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  • Writer's pictureKerry

The Role Inflammation and Inflammatory Foods Have on Our Mental Well-being



A foundational principle of brain health (and therefore mental health) is to supply the brain with the best nutrition possible.

How the Brain’s Immune System Triggers Inflammation:


It’s a little know fact that the brain has it’s own immune system.


Microglia are immune cells in the brain and are the central nervous systems first line of defense.


50% of the brains cells are microglia.


Their job is to protect the brain and to clear away any unwanted pathogens.


Once a microglia cell is activated, it creates inflammation for the rest of its lifespan.


This can create a domino effect for further inflammation by activating other microglia cells.


The Root Cause of Brain Inflammation:


It’s no surprise that one of the greatest risk factors of the brain is inflammation.


The role of the blood brain barrier is to keep foreign substances out of the brain.


But, just like our gut it can become damaged making it leaky.


This allows toxins and pathogens to enter the brain and in turn activates microglia to produce inflammation.


A leaky blood brain barrier can also allow inflammation that originated elsewhere in the body to enter the brain and start an inflammatory response.


According to research, factors that can activate microglia to produce brain inflammation include: asthma | chronic stress | leaky blood-brain barrier | diabetes | digestive dysfunction | environmental toxins | gluten intolerance | head trauma | heart disease | high carb diet | sedentary lifestyle | substance abuse | systemic inflammation | vitamin B deficiency


Food and Brain Inflammation: The Mediterranean diet is a good diet to help reduce chronic inflammation. - considered one of the healthiest diets partly due to being high in flavonoids and anti-inflammatory compounds found in plants. Two of the easiest dietary changes you can make are: 1. Increase foods that contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA’s). Fish is one of the best brain foods. *Eat wild caught rather than farm raised. - farm raised contains more omega-6 and other contaminants. Choose grass-fed and pasture-fed meat, poultry, and eggs. - they contain more omega-3’s. Reduce foods that contain pro-inflammatory omega-6 EFA’s. Primary sources of omega-6 are vegetable oils such as corn, soy, canola, and safflower. Read your labels, these oils are everywhere in processed foods, baked goods, and snack foods. 2. Minimize processed carbohydrates. Think simple vs complex (those are your vegetable and fruits). Simple carbs are processed foods containing sugar and wheat. White sugar consumption increases brain inflammation, interferes with brain cell communication, slows thinking, and ultimately causes damage and death to brain cells. Gluten contributes to inflammation by increasing intestinal permeability and therefore initiating an inflammatory response. -even those who have no problem with gluten should consider minimizing their wheat consumption. * The glycemic index score of wheat (even whole wheat) is as high as white sugar. Two slices of whole wheat toast can raise your blood sugar as much as eating a Snickers!


More Anti-Inflammatory Brain Foods:


  • All ‘real teas’ (camellia sinensis), especially green tea.

  • Foods containing resveratrol - known for heart health and inflammation. - grapes, berries, pistachios, peanuts, cocoa powder, and dark chocolate.

  • Spice up your cooking - virtually all spices are anti-inflammatory. -ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, and rosemary are a few of the best for improving brain function.


Supplements that Reduce Brain Inflammation:

Supplements help supplement your diet, and can help jumpstart and speed up your efforts.


Supplements can be both anti-inflammatory and brain boosting.

  • Fish oil.

  • Curcumin (compound in turmeric) - natural antidepressant.

  • Acetyl l-carnitine - anti-inflammatory amino acid, has strong anti aging effects of the brain (clarity, alertness, focus, mood, and memory).

  • Vinpocetine (derived from the periwinkle plant) - increases blood flow to the brain and balances neurotransmitter balance.

  • Bacopa - herbal remedy that is known to help reduce stress, anxiety, boosts mental energy, and protects the brain from aging by calming chronic inflammation.

  • Magnesium - low magnesium is inked to high levels of pro-inflammatory markers.

Lessen Brain Inflammation with Lifestyle Medicine:


  • Sleep Shoot for at minimum 8 hours - anything less can increase inflammation.

  • Exercise 20 - 30 minutes of physical exercise per day reduces inflammation. Moderate exercise - overly strenuous can increase inflammation.

  • Stress Reduction Make time for self-care - stress reduction reduces inflammation (stress increases inflammatory cytokines). Meditation, yoga, breathing, time in nature are a few suggestions.

  • Reduce External Toxins Such as household chemicals (cleaning products) and personal body care (lotions, bug sprays, makeup, and sunscreen).

  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation Longest and most complex nerve in the body. You can strengthen the function of the vagus nerve with various mind-body activities such as singing, meditation, yoga, prayer, and cold showers.

  • Bring More Wonder Into Your Life Experience more moments of AWE. Be amazed by the beauty of nature, art, music, anything that inspires a feeling of connection and wonder within.

Inflammation and Mental Health Conditions:

While inflammation is a natural biological process, research has found that when inflammation becomes chronic it is the underlying source for depression and chronic disease.

  • Chemical messengers called cytokines deliver information between the brain and body when inflammation is occurring.

  • Elevated cytokines have been directly related to depression as well as a predictive measure of depression.

  • Once triggered these inflammatory messengers relay information to nerves like the vagus nerve which connects the brain and gut.

  • Inflammation may very well be the cause of depression rather than the response.

Optimizing our diet and lifestyle is instrumental to reducing inflammation in the gut as well as the brain. Upgrade your brain health simply makes your brain work better!



References:

  1. Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017; vol 7(4): 987 doi: 10.4081/cp.2017.987.

  2. Brogan K MD, Loberg K. A Mind of Your Own. Thorsons. 2016.

  3. Howren MB, Lamkin DM, Suls J. Association of depression with C-reactive protein, IL-1 and IL-6: A Meta-Analysis. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2009; vol 71(2): 171-86. 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181907c1b.

  4. Carvalho LA, Bergen V, Sumaski L, Wijkuijs J, Hoogendijk WJ, Drexhage HA. Inflammatory activation is associated with a reduced glucocorticoid receptor alpha/beta expression ratio in monocytes of inpatients with melancholic major depression disorder. Translational Psychiatry. 2014. https://www.nature.com/articles/tp2013118.

  5. Steiner J, Walter M, Gos T, Guillemin GJ, Berstein HG, Samyai Z, el al. Severe depression is associated with increased microbial quinolinic acid in subregions of the anterior cingulate gyrus: Evidence for an immune-modulated glutamatergic neurotransmission? J Neuroinflammation. 2011; vol 8: 94. 10.1186/1742-2094-8-94.

  6. Lui Y, Wang Y, Jiang C. Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017; 11: 316. 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00316.

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