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Gut inflammation response after meals may contribute to chronic diseases

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Inflammation after eating meals can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, according to researchers from King’s College London.

The research, recently published in the American Journal of Nutrition, is the largest study to look into inflammation after a meal. The researchers found that people with more body fat and a higher body mass index (BMI), females, and older people, were more like to have higher levels of inflammation after eating.

Inflammation triggered by food often contributes to long-term health problems. Persistent low-grade inflammation is a common pathogenic feature of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The study involved 1,000 healthy adults who were already part of the PREDICT research programme. Each participant was required to eat two standardised meals at the research clinic; breakfast, followed by lunch four hours later. Both meals contained precise amounts of fat, carbohydrate, fibre and protein.

Blood samples were taken from the volunteers throughout the day to analyse levels of blood fat and sugar. In addition, the researchers measured levels of inflammation using two markers, interleukin 6 (IL-6) and Glycoprotein acetylation (GlycA).

Dr Sarah Berry, from King’s College London and study lead, said: ‘Experiencing inflammation after eating is a normal biological response, but prolonged, sustained periods of inflammation have been linked to health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. If you have less healthy responses to fat or sugar then it’s easier to overload your system after eating, leading to increased inflammation.’

The findings suggest that levels of inflammation after eating vary widely between individuals, including identical twins, despite eating the same food over the same interval.

In order to reduce the impact of inflammation after eating the researchers stated unhealthy body fats and blood sugar levels need to be controlled. This can be done by reducing unhealthy fats as well as sugary processed food and drinks in the diet. The researchers also suggested opting for food that are high in polyphenols or ‘anti-inflammatory’ molecules such as colourful fruits and vegetables as well as plant-based foods to reduce inflammation after eating.

The findings highlight the potential for personalised strategies to reduce chronic inflammation in preventative health and to improve health by manipulating the gut microbiome.