dr Michelle Durkin ND

Hi Pat,
Yes a fish oil supplements provide a concentrated amount of omega 3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory. Make sure you buy a good quality one from the health food store or your naturopaths office and keep it in the fridge.

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