More Than Just Inflammation

More Than Just Inflammation

Our ability to fend off microscopic invaders, such as bacteria, viruses and other pathogens is dependent on our immune system operating efficiently. This means that it has to be able to recognize foreign particles as not being part of our self, and it has to learn from experience that if a virus comes along a second time it needs to make rapid responses to prevent from being infected again. It also has to have an excellent communication network so that immune cells know when to multiply and then efficiently attack and destroy foreign particles. It also must know when the battle is done so that they can go into a quiet state rather than continuing in a fight mode that could potentially result in these immune cells attacking the self, resulting in an autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus erythematosus.

The immune system can influence the brain, and the brain can affect immune responses.

In addition to communication that occurs between immune cells, the immune system can influence the brain, and the brain can affect immune responses. There’s hardly anyone who wouldn’t agree that stressful experiences, especially if they are uncontrollable and chronic, will cause the emergence of a depressive disorder or exacerbate one that is already present. There are far fewer people, however, who are aware that activation of the inflammatory immune system can also have some effects that are similar to those elicited by psychological or physical stressors. In fact, some of the hormonal and brain neurochemical effects elicited by stressful events are also apparent in response to immunological insults, and when immune challenge occurs on the backdrop of a stressful environment, these biological changes, and the accompanying depressive-like features, are that much more pronounced.

Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, our mood may be a giveaway as to what’s happening in parts of our body. 

On occasion, our mood may be down and a friend might notice this, saying “you seem pretty down, are you feeling okay?” You might feel a bit lethargic and respond with something like “yeah, I’m feeling a bit sluggish, but I don’t know why,” to which your friend might comment with “Maybe you’re coming down with something.” Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, our mood may be a giveaway as to what’s happening in parts of our body. Essentially, following exposure to a virus several days may transpire before you show symptoms of the illness. But, your immune system goes into action quickly to minimize illness, and your activated immune cells may be sending messages to the brain, instructing you to slow down and conserve energy that you’ll need in a day or two.

Depression and heart disease are frequently comorbid conditions, and the presence of one of these illnesses can be a grim predictor of the other appearing some time down the way.

This action is obviously one that is advantageous in that it prevents adverse outcomes. However, there are occasions where the immune activation is far too persistent, possibly stemming from a failure to destroy infectious factors that persist in our body or as a result of inflammation that accompanies gum disease or an inflammatory bowel disorder, and even chronic stressors elicit such outcomes. When this occurs, damage can develop in some organs, and indeed coronary artery disease may develop as a result of inflammatory factors, just as depression may evolve as a result of chronic inflammation. Depression and heart disease are frequently comorbid conditions, and the presence of one of these illnesses can be a grim predictor of the other appearing some time down the way. In fact, inflammatory processes have increasingly been linked to diverse pathologies in addition to autoimmune disorders, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, as well as type 2 diabetes, and even neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Importantly, these illnesses don’t appear overnight and are likely the culmination of many years of stressful experiences, poor life style choices and activation of inflammatory processes. In light of this, it’s probably a good idea to start dealing with these issues now, rather than when symptoms appear.


Make This Science Work For You

By Orsha Magyar

The fact that our inflammatory immune system can affect our bodies and brains similarly to an actual stressful event is scary because it means something we can’t usually see like chronic inflammation could be slowly creating or exacerbating a brain or mental health condition. We need to begin taking measures to calm inflammation and upgrade our immune system before it turns on us and attacks. And our diet is key.

Here are 3 foods to include daily, to bust inflammation and promote brain and mental health

1. Colour yourself happy and healthy.

The more (naturally) vibrant your food, the higher in antioxidant rich plant pigments and other phytochemicals it is. Think the rainbow here, with brightly coloured, phytonutrient rich red, orange (even an edible bowl!), yellow, blue and purple vegetables* and fruits, and dark leafy greens. Start by including 1 at every meal and snack, then increase it to 2—and see how high you can get the number.

2. Get fatty (acids, that is).

Omega-3 fats are possibly the biggest reason nutrition has street cred in the neuroscience world. This is because their ability to fight inflammation has pretty sweet effects on reducing depression and ADHD. Think flax, chia and hemp seeds and oil, avocados, almonds and walnuts, dark leafy greens and fatty fish like wild salmon, halibut, black cod, sardine, mackerel and anchovy. Add one source of omega-3 to each meal and snack (it counts if you drizzle one of the oils or seeds into a smoothie or add to a salad dressing. Easy!)

3. Spice it up.

Pretty much all our herbs and spices* have anti-inflammatory properties, so make it your personal daily mission to add at least one fresh herb or dried spice to every meal and snack. Choose your favourites. Some of the most powerful include ginger, turmeric, rosemary, cloves, cinnamon, oregano, sage and thyme and black pepper. Get creative, be spicy everyday!

*A small number of people react negatively to nightshade fruits and vegetables (and the spices made from them) so if your inflammatory immune system is jacked up because you have an autoimmune (aka. inflammatory) disease, it’s recommended you steer clear. A simple test to see if you might be sensitive to them is to eat some and see if you get joint pain. If you do, please avoid (at least for a month before trying again). Nightshades include tomatoes, white (but not sweet) potatoes, peppers (bell peppers, chilies, jalapeños, habaneros, and any spices made from peppers like paprika, red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper (although black pepper is a different plant), eggplant and some berries like goji berries (sorry health nuts!), garden huckleberries, ground cherries and cape gooseberries.

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