When Our Body's Defense System Turns Against Us - Chronic Inflammation
When I start to write a new blog, I pay attention to what the most current topic is that is getting a lot of attention. Right now, inflammation has the honors of being most talked about. We all somewhat understand what happens when we have a cut and the skin around it gets all red. We say that the cut is inflamed. That is our body’s defense system coming in to kill any bacteria that might be present. Technically, acute inflammation is our body’s natural and helpful immune response to tissue damage. Our immune system responds to the injury by sending white blood cells to repair our damaged tissue. We would not be able to live if we didn’t have a strong immune system.
How Chronic Inflammation Strikes
Chronic inflammation is a different story. With chronic inflammation our body is confused and has a damaging immune response to environmental, physical and mental attackers. This response is triggered by poor diet, toxic chemicals, and stress. If immune cells start to overreact to the damage, that inflammation can be directed against us. We do not want this type of response to become our normal.
Here are some of the causes of chronic inflammation:
- Poor dietary choices, too many animal products, sugary drinks, trans fats and certain unhealthy saturated fats and excess alcohol
- Gut health issues
- Food allergies
- Chronic infections (bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites)
- Stress and exhaustion
- Sedentary lifestyle
Over time chronic inflammation can wear out your immune system. Our internal defense system is now depleted and that can lead to chronic diseases and other health issues such as: cancer, asthma, autoimmune diseases, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, osteoporosis, and changes your appearance to look older than you actually are. There is another type of inflammation that responds to emotional stress. Instead of blood cells rushing to one part of the body,
inflammatory markers called C-reactive protein are released into the blood stream and travel throughout the body. This is the body’s response to a perceived threat – a fight or flight response that gets the adrenalin pumping. But unrelenting stress over a long period of time – even being stuck in the past on a stressful event – can cause C-reactive protein levels to be constantly elevated resulting in being a factor for many chronic diseases.
Chronic Inflammation in Our Brain
Let’s take a specific look at inflammation in our brain. The first big difference of brain inflammation over body inflammation is that there is no pain associated with an inflamed brain. You need to understand what symptoms of chronic brain inflammation are so that you can get control of the situation before major damage is done to your brain. If chronic inflammation establishes itself in the brain, it leads to measurable brain shrinkage, especially in the areas associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic brain inflammation shuts down energy production in brain bringing about mental fatigue, brain fog, and memory loss. Numerous neurological and psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have been linked to chronic inflammation.
How the Brain’s Immune System Initiates Inflammation
Being the miraculous organ that it is – our brain actually has its own immune system! Microglia are immune cells in the brain that are the central nervous systems main line of defense. Their specific job is to protect the brain and spinal cord from bacteria and clear away metabolic debris, such as beta amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. 50% of brain cells are microglia cells – indicating how important they are. Once a microglia is activated, it creates inflammation for the rest of its lifespan. These cells have no on-off switch. Additionally, they cause a domino effect of further inflammation by stimulating other microglia to become active. (https://bebrainfit.com/brain-inflammation/)
How do microglia cells become activated? We have a defense system covering the brain called the blood-brain barrier. It is a finely woven mesh of specialized cells and blood vessels whose primary job is to keep foreign substances out of the brain. But should this barrier become damaged it allows toxins and pathogens to cross over into the brain, activating the microglia to produce inflammation. Unfortunately, when the blood-brain barrier becomes permeable it allows inflammation that originated in other parts of the body to activate microglia and start the inflammation response there also.
If the Damage Is Done, What Can You Do?
Chronic inflammation is an on-going process. You won’t be able to get rid of all inflammation, but you do want to minimize it once it has gotten out of control. Probably the first line of defense against chronic inflammation is to incorporate an anti-inflammatory diet. Proper nutrition is critical to brain function and can have a powerful impact on controlling chronic inflammation. Essentially you want to follow the Mediterranean Diet, which we have talked about as a good brain diet. It is high in flavanols which are the anti-inflammatory compounds found in plants. Here is a broad description of what you should include in your diet:
- Emphasize Anti-Inflammatory Oils
o Omega-3s – cold water fatty fish
o Cook with extra virgin olive oil and organic coconut oil
- Minimize Processed Carbohydrates
- Drink Green Tea and Red Wine
- Use Herbs and Spices Liberally
Lifestyle means everything to your brain, and you can lessen brain inflammation by incorporating these practices into your everyday life:
- Less artificial light
- Stress reduction
- Vagus Nerve Stimulation
o One of its functions is to act as an on-off switch for inflammation
o Strengthen your vagus nerve by singing, meditation, yoga, prayer, and cold showers
- Cultivate Awe
o Be amazed by the beauty of nature; the creation of art; whatever else inspires a feeling of connection and wonder within you.
Inflammation is known as the ‘silent killer’ because we are not aware of what is actually happening to us on the inside. Now that you know do you feel compelled to change your lifestyle habits. This is not an easy task, but it is so worth it. Protect your body and protect your brain by living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Alban,D., (October 31, 2018). Brain inflammation: symptoms, causes, how to reduce it. Retrieved July 31, 2019 from https://bebrainfit.com/brain-inflammation/
Carr,K. 5 Ways to Reduce Inflammation. Retrieved July 30, 2019 from https://chopra.com/articles/5-ways-to-reduce-inflammation
MacMillan, A. (January 28, 2019). 13 Ways inflammation can affect your health. Retrieved July 30, 2019 from https://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20898778,00.html