I’m sure you’ve heard of chronic low-grade inflammation. But what is it? How does it effect your brain? And where’s the extinguisher?!
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation is your body’s natural method to remove bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins and other foreign molecules. When you are cut, the area swells and reddens – this is inflammation working to prevent infection. But today’s diet and lifestyle puts our bodies under constant stress, which leads to chronic low-grade inflammation where upon the body becomes confused and starts attacking its healthy cells!
It’s not obviously seen, but inflammation is there and leads to many modern-day maladies such as heart disease, stroke, autoimmune disease, inflammatory bowel, food allergies, chronic infection, arthritis, fatigue, obesity, physical pain, and so on.
HOW DOES CHRONIC INFLAMMATION DAMAGE YOUR BRAIN?
Inflammation wears down delicate brain cells and eventually causes structural damage to nerves, resulting in neurological disease including autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
It also alters mood and behavior, causing:
- Severe depression (which leads to more inflammation)
- Anxiety and panic disorder
- Bipolar disorder
Inflammation, even at low levels, breaks down tryptophan from which the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin is derived. Without serotonin, life just doesn’t feel good.
WHAT CAUSES INFLAMMATION?
- Free radicals (molecule fragments that damage cells and cause inflammation)
- Trans or hydrogenated fats
- Excessive Omega 6 fatty acids, mostly from vegetable oils, soy and factory farmed animal products that ought to be avoided. Omega 6’s are necessary but should be consumed in moderation and balanced with omega 3’s and other anti-inflammatory foods (see below).
- Sugar and other high glycemic foods that spike insulin
- Imbalanced gut bacteria. The body constantly attacks unwanted microbes in the gut, producing constant inflammation.
- Food allergies and intolerance, like to gluten or dairy
- Heavy metals, pesticides and other environmental toxins
- Processed and refined foods
- Food additives, particularly MSG and aspartame
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Vitamin deficiency
- Excess weight
WHAT CALMS INFLAMMATION?
- Antioxidants which keep free radicals under control
- Wild caught cold-water fish and its oil, which is high in the Omega 3’s EPA and DHA. Also found in eggs and some algae. Grass-fed animal products (meat, milk, butter, eggs) are lower in Omega 6’s and higher in Omega 3’s.
- The Omega 3 alpha linolenic acid (ALA) in flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts
- The only anti-inflammatory Omega 6, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), in oils of evening primrose, borage and black current seed
- All herbs and spices, especially turmeric and ginger
- Green vegetables
- Purple/deep red foods
- Green tea, especially Japanese matcha
- Stress management
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE IT?
I always like the approach of “eliminate and see how you feel.” For instance, remove dairy or gluten from your diet and observe changes in mood, behavior and other indications of inflammation.
C-reactive protein is the blood marker of inflammation. In other words, this protein increases in the blood as you become more inflamed. It’s also a strong predictor of coronary heart disease (much more reliable than LDL cholesterol). Go to your doctor to get tested.