· By PYM STORE
How does decreasing inflammation impact your mental health? “
“Inflammation” is a buzzword that seems to be popping up more now than ever. And it’s for a good reason. People are finally starting to give this issue the attention that it deserves.
The CDC estimates that over 3 million American adults have been diagnosed with some kind of inflammatory bowel disease, the most common of which are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. However, the category of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) applies to any issues that cause chronic inflammation in the gut.
Studies show that those who have IBD are at a higher risk of suffering from other chronic conditions including:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
But arguably the biggest chronic condition that results from IBD that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is mental health issues.
Researchers have found that many mental health conditions are associated with inflammation including:
- Bipolar disorder
And studies also show that inflammation in the gut is directly connected to inflammation in the brain.
Though we can’t attribute inflammation to being the sole cause of mental health issues, in order to reduce the chances of exacerbating mental health concerns, it’s a good idea to get gut, and thus, brain inflammation under control.
Here we discuss how.
Why lowering inflammation may help your mental health
The gut-brain connection was at one point just an idea people were throwing around. However, that is no longer the case. Over the past few years, great research has been done and from it has emerged an entirely new discipline that focuses more deeply on this connection. It’s called immunopsychiatry.
Key advances have been made that show an undeniable correlation between inflammation and autoimmune issues with depression and more. This means great hope for those who are suffering with immune-related mental health issues as it provides ways in which treatment can be specifically targeted to cut down on inflammation while also improving mental health.
Before we get into that, let’s first talk about what inflammation in the body looks like.
How do I know if my body and/or brain are inflamed?
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to a form of threat or injury, and in some cases, inflammation can actually be good.
Consider this: when you cut your finger, your body reacts by swelling and turning red. It does this in order to direct its resources to heal and protect your finger. In instances such as this, we love a little bit of inflammation that temporarily sends our body into fight-or-flight mode only long enough to heal.
However, the problems arise when inflammation becomes chronic and when your body stays in that fight-or-flight mode.
Here are key signs that you are suffering from chronic inflammation:
- Body pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Other mood disorders
- Acid reflux
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Frequent infections
Why is inflammation bad for mental health?
While none of the symptoms of inflammation are ones that anyone wants to deal with, one of the biggest motivators to get inflammation under control is its effect on mental health.
Studies have shown that inflammation has the power to alter brain function. Take, for example, a study that looked at how dietary patterns affect mental health. It showed that a diet high in red meat, to-go meals from restaurants, refined foods, and sugars was associated with not only a higher BMI (body mass index) but also depressive symptoms. This occurred largely due to the inflammation in the body that this type of diet causes.
This is one of many studies that prove the link between inflammation and neurocircuit changes in the brain that can, over time, lead to the development of depression as well as a lack of response to current antidepressant treatments.
Again, acute inflammation is not a bad thing – in fact, it is needed for our body to properly respond to threats and harm. However, it is when that inflammation becomes chronic that it starts to put mental health at risk.
How to decrease inflammation
If you are worried that you’re suffering from chronic inflammation, don’t accept defeat. There are things you can do to help decrease that inflammation and thus, hopefully, improve your mental health.
Avoid inflammatory foods
As mentioned above, diet plays a major role in inflammation. Thus, it’s important to maintain a diet that is free and clear of the main markers of inflammation.
The most inflammatory foods include:
- Fried foods
- Vegetable/seed oils (canola oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, rice bran oil)
- Hydrogenated fats
- Process foods
- Red meat
- Refined carbohydrates
- Refined grains
Increase intake of anti-inflammatory foods
While cutting out inflammatory foods, you can simultaneously add in foods that are known to fight inflammation.
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens)
- Chia seeds
The last two foods on the last (salmon and flaxseed) are especially key because they contain omega-3 fatty acids.
These acids have been proven in studies to be very important for keeping inflammation down, which, in turn, improves neurotransmitter function. Conversely, if your brain is deficient in omega-3, you run the risk of having low dopamine and serotonin levels.
If you aren’t able to get your omega-3s from food, you can turn to fish oil supplements to get the job done.
Reduce mental stress
Chronic stress leads to inflammation and inflammation leads to chronic stress. It’s a vicious cycle that you don’t want to be a part of. The best way to steer clear of that is to reduce the stress in your life.
There are a few ways that you can do this. One is to practice yoga and meditation as ways to help calm the mind.
Another thing you may find great success with is breath work. There is no shortage of studies that have been done that show breath work can help control the body’s stress response.
A personal favorite of ours is adding a GABA supplement to your daily routine. GABA is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid and it is a neurotransmitter that occurs naturally in the brain. It’s what helps your brain feel calm. Thus, when you increase your GABA levels, you can find yourself feeling less anxious, stressed, and depressed.
Reduce physical stress
A great way to battle inflammation is by lowering your physical stress via exercise. The right amount of exercise and the right kinds (not too often and not too strenuous) can help to increase your body’s circulation while also reducing stress.
Another key to ridding of inflammation is getting between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation can cause the body to react in a number of ways, including increased inflammation.
Studies that show the correlation between inflammation in the body and mental health are so many that they can’t be ignored. If you’re looking to improve your mental health, take a look at the different factors in your life that may be causing the root problem of inflammation. To decrease inflammation in the body, cut out inflammatory foods, add in anti-inflammatory foods, practice yoga, meditation and/or breath work, add in a GABA supplement, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.