What’s the key to a longer, healthier life? According to a new study, it could be your inflammation levels.
Researchers explored the health of more than 1,500 people—680 centenarians and 167 of their offspring. They found that inflammation was the most significant, controllable factor in predicting a person’s longevity.
So, just what is inflammation?
Inflammation is an important part of the body’s immune response—without it we can’t heal. However, too much inflammation causes damage to our organs. With some diseases, like arthritis, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response, even though there is no infection to fight. This causes the immune system to attack normal tissue and can cause long-term damage.
According to Refaat Hegazi, MD, PhD, a physician scientist with Abbott, inflammation is one of the key factors associated with chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Hegazi says this is because inflammation leads to oxidative stress, which is a chemical imbalance in the body.
“Oxidative distress is the beginning of damage to the tissues and organs,” Hegazi says.
One way to control inflammation is through a healthy diet—both adding foods to your diet that decrease inflammation and decreasing your intake of those that increase inflammation. For example, foods high in sugar and saturated fat can spur inflammation, making your condition worse. Moderation is often the best strategy.
According to Hegazi, strive to incorporate foods in your diet that are “fatty in nature, leafy and contain protein and fiber.” Try adding these foods with anti-inflammatory properties to your plate:
Many of these foods are found in the Mediterranean diet, which has been proven to decrease inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke, Hegazi says.
While adding these foods to your diet, you should also reduce the following pro-inflammatory foods:
For all these foods, however, it’s important to focus on the amount, Hegazi says. Although beef, for example, is a source of saturated fat, it’s also a good source of high-quality protein. “It just depends on the quantities consumed,” Hegazi says.
Inflammation in the body, just like the foods that control it, is all about finding the right balance. We need it to survive, but too much of a good thing can also hurt us.