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Chronic inflammation and poor brain function

Chronic inflammation and poor brain function

Key Takeaways:

  1. Acute inflammation is a crucial part of our innate response to infection or injury, but poorly regulated it can become chronic with detrimental results.
  2. Left untreated chronic inflammation can cause long term autoimmune conditions and impact brain health, function and mental wellbeing.
  3. Ensuring your diet is supported with anti-inflammatory foods & nutrients can help your body to better regulate its inflammatory response.
  4. Gut Health plays a major role in managing inflammation & reducing its effects on the body.
  5. Supplements can provide a natural, safe and effective solution to helping relieve and modulate inflammation.

Chronic Inflammation is at the root of most modern health issues, from Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cardiovascular disease to allergies, asthma and depression.

  

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural physiological response. It’s your body’s way of protecting itself from infection or injury.

There are two classifications of inflammation.

Acute inflammation:

  • Usually severe and short in duration.
  • Symptoms appear quickly.
  • Often heals in less than 2 weeks.
  • Restores your body to its pre-injury or illness state.

Chronic inflammation:

  • Slower.
  • More persistent.
  • Prolonged and lingering in duration.
  • Can occur even when there’s no injury.

To control inflammatory function your body needs the ability to both inflame and anti-inflame to heal. When your body is exposed to long-term (chronic) inflammation it’s unable to heal, negatively impacting your tissues and organs. Research has linked chronic inflammation to a range of disorders from cancer to Parkinson’s (1).

How does chronic inflammation influence brain function?

During an inflammatory reaction, greater than normal amounts of chemicals called cytokines are produced. Researchers discovered in the early 1980s that inflammatory cytokines can have debilitating neuropsychiatric consequences (2). Cytokines also hamper the activity of your ‘happy chemical’ serotonin (see ‘Your Complete Guide to Serotonin’).

While acute inflammation is easily recognized, often causing physical heat, pain, swelling and redness; chronic inflammation has a more subtle effect on the brain and body, and is more easily overlooked.

Physical symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea and reflux
  • weight gain
  • frequent infections
  • and rashes.

Some brain-related symptoms include:

  • brain fog
  • slow thinking
  • depression (3)
  • anxiety
  • and other mood disorders.

Cognitive and behavioral disturbances are seen in patients with high levels of inflammation (4).

Causes of inflammation:

There are a multitude of factors in our modern diet and lifestyle that contribute to inflammation—and thus suboptimal brain function. As well as obesity and smoking, here are the major causes of inflammation:

  • Untreated infection or injury: such as toxoplasma gondii and West Nile virus (5, 6).
  • Sleep deprivation: shown to increase inflammatory markers even in healthy individuals (7).
  • Poor diet: high in foods that produce inflammation, such as refined carbohydrates, sugar, rancid fats, trans fats and alcohol. Low in anti inflammatory foods such as omega-3 fatty acids, fermented foods and fibre.
  • An autoimmune disorder: this causes your immune system to attack its own healthy cells.
  • Lack of physical activity: sedentary behaviour is linked with “unfavourable” levels of adiposity-associated inflammation (8). A lack of physical activity also negatively impacts cognitive processes and memory, and can have depressive effects.
  • Poor gut health: the gut-brain axis (GBA) links emotional and cognitive areas of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions (8). Disruptions in the gut microbiome and leaky gut (see ‘What is leaky gut’) both play a role in inflammation.
  • Toxic exposure: industrial chemicals, pollution, preservatives and pesticides contribute to the body’s inflammatory load.

How to reduce inflammation and improve brain function:

Understanding the root causes of inflammation can have a profound effect on our ability to reduce it. If we address the above factors and adopt the below factors, we can reduce inflammation and improve our brain function.

Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet:

Diet quality can impact immune functioning and systemic inflammation levels, which subsequently predispose brain function (3).

Inflammation can be effectively managed with nutrition. This means eating a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet with high intakes of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish and legumes.

Many foods even boast anti-inflammatory properties, especially those which are high in antioxidants and polyphenols. Make sure to load your trolley with:

  • fruits, especially berries (9) and grapes (10)
  • fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and herring rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (11, 12)
  • broccoli (13, 14)
  • virgin olive oil (15, 16)
  • tomatoes (17)
  • and capsicum (18, 19).

In addition, fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut have been shown to positively alter brain activity (20).

As well as enjoying a variety of nutritious and anti-inflammatory foods, it’s critical to avoid inflammatory substances such as:

  • Refined carbohydrates: white bread, pasta, white rice, crackers.
  • Sugar: biscuits, pastries, cakes.
  • Trans fats: margarine, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  • Foods fried in refined oils: donuts, chips, fried chicken.
  • Soda and other sweetened beverages.

Be physically active:

Physical activity has long-term anti-inflammatory effects (21). While exercise initially releases inflammatory cytokines, it is quickly followed by the production of anti-inflammatory substances (22).

As well as reducing inflammation, exercise provides additional benefits to brain function. It increases the thickness of the cerebral cortex and improves the integrity of your nerve fibres. It also promotes neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to form new neural connections and change consistently throughout life (23).

Physical activity is also used as an effective treatment for many psychological disorders.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as tennis, jogging, cycling or swimming) a week.

Improve your gut health:

By controlling what is allowed in and out of the body, your gut and its microbes contribute to your immune system function and inflammation (24). Therefore, keeping your gut healthy is essential to keeping your brain healthy.

An inflammatory endotoxin called lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is able to provoke the release of inflammatory cytokines when too much of it escapes the gut and enters the bloodstream. This happens due to a condition called ‘leaky gut’, and it can have a profound effect on brain health.

We cover how to heal a leaky gut in our previous article ‘How to heal a leaky gut’.

Supplements:

Supplementation can help naturally modulate and safely reduce inflammation, supporting optimal brain health and function. myBrainCo.’s Brain Protect features researched-backed ingredients, premium standardised herbs, amino acids and essential nutrients to help relieve inflammation, including:

HydroCurc® – Curcuminoids

This is the most absorbable form of curcumin on the market. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, supported by a wealth of traditional and scientific research. It is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, allowing for direct benefit to your brain.

Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) – Decaffeinated

Green Tea is rich in polyphenol flavonoids called catechins. These are plant-based micro-nutrients packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols also increase healthy gut bacteria and may improve cognition (25).

Alpha-lipoic acid

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant and has been shown to lower C-reactive protein, a marker used to indicate levels of chronic inflammation. It can also regenerate other antioxidants including glutathione, vitamin C and vitamin E, extending their functional capacities in your body. Like Curcumin, research has also demonstrated ALA’s ability to cross your blood-brain barrier, allowing it to help protect against oxidative stress in your brain.

Saccharomyces Boulardii (Probiotic)

Saccharomyces boulardii (SB) such as that found in myBrainCo.’s Gut Repair supports a healthy gut microbiome by fertilising friendly bacteria and crowding out the bad ones. SB has demonstrated the ability to modulate gut immunity, kill Candida and reduce pro-inflammatory responses.

Takeaway:

Chronic inflammation plays a role in almost every major disease, including both neurodegenerative and mental health disorders. In identifying known sources of inflammation such as poor diet, and employing therapeutic and preventative measures, we can better manage inflammation and protect the health of our brain.

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