Study Links High Glycemic Diet with Inflammation

It is well known that inflammation is associated with the pain of arthritis and the swelling and redness that follow a sprain. In recent years, research has revealed that chronic inflammation can also cause heart disease, independent of traditional risk factors such as cholesterol, and it has been linked with an increased occurrence of degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Though in the past it was difficult to measure low-grade chronic inflammation, a new test called high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), can easily identify this condition. This test is now often included in blood panels designed to screen for heart disease risk factors.

But what causes chronic inflammation? A study designed to help answer this question measured the hs-CRP of 244 apparently healthy women, and then analyzed various factors of their diets and lifestyles. Researchers found a strong association between diets with high glycemic loads and increased inflammation (Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75(3):492-8).

Glycemic load measures the impact of diet on blood sugar. The higher the glycemic load, the more likely a diet is to raise one’s blood sugar. A high glycemic diet can lead to obesity, diabetes or other blood sugar imbalances. This study shows that such diets can also lead to higher levels of inflammation.

To estimate glycemic load, foods are assigned a number, called a glycemic index, reflecting the extent to which they affect blood sugar. White bread has an index of 100% and is considered the glycemic standard. All other foods are ranked in relation to it. Many carbohydrates, even some that are often considered healthy, have very elevated glycemic indexes. By contrast, protein affects blood sugar consistently less and fat has no effect at all. If you’d like to get an idea of your diet’s glycemic load, a good reference is the list at the end of Dr. Barry Sears’ book Mastering The Zone. However, remember that while glycemic index is an important consideration, it is not the only factor that determines whether a food is healthy.

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