Healthy Fats to Control Chronic Inflammation: Is It the Real Deal?

You’ve probably heard me talk about chronic inflammation too many times to count. The latest research on the causes of inflammation and the effect it has on the body is truly fascinating.

Veggie culture starter

For those who are healthy — and are eating fermented foods made from The Veggie Culture Starter, for example — this inflammatory response can engage the immune system and have a protective effect on the body. For those who are overweight, this inflammation can be dangerous enough to lead to type 2 diabetes.2

In the United States, most diets are very deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.

Inflammation is at the root of diseases like Alzheimer’s, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. In a 2017 American Journal of Pathology study, researchers discovered that chronic inflammation of the liver has been linked to a Western diet.1 This is a diet high in unhealthy fats and candida-feeding sugar. In fact, every meal you eat can trigger inflammation, for better or for worse, Swiss researchers say.2 All foods contain some kind of bacteria that the body must accept or fight off, and then, an inflammatory response is triggered.

Fighting chronic inflammation before it leads to disease is possible, and it has everything to do with the foods you eat. Professor Charles Serhan, Director of Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital, explains the undeniable connection between omega-3 fatty acids and chronic inflammation in his exclusive interview with Clementine Wallace on MDFM Radio. I’ve added some of my own notes in the interview below.

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Resolvins and protectins for chronic inflammation: Prof. Serhan interview

Clementine Wallace: “Hello! You’re on MD-FM INSIGHT, the first medical web radio. Today, we’ll be devoting our ‘Question & Answer’ program to nutrition and how it can help reduce chronic inflammation, as seen in arthritis and inflammatory diseases.”

Clementine: “Recently, researchers uncovered why the fatty acids in our diet are so important, in part because they turn into active compounds that help regulate the body’s immune response during inflammation. At the 20th International Congress of Nutrition, in Grenada, Spain, we interviewed Professor Charles Serhan, Director of the Center for Experimental Therapeutics and Reperfusion Injury, at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. His team discovered some of the mechanisms involved in this phenomenon.”

Clementine: “So first, Dr. Serhan, give us a bit of background on the relationship between nutrition and inflammation.”

Prof. Serhan: “I think it’s been known for a very long time that inflammation, to be able to run properly, needs ideal nutrition. And our studies look specifically at the innate immune response and the early mechanisms involved in resolution of inflammation. And what we found is that there are specific resolution signals, chemical signals that are made from nutrition, from essential fatty acids and particularly the omega-3 fatty acids.”

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Where to find good sources of inflammation-fighting omega-3s

Clementine: “Which omega-3 fatty acids for instance? Where do you find them?”

Prof. Serhan: “In the major marine oils, the major components are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). These two essential fatty acids have been known for a long time to have an impact on inflammation and on inflammation-associated diseases. But the mechanisms were not clear.”

Clementine: “Okay, but recently, if I’m right, you discovered some of the signals they induce and how they influence inflammation, right?”

Prof. Serhan: “Yes, so, in our work, we identified that DHA and EPA are precursors to very potent bioactive mediators we call resolvins, protectins, and mericins. These are the little robots that mechanically maneuver cell trafficking and actually stimulate resolution and clearance. So, they are the instructive signals for cells to clear from the inflammatory site.”

Clementine: “Okay and so, how can they be helpful during chronic inflammation?”

Prof. Serhan: “We believe that chronic inflammation can be viewed as a failure for resolution because you have to remember that acute inflammation is protective, and this is the most vital response of the body to invasion or to tissue injury. But when that process doesn’t resolve normally, we think it leads to chronic inflammation. And so, the thought is that, at least in animal models of inflammatory diseases, we can add back the resolvins and protectins to stimulate resolution. They are actually agonists to stimulate the clearance and even the tissue regeneration that needs to occur following an inflammatory insult or injury.”

Clementine: “Okay, and do you only have studies in animals?”

Prof. Serhan: “These studies now are all in animal models, but we have some ongoing clinical trials with specific molecules that are at least at phase III human clinical trial for resolving inflammation. And these are proof-of-concept studies in humans. So, I think there’s a possibility of thinking about nutrition to enhance the production of pro-resolving mediators. Our hope is that they will be useful. This is a new approach in thinking about treating inflammation. Most approaches used clinically now use either receptor antagonists to pro-inflammatory molecules or inhibitors along various pro-inflammatory pathways. And we think this approach can be complementary with stimulating endogenous resolution mechanisms.”

(Donna: “For example, turmeric, berberine, etc., are taken to inhibit inflammation, but these resolvins and protectins actually ‘resolve’ the chronic inflammation.3”)

Can you get enough protective omega-3s from diet?

