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Inflammation can impact mental and brain health.

Inflammation: is your body and brain on fire?

Evidence shows that many mental and brain states are linked to the immune system and inflammation.

Many states on the mental health continuum, particularly serious mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia, are known to be linked to systemic (whole-body) and peripheral inflammation. Inflammation is a chronic activation of the body’s immune system. Chronic low-grade inflammation may increase the risk of developing depression or hinder recovery. Interestingly, developing evidence also points to inflammation as a possible link to cognitive decline.

Factors contributing to inflammation

There are several factors that could contribute to the state of inflammation. For example, experiencing psychological stress has been shown to activate cell responses, which might promote inflammation while decreasing the production of the body’s own anti-inflammatories.

Reaction to acute stress is usually successfully resolved by combination of immune responses. However, prolonged stress or prolonged activation of pro-inflammatory immune responses such as with smoking or poor sleep could lead to a chronic inflammatory state.

Factors contributing to systemic inflammation (based on Berk et al. 2013)
Factors contributing to systemic inflammation. (Image based on Berk et al. 2013).

Diet and inflammation

A poor diet can significantly contribute to the state of inflammation. Evidence from large population-based studies shows that consumption of Western dietary patterns is linked to a higher concentration of inflammatory blood markers.

Traditional dietary patterns (e.g., Mediterranean or Nordic) are consistently associated with an anti-inflammatory response. This suggests that these diets – high in plant-based food and fish – may decrease the risks of ill mental health and support cognitive functions. Also, intervention studies, show that inflammatory states improve when the diet is improved and fruit and vegetable intake is increased.

For those learners who are eager to learn more about inflammation and inflammatory markers associated with diet, in-depth and discipline-specific courses will soon be available.

Your task

Summarise the concept of inflammation based on several factors presented in the diagram in this step.

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This article is from the free online course:

Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition

Deakin University