It seems that these days “inflammation” is associated with almost every chronic physical (and now sometimes mental) health condition. I see this as progress/ a positive for a few reasons: we are continuing to change the conversation that our body systems are interconnected and not compartmentalized, we are starting to recognize that food is a core solution to having our inflammatory response work in our favor, and it’s the truth- inflammation can be the root cause or exacerbate many conditions.
That said, the term “inflammation” is often used loosely, often undefined and with a negative connotation. It makes sense, as chronic inflammation can be attributed to many things, including:
I’m always a fan of discussing your physiology and its connection to how you feel. So, what’s the real connection between inflammation and mental health?
Truth is, reducing inflammation is a key component of nutritional psychiatry, and it all comes down to how inflammation impacts your body’s neurotransmitter serotonin. Your body is always trying to heal and repair itself and, in more technical terms, maintain homeostasis. When the body is inflamed, we make cytokines, which are proteins that help control inflammation levels. We make cytokines from tryptophan, but we also make serotonin from tryptophan. The more cytokines you make to tame inflammation, the more you use your body’s tryptophan to make cytokines, and (unfortunately) you make less serotonin. This is when anxiety or depression can manifest.
A Few Tangible Ways We Can Reduce Inflammation
Add in Polyphenols
I feel like polyphenols aren’t talked about enough, but they truly can be game-changing functional foods for your immune/ inflammatory response. They can be helpful in protecting against oxidative stress and help feed some of the beneficial “bugs” in your gut (specifically Akkermansia muciniphila), which can support your gut lining and immune response. Here are a few easy, practical ways to work these in on a regular basis:
Get Intentional About Quality Fats
Choose fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, wild caught seafood, grass fed beef, avocado, olives, nuts and nut butter, which have been shown to improve inflammatory markers by different mechanisms. I’d be mindful of seed oils, especially in your home where you have more control over them (it is tough with restaurants these days).
Manage Stress Like a Pro
“Managing stress” seems to go in one ear and out the other for most people and usually accompanied by an eye roll. That’s understandable if you’re hearing this all the time yet have never truly felt in control with your stress response. I encourage you to go a little deeper into improving vagal tone, and really notice how it improves inflammation, your body’s overall resilience, how you manage energy, mood, and even cravings. The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve, part of the parasympathetic nervous system, and responsible for the “rest and digest” response. Having a higher vagal tone means increased flexibility of handling stressors AND rest and recovery. Having an increased vagal tone is usually associated with an increased heart rate variability, which has been associated with lower inflammatory markers. Here are a few action steps you can take to improve your vagal tone:
Putting It All Together
Let’s not forget the anti-inflammatory powers of turmeric, too. It deserves its own section, but for now you can find everything you need to know about turmeric in this recent article. This can be added to a colorful stir fry to support inflammation in a well rounded way.
If you’re feeling stuck on the implementation/ integration piece, working with and RD can help discuss all factors associated with this very broad topic, lab test for the root cause, and devise a game plan. Simply fill out this application form and we will be in touch. During my free consultation, I deep dive into a “My Symptom Questionnaire” to take all of this to another level and really help you understand your body. All visits are telehealth and I do have insurance options.