Your body's first line of defense against infection and injury is inflammation. This process will usually shut itself off when healing has finished, but problems can arise when the inflammation process forgets to turn itself off. In this scenario, the inflammation will turn on your body, attacking healthy cells, blood vessels, and tissues instead of protecting them. This is known as chronic or systemic inflammation.
This can develop anywhere in the body - including the brain. However, unlike the inflammation of an injury or arthritis, brain inflammation causes no pain due to the fact that the brain has no pain receptors. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean that it does not exist, and is causing hidden damage to your body's most vital organ.
While acute inflammation occurs as a result of injury or pathogens, chronic inflammation is often caused by an unhealthy lifestyle that continues to fuel the inflammation response long after it has helped in the healing process.
Chronic inflammation can lead to all sorts of seemingly unrelated problems such as:
• Autoimmune diseases
• Chronic infections
It has been dubbed a silent killer as it contributes to seven out of ten leading causes of death.
Chronic inflammation shuts down energy production in brain cells, causing mental fatigue as well as slowing down the firing of neurons. This can lead to further symptoms such as:
• Brain fog
• Lack of mental clarity
• Memory loss
• Slow mental processing
Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that it may also cause depression. In fact, some experts believe that depression may not be a disease, but rather a symptom of inflammation.
The medical world largely feels that depression is caused by low levels of "feel good" brain chemicals, usually serotonin and sometimes dopamine. However, this is only one theory - albeit a widely held one. As a result, millions of people worldwide are prescribed antidepressants based on the brain chemical model of depression. However, they work in less than 50% of those who are taking them, making them little more effective than a placebo.
There's another theory that suggests that brain inflammation is the root of all depression. A study carried out in 2015 by Canadian researchers from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health's (CAMH) Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute in Toronto used positron emission tomography (PET) to examine the brains of 20 patients suffering from depression and 20 people who were not.
These PET scans revealed the patients who were suffering from depression showed significant inflammation in their brain, and that the severity of the inflammation was concurrent with the severity of their depression. The brains of those who were experiencing clinical depression exhibited an inflammatory increase of around 30%.
It was not possible to ascertain whether the depressed patients showed brain inflammation before they became depressed, or after the onset of the first symptoms. However, the team of researchers were the first ones to find definitive evidence of inflammation in brains of those suffering from depression.
Your Brain's Immune System
It is well-known that our brain has its own immune system. Microglia are immune cells found in the brain that are your central nervous system's first and main line of defense. Their job is to protect your brain and spinal cord from pathogens and to clear away any metabolic debris, such as beta amyloid plaques found in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer's. By weight, the brain is made up of 50% microglia cells.
Once a microglia cell has been activated, it will create inflammation for the rest of its life - there is no "on" or "off" switch. Additionally, they cause a domino effect by stimulating other microglia to become active.
There are many health and lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of activating your microglia, producing brain inflammation, and these include:
• Lack of exercise
• High carbohydrate diet
• Chronic stress
• Heart disease
• Head trauma
• Gluten (for those who are gluten-intolerant)
• Substance abuse
• Exposure to environmental toxins
• Digestive disorders
• Vitamin B deficiency
• Systemic inflammation
• Compromised blood-brain barrier
According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a compromised blood-brain barrier is one of the leading causes of brain inflammation.
The blood-brain barrier is a finely woven mesh of specialized blood vessels and cells that are there to keep foreign substances out of the brain. But when it's damaged, it can become leaky, allowing toxins, and pathogens to enter the brain, which in turn activates the microglia to produce inflammation.
Natural Ways to Control Brain Inflammation
Inflammation is not an all-or-nothing state, but a continuum. There is no way to get rid of inflammation, and nor should you try to do so, as some inflammation activity is essential. However, you do want to minimize inflammation once it has gotten out of control and its effect have become negative. Here are some great ways to keep chronic inflammation under control.
The food that you eat can either increase or decrease inflammation. Here's how you can eat more anti-inflammatory foods and minimize pro-inflammatory ones.
Give Your Brain an Oil Change
One of the simple dietary changes that you can make is cutting back on omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils such as canola, corn, soy, and safflower oil. Instead, switch to extra virgin olive oil and organic coconut oil which both contain anti-inflammatory properties instead.
Furthermore, choose grass-fed and pasture-fed meat, poultry, and eggs over grain-fed as these contain more omega-3 fats and fewer inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
Eliminate Processed Carbohydrates That Contain Sugar and Wheat
Consuming white sugar not only increases brain inflammation, but it also interferes with brain cell communication, slows thinking, and eventually causes damage and death to healthy brain cells. Instead of sugar, use honey since it is an anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibiotic, and antiseptic.
Wheat products may harm your brain in a number of ways. If you're among the millions with a gluten sensitivity, eliminating wheat is essential to reduce inflammation in your gut and brain. But even if you don't have a gluten problem, you should still try to limit your consumption.
This is why: Wheat raises your blood sugar levels a lot more than white sugar. In fact, two slices of whole wheat toast raises your blood sugar levels more than when you eat a candy bar.
Eat and Drink Anti-Inflammatory Flavonols
Flavanols are a group of anti-inflammatory compounds found in plants. They can also be found in abundance in chocolate, berries, tea, coffee, beer, and wine.
Virtually all herbs and spices are anti-inflammatory, so be sure to include a lot of them in your diet. Ginger, rosemary, and turmeric are among the best for improving brain health and function.
Besides from altering your diet, there are other aspects of a healthy lifestyle that can reduce inflammation.
Getting enough sleep can keep inflammation at bay. Reducing your exposure to artificial light in the evening will help you sleep better as it enables your body to produce melatonin, your body's natural sleep hormone that's also a potent anti-inflammatory.
Making sure that you get at least 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise a day will also help stave of inflammation.
Brain Inflammation: The Bottom Line
• Inflammation is a necessary response to injury and pathogens, but it can sometimes get out control, becoming chronic.
• Chronic inflammation can occur anywhere in the body including the brain.
• Chronic brain inflammation may be responsible for a wide range of brain-related problems, including depression.
• Adopting a healthy anti-inflammatory lifestyle - making positive changes in diet, sleep, exercise, and stress levels - will help keep inflammation at bay.