Upon receiving a small cut, the body triggers inflammation, therefore catalyzing a natural healing and protective process. The inflammation helps the cut heal and protects the rest of the body from infection. This process halts when it is no longer necessary. However, the body faces problems when it continues a long term, acute level of inflammation called chronic inflammation, which can occur throughout the body and not just in response to a cut. Research correlates this bodily state to metabolic issues, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, obesity or aging.
Inflammatory and autoimmune symptoms often accompany mental health symptoms, as stressful times often trigger inflammatory processes throughout the body, related or not to the situation. Chronic inflammation could be an underlying cause of mental and physical ailments, and research links the following psychiatric conditions to inflammation:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- Cognitive Decline
While research heavily suggests a relationship between mental illness and physical inflammation, correlation does not equal causation, and there exist debates in the medical field on the extent to which inflammation impacts these disorders and the subject is continually an object of research study.
Causes of Inflammation
Inflammation is caused by a variety of factors, not merely infections. Growing research suggests many factors relating to inflammation, including:
- Stress: Studies show that stress can contribute to inflammation. Trauma, such as bullying, can increase inflammation and contribute to the nature of one’s stress hormones. These stressful situations trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response, activating the sympathetic nervous system and the stress hormone cortisol. These changes can last a lifetime if not attended to properly.
- Mind-body practices, such as yoga or meditation, are continually the subject of research, showing that these activities can lower stress and stress hormones in the body.
- Dietary and Metabolic: Foods that trigger the digestive tract to be irritated contributes to long term inflammation of the intestinal lining. This also causes poor digestion and inadequate absorption of nutrients, in addition to decreasing the production of healthy bacteria in the gut and overgrowing damaging bacteria.
- Healing the gut tremendously reduces the associated inflammation. This can best be done through changing the diet, removing foods that further inflammation and adding foods that reduce it. The elimination diet is one strategy to best discover how your body reacts to different foods, what helps relieve inflammation and what might be contributing to it.
- Sleep: Research suggests that sleep loss increases inflammation, it is therefore important to respect your body through adequate sleep.
Some of the key natural approaches to reducing inflammation include:
- Reducing stress
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
- Sleeping well
- Normalizing weight and avoiding rapid weight changes
- Avoiding infections and supporting the immune system by living a healthy lifestyle
- Avoiding chemicals, pesticides and environmental toxins Inflammation may be the common pathway for the development of disorders as diverse as back pain and depression.
The medical community is just beginning to uncover the relationship between inflammation and different psychiatric conditions. The kindest way to treat your body and an effective way to decrease the likelihood of developing, relapsing to increasing the chances of a mental disorder is to take steps to decrease inflammation in the body, including maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Dr. Beata Lewis, MD specializes in understanding the role of inflammation in the body and addressing chronic inflammation through nutrition changes, stress reduction, psychotherapy and lifestyle modification.