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Inflammation And Your Brain

 What is INFLAMMATION and what it is doing to your Brain?

Inflammation is a vital process for the body.  The body uses inflammation to heal itself against something that it thinks is harmful.  You can recognize inflammation as the redness and swelling that occurs when you get a cut or sprain your ankle.  Inflammation also occurs internally when you are sick and the body needs to fight off the infection.  The problem occurs when the inflammation process is in excess to what is needed or becomes chronic meaning that it lasts for a longer time than it should.

It is easy to understand how chronic inflammation can be linked to conditions such as arthritis and autoimmune disorders since typically the treatment is an anti-inflammatory medication.  Chronic inflammation, however, is also linked to many chronic conditions that you might not think of including: coronary artery disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s dementia, multiple sclerosis, along with chronic pain syndromes such as migraines and fibromyalgia.

Chronic inflammation is not just confined to a particular tissue but involves different organs in the body including the brain.  Some signs that you have inflammation in your body are obvious such as joint pain and redness.  The problem, however, is when inflammation occurs throughout your body, the signs of inflammation may not be as obvious. Your body can have chronic inflammation occurring and you don’t even realize it.  Some of the symptoms that have been associated with chronic inflammation include:  fatigue or lethargy, somnolence, brain fog, weakness, anxiety, depression, irritability and headaches.

Why does inflammation cause damage?  Inflammation is a complex biological reaction. Basically, when the body is injured, white blood cells, which are the body’s first responders to a problem, are recruited to the site of damage.  They release chemicals, which are pro-inflammatory including histamines, cytokines (interleuking-6, interleukin-1B and tumor necrosis factor), prostaglandins, and leukotrienes.  These chemicals then cause an activation of pathways that leads to increased free radical production.  When there is an increased free radical production with decreased levels of antioxidants, it leads to oxidation stress.  Oxidative stress causes damage to the cells and proteins.  This damage causes more inflammation, which causes more free radicals and the cycle continues.  Since oxidative tissues and cells do not function normally, this leads to organ dysfunction and chronic health problems.

Causes of Inflammation

  1. Stress
  2. Trauma/injury
  3. Infections
  4. Pollution/toxins such as tobacco smoke
  5. Chemicals including some drugs and artificial sweeteners
  6. Obesity and adipose tissue (especially central fat)
  7. Food allergies and sensitivities (gluten, soy, nuts, shellfish, dairy, egg)
  8. Processed grains and refined carbs i.e. carbohydrates with relatively high glycemic index
  9. Trans-fatty acids and omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids that are found in many vegetable oils

So what can we do to prevent or decrease inflammation?

First is to remove any of the things listed above that can be a contribution to inflammation.   This includes removing processed foods, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, high GI carbs along with any food from your diet to which that you are sensitive.   You should also commit to decreasing stress, stop smoking and losing weight (decreasing body fat).

There are foods that have been reported to have natural anti-inflammatory properties including:

  1. Spices Turmeric, Garlic, Cayenne, Cinnamon and Ginger
  2. Foods that are high in fiber such as fruits and vegetables
  3. Food that are high in Omega 3 such as salmon, anchovies, flax seed, walnuts, chia seed and sachi inchi
  4. Food that is high in magnesium including dark greens and quinoa (for other good sources of magnesium click here)
  5. Super foods such as Ashwagandha, reishi mushroom, and holy basil

Ketones or Ketone bodies, specifically B- hydroxybutyrate, have been shown to decrease inflammation in your body.  Ketones including B- hydroxybutyrate are a naturally occurring by-product of burning fat when the body is low in carbohydrates or proteins. Ketosis or the production of ketone bodies occurs if you eat a very low carbohydrate diet such as the ketogenic diet or during times of starvation.   Up until recently this was the only way to feel the benefits of ketones, an alternative fuel source for the body.  Just in the last year a supplement became available that contains the ketone body, B- hydroxybutyrate.  When the supplement is taken, it will put your body into a state of ketosis in just 60 minutes, no matter how many carbohydrates you have eaten.

Exercise is also a great way to decrease inflammation. Exercise can  decrease stress and obesity which then can decrease inflammation.  Additionally, exercise directly lowers inflammatory cytokines. Population studies have shown that people who preform more frequent physical activity have lower levels of inflammatory cytokines, even after adjusting for obesity (BMI).  Lastly, there is also positive data from randomized controlled trials showing that increasing aerobic physical activity is effective in decreasing chronic inflammation.

In summary, if we don’t want inflammation and all the consequences of inflammation, we have to be more committed to more healthy living.  Including watching what we eat and what we should not eat, along with starting a regular exercise program. You and your brain deserve it.

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Bibliography

Beavers, K. M. (2010). Effect of exercise training on chronic inflammation. Clinica Chimica Acta , 411, 785-793.

Gabay, C. M. (1999). Acute-Phase Proteins and other Systemic Responses to Inflammation. New England Journal of Medicine , 340 (6), 448-454.

Galland, L. M. (2010). Diet and Inflammation. Nutrition in Clinical Practice , 35 (6), 634-640.

Hunt, K. J. (2010). Inflammation in Aging Part 1: Physiology and Immunological Mechanisms. Biological Research for Nursing , 11 (3), 245-252.

Lucas, S.-M. e. (2006). The role of inflammation in CNS injury and disease. British Journal of Pharmacology , 147, S232-240.

Morgillo, F. e. (2007). Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress in human carcinogensis. Internation Journal of Cancer , 121 (11), 2381-2386.

Youm, Yun-Hee. (2015). Ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate blocks the NLRP3 inflammasome-mediated inflammatory disease. Nature Medicine, 21 (3), 263-269.

This site is purely informative and should not be considered medical advice. It is not intended to be used to diagnosis or treat any disease.  Please consult your physician before starting any fitness program or new supplement.