How inflammation is connected to brain health

The complexities of the human brain can leave both a scientist and layperson a tad awestruck. Research is beginning to elucidate the fascinating repercussions of inflammation in the brain.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a finely tuned biological defence system designed to maintain the body’s equilibrium. When the body perceives tissue damage or infection, it triggers inflammation as a protective response. A deep wound in the hand, for instance, causes the body to trigger acute inflammation in the area as a first aid measure.

The redness, swelling, pain, heat, and loss of function in the hand are five hallmark signs and symptoms of acute inflammation. Once the wound is cleaned and stitched, the hand will begin to heal and the body will turn off the inflammation response. But if this defence system becomes dysregulated, inflammation can persist for months to years in the absence of an actual threat.

Silent mode

Chronic inflammation can be triggered by recurring episodes of acute inflammation, unresolved infections, exposure to harmful physical or chemical compounds, or genetic susceptibility. Advanced age and deficiencies in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can impair the body’s ability to resolve inflammation.

The sneaky thing about chronic inflammation is that it often goes unnoticed. Low-grade, systemic inflammation can be simmering unnoticed for years, and eventually target the brain and nervous system in a process known as neuroinflammation. Neuroinflammation can cause cognitive changes and increase the risk of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

Quell inflammation

Quelling chronic inflammation can improve your mental well-being today and preserve your cognitive function in the years to come.

Eat well

The Western diet has been associated with intestinal hyperpermeability and low-grade systemic inflammation. Enjoy foods rich in flavanols (berries), healthy fats (fish), and whole grains.

Choose anti-inflammatory foods, like the following.

FoodAnti-inflammatory effects
cacaohas been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect
fishare rich in omega-3 fatty acids—a higher intake is associated with lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP)
green teapolyphenols in green and black tea are associated with a reduction in CRP
berriesantioxidants and polyphenols may protect against inflammation
olive oilmitigates pro-inflammatory markers tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin-6 (IL-6)
tomatoesregular consumption of tomato juice, rich in the antioxidant lycopene, has been shown to reduce inflammation among overweight women
broccoli sproutscompound has been shown to attenuate obesity-related inflammation
whole grainsconsumed regularly, have been shown to reduce systemic low-grade inflammation
beanshave been shown to reduce low-grade inflammation among those with cardiometabolic diseases
avocadoconsumed once per day, is associated with a decrease in CRP
mushroomsrich in anti-inflammatory polysaccharides, which may be helpful in diseases related to inflammation

Consider supplements

Always check with your health care practitioner before taking a new supplement. The following supplements may help reduce inflammation or support brain health:

  • fish oil
  • zinc
  • magnesium
  • resveratrol
  • curcumin
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • selenium

By Dr. Cassie Irwin, ND