Inflammation is an immune response to cuts and scratches as well as to pathogenic infections. However, the inflammatory response can go overboard, contributing to atherosclerosis, a precursor to heart attacks and other heart disease. However, a nutrient called lutein - plentiful in colorful fruits and vegetables - seems to have the power to reduce harmful inflammation.
Lutein is a type of carotenoid, naturally found in plants as a coloring agent. Dark, leafy greens like spinach are rich sources of lutein, and they may be the new prescription for people at risk of heart disease associated with chronic inflammation. From Linkoping University in Sweden in a new study published in the journal Atherosclerosis, researchers looked at six of the most common types of carotenoids - lutein included - in relation to coronary artery disease, like myocardial infarction (heart attack) and angina (chest pain as a result of low blood levels in the heart).
"A considerable number of patients who have experienced myocardial infarction still have low-level chronic inflammation in the body, even after receiving effective treatment with revascularization, drugs and lifestyle changes,” explained study leader Lena Jonasson. “We know that chronic inflammation is associated with a poorer prognosis.”
Similar studies in the past have discovered and shown an inverse correlation between carotenoids and inflammatory markers, but do carotenoids actually have anti-inflammatory effects? Specifically, do carotenoids have anti-inflammatory effects in patients with coronary artery disease?
Researchers examined the effects of carotenoids in 193 people with coronary artery disease while measuring inflammatory marker interleukin (IL) 6. Lutein was the only carotenoid in the study to be associated with IL-6; as lutein levels went up, IL-6 levels went down. Overall, lutein was found to “suppress long-term inflammation in patients with coronary artery disease,” explained postdoctoral researcher Rosanna Chung. “We have also shown that lutein is absorbed and stored by the cells of the immune system in the blood.”
"The patients were receiving the best possible treatment for their disease according to clinical guidelines, but even so, many of them had a persistent inflammation. At the same time, the patients had lower levels of lutein," Jonasson said
With the connection between lutein and inflammation secured, now scientists will study further if doctors should recommend to people with coronary artery disease and other maladies of the heart to eat fruits and vegetables rich in the lutein carotenoid.
Source: Linkoping University in Sweden