Clementine: “And can we find enough of these fatty acids in food, or do we have to use supplements?”

Prof. Serhan: “Well, in the United States, most of the diets are, what nutritionists told me, very deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. So, in those cases, clinical trials will need to be done to give evidence for the correct amount of supplementation that’s needed, to actually increase these resolution pathways. But I think those studies are now warranted because we know these molecular mechanisms now that can be tested in a variety of diseases. For example, we have looked in some human diseases, in asthma, which is now thought to have an inflammatory component, and in rheumatoid arthritis in the synovial fluids of the joints, we find the levels of the pro-resolving mediators very, very low. And so, the idea is that they represent truly failed resolution mechanisms, and the big question now would be: ‘Can we treat those and bring them back to homeostasis, bring them back to normality?’”

Clementine: “Okay so, what’s your take-home message?”

Prof. Serhan: “That we should strive to have better evidence for mechanisms in biomarkers in thinking about functional foods, and specifically about appropriate nutrition. And personalized medicine will be very important in this area and probably in nutrition; it’s not a one-size-fits-all. And that nutrition can probably also be very much personalized by understanding individual metabolomics and how an individual behaves on challenge.”

To relieve chronic inflammation, prevent disease, and restore good health, the Body Ecology Principle of Uniqueness has never been more important.

As Professor Serhan pointed out, personalized medicine and nutrition are critical. You can find our top 10 foods to fight inflammation here (with a focus on Body Ecology-friendly sources of omega-3s), but please remember this as you sample and integrate new foods into your diet. What works for some may not work for everyone. If you find it hard to tolerate a certain food, that may be your body’s way of telling you that it’s not right for your gut right now. The foods you eat to control chronic inflammation are based on the current state of your physical health. As your health improves, you may find yourself enjoying new, healthy, and different foods in the future.

By Donna Gates

Read more from Donna, fermented foods pioneer and international best-selling author of The Body Ecology Diet, on her Empowher page.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

Are you getting enough omega-3s? Inflammation is behind chronic diseases like arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Chronic inflammation has also been linked to our Western diet, where, unsurprisingly, most of us are notably low in omega-3s.

As Professor Charles Serhan, Director of Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital, explains in his MDFM Radio interview:

  • Chemical signals in the body produced from nutrition, like omega-3 fatty acids, are involved in resolving inflammation.
  • Essential fatty acids DHA and EPA are important precursors to bioactive mediators called resolvins, protectins, and mericins.
  • These bioactive mediators direct cellular traffic and stimulate inflammation clearance and resolution.
  • Chronic inflammation in the body results from a failure to resolve acute inflammation.
  • Medicine and nutrition must be personalized to address the individual need and health risk.

It’s within your reach to resolve chronic inflammation and prevent disease by living out the Body Ecology Principle of Uniqueness. All guts can benefit from eating fermented foods daily and from enjoying Body Ecology-friendly inflammation-fighting foods like soaked walnuts and salmon, rich in omega-3s. But remember: No two guts are the same. If you find that your gut doesn’t tolerate a certain food right now, hang tight and be patient with your body. You may soon find yourself trying new, healthy foods as your gut heals and your inflammation subsides.


  1. Prasant K. Jena, Lili Sheng, Hui-Xin Liu, Karen M. Kalanetra, Annie Mirsoian, William J. Murphy, Samuel W. French, Viswanathan V. Krishnan, David A. Mills, Yu-Jui Yvonne Wan. Western Diet–Induced Dysbiosis in Farnesoid X Receptor Knockout Mice Causes Persistent Hepatic Inflammation after Antibiotic Treatment. The American Journal of Pathology, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2017.04.019.
  2. Erez Dror, Elise Dalmas, Daniel T Meier, Stephan Wueest, Julien Thévenet, Constanze Thienel, Katharina Timper, Thierry M Nordmann, Shuyang Traub, Friederike Schulze, Flurin Item, David Vallois, Francois Pattou, Julie Kerr-Conte, Vanessa Lavallard, Thierry Berney, Bernard Thorens, Daniel Konrad, Marianne Böni-Schnetzler & Marc Y Donath. Postprandial macrophage-derived IL-1β stimulates insulin and both synergistically promote glucose disposal and inflammation. Nature Immunology, January 2017 DOI: 10.1038/ni.3659.
  3. M. Fiala, R. C. Halder, B. Sagong, O. Ross, J. Sayre, V. Porter, D. E. Bredesen.  -3 Supplementation increases amyloid-  phagocytosis and resolvin D1 in patients with minor cognitive impairment. The FASEB Journal, 2015; DOI: 10.1096/fj.14-264218.
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