Monocytes, large white blood cells that turn into macrophages in tissue, help control infection by gobbling up bacteria, but have a less beneficial side. Monocytes can cause inflammation that damage tissue. In blood vessels, inflammation can damage the vessels and increase atherosclerosis, a build-up of debris inside blood vessels that can decrease blood flow to the heart. Certain foods may help keep your monocyte count within healthy limits.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel and in fish oil supplements have anti-inflammatory properties that appear to protect against atherosclerosis and heart disease. Taking fish oil supplements or consuming fish high in omega-3 fatty acids daily may help decrease monocyte-activated inflammation. In a British study reported in the 2007 issue of “The Journal of Nutrition,” researchers reported that people taking fish oil supplements were less likely to have inflammatory responses in the blood vessel walls. This effect was not as pronounced in people already taking medication to treat peripheral artery disease.
Foods in the Mediterranean Diet
Monounsaturated fats found in oils such as olive oil and foods such as seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits and whole grains, included in the widely disseminated Mediterranean diet– may have a protective effect against inflammatory responses caused by monocytes, according to Dr. Victoria Drake of the Linus Pauling Institute. Pass on trans fats and saturated fats, often found in processed foods.
A moderate amount of alcohol daily may help reduce dangerous inflammation caused by monocytes. But in large amounts, alcohol can also stimulate inflammation. The key with alcohol consumption is to keep your intake moderate, which is one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Purple grape juice may have the same protective benefits as alcohol, according to the Mayo Clinic, so don’t start drinking if you don’t already consume alcohol.
Diabetes and high blood glucose levels in the blood are associated with an increase in monocyte release and inflammation, and it may make sense to cut refined sugars from your diet to decrease inflammation and the risk of heart disease. However, a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis and reported in the January 2007 “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” did not find an increase in monocyte release after meals with a high glycemic load compared to meals with a low-glycemic load in overweight women. This was contrary to expected results: that high-glycemic meals would stimulate higher release of monocytes. More research into this area is necessary, the researchers concluded, since obesity, insulin resistance and heart disease are often associated with a high-glycemic load diet, which includes refined sugars and processed foods.