So, my diet is making me anxious? Maybe.
There is a growing body of research that shows how brain inflammation is connected to practically all types of mental health conditions. Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as more serious conditions like autism, dementia, and even schizophrenia, have all been linked to inflammation of the brain. Inflammation may also be a significant factor in physical health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, allergies, autoimmune conditions and even cancer.
So, what is inflammation, and why does it negatively affect us?
The word inflammation comes from the Latin “inflammo,” meaning “I set alight, I ignite.” Inflammation is the body’s attempt at self-protection to remove harmful stimuli and begin the healing process. Therefore, it’s part of the body’s immune response. Specifically, inflammation is the body’s response to environmental irritants, toxins, and infection. When something harmful or irritating affects a part of the body, there is a biological response to try to remove it. So, inflammation is actually the body’s attempt to try to heal itself.
In a normal functioning immune system, there exists a natural balance between inflammation and the anti-inflammatory agents. However, in some cases, the immune system can get “stuck in high gear” – in the inflammation response – so symptoms of inflammation will not recede. This condition is known as chronic inflammation. It’s kinda like how our bodies can also get stuck in a chronic stress response causing heightened anxiety, overwhelm and panic attacks.
Chronic inflammation that persists over a significant period of time can lead to damage or destruction of tissue, which ultimately can lead to heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia, ADHD, autism, and mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
So, what causes body and brain inflammation?
Digestive imbalances: There is a significant amount of evidence suggesting that inflammation is rooted in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The digestive system is designed to remove toxins, bacteria and viruses from our food before it has a chance to reach the rest of the body; the GI tract is the body’s first line of defense against infection and disease. Unfortunately, the digestive tract is often overwhelmed by what we put into it. Poor nutrition, foods high in chemicals, pesticides, preservatives and/or GMOs, along with medications, stress, and environmental toxins can damage the gut and cause inflammation, which then spreads unchecked throughout the rest of the body.
Consuming food such as these can lead to inflammation:
- Refined sugars
- Processed and refined flours (white bread, cookies, pasta, crackers, and more)
- Foods high in acids
- Dairy products
- Animal fats
- Food Allergens (hidden food allergies cause body and brain inflammation)
Environmental and lifestyle factors also affect inflammation:
- Exposure to toxic metals (mercury, lead, cadmium)
- History of infections
- Environmental toxins (pesticides, herbicides, food additives and preservatives)
- Chronic stress
- Lack of exercise, sedentary habits
- Nutritional deficiencies (B12, vitamin D, essential fatty acids, vitamin C)
- Overuse of antibiotics and acid blocking medications
- Poor sleep habits
Inflammation Reduction Strategies
The good news is that there are several things you can do to promote your body’s natural anti-inflammatory response and restore natural balance to your immune system.
- Exercise stimulates your body’s anti-inflammatory abilities and keeps your blood circulating at its optimum level. Begin slowly, and work your way up until you are getting 20-30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times per week.
- Rest and stress management are vital to keeping your immune system in proper working order. Make sure you are getting enough good sleep, and find a relaxation technique that you enjoy. Deep-breathing exercises are an excellent restorative approach that can easily be done every day several times.
Eat An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Make sure you’re getting plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids. These oils are in short supply in our diet, and most people require a supplement to ensure they are getting enough Omega-3s in their system.
- Avoid regular safflower and sunflower oils, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and mixed vegetable oils. Focus instead on olive oil, nut oils and coconut oil.
- Avoid margarine, vegetable shortening, and all products listing them as ingredients. Avoid products made with partially hydrogenated oils.
- Eat avocados and nuts, especially walnuts, cashews, almonds, and nut butters made from these nuts.
- Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are salmon (preferably fresh or frozen wild sockeye or Alaskan), sardines packed in water or olive oil, herring, omega-3 fortified eggs, hemp seeds and flaxseeds (preferably freshly ground, use cautiously if you are male as flax is high in estrogen), or take a fish oil supplement.
- A high-alkaline diet – one that includes plenty of green, leafy vegetables – is invaluable in combating inflammation.
- Eat cruciferous (cabbage-family) vegetables regularly. Eat plenty of organic brightly colored fruits. Drink pomegranate juice, and green tea daily for their anti-oxidant effects.
- Eat more vegetable protein from soy products such as tofu, edamame, soynuts, and soymilk.
- Whole grains, brown rice, and bulgur wheat are less inflammatory than white flour products.
- Stay away from refined foods. Added sugars, convenience foods, and refined carbohydrates provide little nutritional value and provoke inflammation. In other words read your nutritional labels!
- Consider taking an anti-inflammatory supplement such as these which are high in bioflavonoids and other beneficial anti-inflammatory agents that are useful in reducing inflammation: Digestive Enzymes, Turmeric, Omega 3 Fatty Acids (fish oil), Anti-inflammatory powder drinks, Herbal anti-inflammatory supplements
By making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can find yourself feeling energized, refreshed, and filled with a sense of well-being. By taking steps to reduce inflammation, you will greatly improve the quality of your life.