Dr. Sears was recently interviewed by Vogue Italy about inflammation, what factors contribute to it and the role of diet in minimizing it. See what he had to say in this recent interview.
Q. What distinguishes good inflammation from bad inflammation?
A. “Good” inflammation is the acute inflammation needed to protect our bodies from microbial infections and injuries. We need this type of inflammation to survive. “Bad” inflammation is chronic, low-level inflammation below the perception of pain that is the underlying cause of virtually all chronic diseases. This type of “bad” inflammation results when the body’s internal Resolution Response is blocked, and initial acute inflammation is not entirely turned off, and thus keeps attacking the body. The Resolution Response is a complex series of highly orchestrated events that first reduces the initial acute inflammation, then resolves (turn it off completely) any residual inflammation, and finally, repairs the damage caused by the initial acute inflammation. An optimal Resolution Response is the key to healing, and it under robust dietary control, as explained in my newest book, The Resolution Zone.
Q. What are dietary habits and lifestyles that lead to a dangerous form of inflammation?
A. The dietary habits that lead to a blocked Resolution Response include both excess and deficient nutritional items. Those dietary items that increase inflammation would be excess calorie intake, excess glucose intake, and excess intake of omega-6 and saturated fatty acids. On the other hand, a diet deficient in non-starchy vegetables and fruits will also cause inflammation.
Q. Are there foods or drinks (or a combination thereof) that could generate an excessive rise in inflammation levels?
A. The worst combination would be foods rich in sugar and fat. The same is true for drinks.
Q. How can you know that your inflammation level requires some correction?
A. If you are obese, you are already inflamed. Likewise, if you have an existing chronic disease, you are inflamed. However, you can still be inflamed even if you seem to be healthy. There are simple markers that require only a drop of blood that indicate inflammation may be building up in your body. Those blood markers and their appropriate ranges are described in The Resolution Zone.
Q. What are the dietary habits and lifestyles that can help take care of inflammation?
A. The best dietary habits are consuming more vegetables and fruits and fewer grains and starches, using olive oil instead of vegetable oils, and eating adequate amounts of low-fat protein at each meal. These simple steps go a long way to reduce diet-induced inflammation. These dietary habits sound similar to the classic Mediterranean diet. However, the most essential factor for any diet to be successful is its ability to reduce calorie intake without hunger and fatigue. Calorie restriction is more easily accomplished if every meal is balanced in protein and carbohydrates. Such calorie restriction without hunger or fatigue is the foundation of the Zone diet. Unlike the Mediterranean diet, ketogenic diets, and other “new” fad diets, the Zone diet is highly defined, much like a drug yet personalized to your dietary philosophy. The Zone diet is best described as a “calorie-restricted, anti-inflammatory diet that is low in fat but provides adequate protein balanced by a defined amount of low-glycemic carbohydrates to suppresses hunger and fatigue.” Since 1998 more than 35 clinical studies have been published on the Zone diet, demonstrating its superiority to other diets in appetite control, fat loss, blood glucose control, and inflammation reduction. Relative to lifestyle, eighty percent of your ability to control inflammation will come from a defined anti-inflammatory diet. Fifteen percent will come from regular exercise, and five percent from stress reduction.
Q. What are the main messages you want to convey to the readers in your latest book?
A. The optimization of your internal Resolution Response is key to healing the damage caused by inflammation. The Resolution Response is ancient and is controlled by complex interactions of our hormones and our genes. No drug can optimize the Resolution Response, but your diet and lifestyle can. Furthermore, your success in reducing inflammation can be measured in the blood. The more you reduce inflammation in your body, the longer will be the quality of your life. Improving one’s healthspan is the next great challenge for medicine, and it starts with your diet.
Q. What about the most recent and crucial discoveries in the field of inflammation, if any, of course?
A. The two most recent breakthroughs in inflammation are a new understanding of how supplemental omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols further enhance the Resolution Response. Omega-3 fatty acids provide the dietary building blocks to make a newly discovered class of hormones (i.e., resolvins) that turn off inflammation. The polyphenols activate the master switch of metabolism (AMPK) that orchestrates the repair of damaged tissue and the immune system. When these are combined with the anti-inflammatory Zone diet, you have the ideal dietary mix to optimize your internal Resolution Response.
Q. Anti-inflammatory diet: what should we have on our tables, and how can we combine nutrients (and why)?
A. First and foremost is to consume large amounts of vegetables and fruits. This would be at the least ten servings per day. This amount is about two pounds of raw vegetables and fruits. The second is the have small amounts of low-fat protein at every meal. This protein could be fish, chicken, low-fat dairy and egg products, or even protein-rich vegan sources such as tofu or plant-protein meat substitutes. The correct amount of protein at each meal is about the size of the palm of your hand. This will be about 25 grams of protein at each meal. Most of any added fat should be monounsaturated fat such as olive oil or nuts. You know you have the right balance if you aren’t hungry for the next five hours after a meal. Your lack of hunger indicates you have balanced the hormones in your blood and those coming from your gut that stop hunger signals from the brain. If you aren’t hungry, then you consuming fewer calories is easy. By restricting calories, you live longer with less inflammation. Finally, by adding supplemental omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols to your diet, you can fine-tune your internal Resolution Response to a remarkable precision that puts you in firm control of your future health.