Inflammation: is your body and brain on fire?
Evidence shows that many mental and brain states are linked to 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 immune system.
Moreover, chronic low-grade inflammation has been identified to increase the risk of developing depression. In individuals with depression, inflammation may hinder the 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.
Therefore, although the reaction to acute stress is usually successfully resolved by combination of immune responses, prolonged stress could lead to chronic inflammatory state.
Similarly, a prolonged activation of pro-inflammatory immune responses with smoking or sleep deprivation has been associated with impaired functioning and inflammation.
Factors contributing to systemic inflammation. (Image based on Berk et al. 2013).
Diet and inflammation
Along with other modifiable factors, 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 greater concentration of blood inflammatory markers such as the C-reactive protein, which is produced by the liver in response to inflammation, infection or injury.
Conversely, traditional dietary patterns (eg Mediterranean or Nordic) are consistently associated with a decrease in pro-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. Intervention studies also show that inflammatory states improve when diet is improved and fruit and vegetable intake is increased.
Summarise the concept of inflammation in your own words.
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