The health of our brain and our mental health are deeply linked to our physical health and our health on a holistic level. When you experience certain physical symptoms, it can also contribute to mental health symptoms.
Inflammation is one of the most adverse processes that affect our mental and physical health.
There are acute effects of inflammation from an accident or injury, for example. Then, there is chronic inflammation, which most often comes from certain lifestyle choices and behaviors. For example, if you eat a highly-processed diet rather than focusing on whole foods, you’re more likely to have chronic inflammation.
That chronic inflammation can then affect your mental health negatively.
Understanding the links between chronic inflammation and mental health is a good starting point so that you can start to make changes in your lifestyle that may reduce symptoms of conditions like anxiety and depression.
What is Chronic Inflammation?
Inflammation is a big topic of discussion currently because doctors and researchers are getting a handle on the far-reaching effects it can have on our health and wellbeing in every sense.
Inflammation is a process that your body uses to fight harmful things. It’s important when you have an infection for example or an injury because inflammation is how your body works to heal yourself.
When something causes harm or damage to your cells, your body releases chemicals via your immune system as part of that healing.
The immune response can include proteins and antibodies, and with acute inflammation, this usually lasts for a few days.
Chronic inflammation means this state is longer-lasting so that your body is on high-alert constantly.
Symptoms of chronic inflammation can include fatigue, mouth sores, rashes, and abdominal pain.
Chronic inflammation can be linked to alcohol use, chronic stress, smoking, and obesity. It can also occur because of an autoimmune disorder when your immune system accidentally attacks your healthy tissue.
Ongoing irritant exposure can also cause chronic inflammation.
What Are the Effects of Chronic Inflammation?
When your body’s inflammatory response is constantly “on” it can cause damage to your healthy cells, your organs, and your tissues. The long-term result of this damage can be DNA damage, internal scarring, and the death of tissue.
Some of the conditions linked to chronic inflammation are neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Heart disease, obesity, and asthma may be related, as well.
Anxiety and Inflammation
When you have anxiety, you may not realize it, but it can be related to inflammation as well.
Researchers have found high levels of inflammation in the body can mean increased anxiety.
This could occur in different ways.
For example, if you experience chronic stress, that can in-turn increase inflammation. If you can reduce your stress, you can reduce your inflammation in many cases.
Not getting enough sleep can increase inflammation markers, and that can then lead to more anxiety symptoms.
If you have a sedentary lifestyle, meaning you don’t do much physical activity throughout the day, it increases inflammation, which can up the likelihood you’ll deal with symptoms of anxiety.
Even just 20 minutes of walking at a moderate pace each day can reduce inflammatory markers and help reduce anxiety.
If you drink too much alcohol, it can cause inflammation, particularly in the gut. Alcohol is associated with mental health disorders and worsening of anxiety symptoms over time too.
Depression and Inflammation
Depression is not considered an inflammatory disorder, but studies do often show increased inflammatory markers in people with depression.
Inflammation may reduce the availability of something called monoamines. Ultimately what happens is that it can reduce the availability of important brain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.
The relationship between depression and inflammation is even more solidified in patients who don’t respond to their antidepressant medications.
What Can You Do to Reduce Inflammation?
There are ways you can reduce chronic inflammation and hopefully also improve your mental and physical health.
There are medications such as corticosteroids that doctors sometimes prescribe. These medications work by suppressing the immune system and reducing inflammation. Long-term use can cause serious side effects including high blood pressure and vision problems.
Some people use natural spices and supplements to help manage their inflammation.
For example, fish oil and turmeric have been shown to have positive inflammation-lowering effects. Cooking with ginger, cayenne and garlic can help too.
In general, eating a healthy diet can go a long way to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Foods that have antioxidants and polyphenols that are anti-inflammatory include olive oil and leafy greens like spinach and kale. Tomatoes, fatty fish like salmon, nuts, and certain fruits such as berries and cherries can lower and combat inflammation.
Foods that increase inflammation, on the other hand, include refined carbohydrates like white bread, baked goods, and pastries. Fried foods, red meat, and processed meat like sausage are all linked to higher inflammation levels.
Other ways to control inflammation are:
- Exercising: Getting regular physical activity is critical for reducing inflammation and giving your mental health a boost. You should try to do aerobic exercise at least 40 to 45 minutes four to five times a week. You should also try to do around 20 minutes of weight training or resistance training several times a week.
- Weight loss: If you are overweight, you likely have more inflammation, and losing weight can help combat inflammation.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress is a contributor to chronic inflammation, so work on finding techniques that help you deal with stress productively. This could mean meditation or yoga, or perhaps some other stress management technique.
Inflammation can be a good thing when it helps our body heal from an infection or injury, but ongoing inflammation is one of the biggest contributors to some of the most deadly diseases. Making lifestyle changes can help you improve your mental health since there are links between inflammation and disorders like anxiety and depression.
Lifestyle changes can also help you improve your physical health and your likelihood of developing certain chronic conditions.