With COVID-19 cases soaring worldwide and many people still living in fear of the pandemic, it’s understandable that people are looking for ways to reduce their chronic inflammation. As the body’s largest organ, our guts play a crucial role in our immune system. The bacterial content of our gut is known to influence our risk of coronavirus infection.1 The food we eat has a significant impact on the bacteria that populate our gut. This in turn can influence our immunity and susceptibility to COVID-19.
The scientific evidence supporting an anti-inflammatory diet is mounting. This article will list studies that have investigated the effects of diet on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. I will also review the latest evidence for probiotics as a way to reduce inflammation and I will suggest which foods to avoid if you have these types of inflammatory conditions.
Diet Effects On Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Including the entire genus of lactic acid bacteria, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, within the diet is known to enhance the gut’s anti-inflammatory response and to reduce the severity of IBD in genetically susceptible individuals. This response is mediated by T cells, which normally promote immune tolerance, and by macrophages, which normally scavenge and digest dead cells.
The anti-inflammatory effect of diet has been proven in various mouse models of IBD. These models typically develop the condition after receiving an intraperitoneal injection of acetic acid to stimulate their inflammatory response. After establishing IBD, the mice are placed on either a control or an experimental diet for a week or month. In the first week on the diet, the mice experience an increase in body weight, a fall in white blood cell count, and a decrease in histological indicators of inflammation, compared to mice maintained on the control diet.2 This improvement is more pronounced in mice given a combination of antibiotics, which suggests that the effect is at least partly mediated by gut microbiota.2
Similarly, in JAXMINE-IBD, a mouse model of IBD that spontaneously develops the disease,3 mice that are administered an anti-inflammatory cocktail containing açaí, curcumin, and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (a substance found in green tea) show significantly reduced colitis and improved survival rates, compared to mice given a placebo. The beneficial effect is associated with greater preservation of the gut’s tight junctions and lower levels of inflammatory cytokines in their stools.3
Diet Effects On Celiac Disease
The elimination of gluten from the diet has proven effective in treating celiac disease. However, the effects of the gluten-free diet are often more pronounced in the short term than in the long term, which suggests that it may not be the most effective way of managing the disease. It is now known that not all celiac patients react the same way to a gluten-free diet and that genetic factors may influence their response.4
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by the ingestion of gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine, resulting in malnutrition and an increased risk of infection.5 Currently, there is no known cure for celiac disease, and the only way to manage it is through a properly planned and carefully monitored diet.
Although a gluten-free diet is the gold standard for the management of celiac disease, it may not be the most effective means of attaining better health. Several studies have shown that the gut’s anti-inflammatory response is weaker in celiac patients compared to healthy individuals.1,6 This is likely due to the fact that celiac patients have higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6 and TNF-α and lower levels of IL-10, a cytokine that normally downregulates the production of these pro-inflammatory chemicals.6,7 Furthermore, recent studies have raised some questions about whether a strictly gluten-free diet is truly necessary for disease management in all celiac patients.8
Diet Effects On Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the lining of the joints, which become inflamed and tender. The symptoms of the disease can be debilitating, and it is known to reduce the quality of life of affected individuals.9
It has been shown that consuming food containing a high content of omega-3 fatty acids results in a significant improvement in the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and that this effect is, at least in part, due to the ability of these nutrients to downregulate the body’s inflammatory response.10 The precise mechanism behind this effect is not known, but it has been suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may modulate the activity of both T cells and macrophages.10 The food sources that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fish, plant oils, nuts, and seeds.
Probiotics: Friend Or Foe?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, which when consumed in sufficient amounts, result in health benefits for the host. Several studies have shown that the administration of probiotics significantly improves the symptoms of IBD, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis in mice and in humans.11,12,13,14 The mechanisms behind these probiotic effects are thought to be due to the fact that these bacteria produce substances that inhibit the body’s inflammatory response and regulate the immune system.15 These substances include short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate and propionate, as well as vitamins such as vitamin B12 and folate.15,16 Additionally, the bacteria may also produce substances that enhance the body’s absorption of nutrients, protect the intestinal cells from damage, or reduce the body’s exposure to toxins.15,16,17
Although studies have shown that the administration of probiotics can improve the symptoms of IBD, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis in mice and humans, it is still not clear what specific strains or combinations of strains are most beneficial. Similarly, it is not known whether the timing of probiotic administration during inflammation is crucial or whether the effect can be obtained with continuous supplementation. Further research is needed to determine the optimal dosage and duration of probiotic administration to achieve the desired effect without causing unwanted side effects.
Which Foods To Avoid If You Have IBD, Celiac Disease, Or Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There are certain foods that have been proven to exacerbate the symptoms of IBD, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. These include the following:
- Red Wine
- Processed Meat
- White Bread
- Deep Fried Foods
- Mediterranean Diet
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Consuming these foods may result in an increased risk of infection in people with IBD. It also tends to worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in those who already have the disease.18 Avoiding these foods may help in the management of IBD, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.19
Taking into consideration the scientific evidence described above, as well as your health concerns, it is reasonable to suggest an anti-inflammatory diet for the management of IBD, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. This diet should include the elimination of gluten and dairy products and the consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics, as much as possible. In people with IBD or rheumatoid arthritis who are already following a gluten-free diet, the addition of specific foods to the diet may be unnecessary and may even be counterproductive. However, in people with celiac disease who are not strictly following a gluten-free diet, the addition of certain foods may help in the management of their condition.
An anti-inflammatory diet for the management of IBD, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis has the potential to revolutionize the way these illnesses are treated. By reducing inflammation and improving the body’s immune response, this diet may help prevent further illness in people with IBD and reduce the risk of complications in those who already have the condition. As a result, it has the potential to greatly enhance the quality of life for many.