I am going to apologize ahead of time because this might get too sciencey at times, but bear with me please.
In summary, there is a lot more we can do to treat anxiety and depression than traditionally thought. Psychotherapy and medication have been the two most prescribed methods of treatment, along with body work, lifestyle factors, etc. But now I want to challenge you to think more outside the box. Let’s talk about body inflammation and overall body burden.
Most of us think about inflammation from the standpoint of tissue injury. This could be from a cut, sprain, break, bee sting, or allergen. The tissue gets tight, red, inflexible, and inflamed. This is a healthy and a normal response to trauma. Acute inflammation is the body’s amazing way of repair. Like almost ANYTHING in life, acute, short-term incidents are fine. Chronic is not. Note the various other examples of acute stress in your life that occur on a daily basis, such as acute anger, acute sense of guilt…all normal. When it becomes chronic, that is when there is a problem.
Now, when our bodies undergo chronic inflammation or chronic illness (because one is the same as the other), because our brain is connected to our neck and hence our bodies (except for the headless horsemen of course) our brain becomes inflamed. Neurons become stiff and inflexible. What does that mean for thought processes? Well, our brain cells, called glial cells, are metabolically compromised, making it difficult for the cell to uptake glucose or ketones to produce the energy used to function. The neurons are not able to fire as they once did, and do not speak to each other in a way that is optimal. You are not able to think quickly and crisply and be present in your natural surroundings. Sound familiar? Mental fatigue, brain fog, forgetfulness, depression, and anxiety are all symptoms of inflammation.
You might be asking, ‘Is it the chicken or the egg?’ What comes first? The inflammation or the depression and anxiety? Well, this is very individual of course. Adverse conditions, social isolation, interpersonal conflict (thought) would all play a role in stress hormone production or cortisol. Cortisol stimulates systemic inflammation in our bodies. And what did I just tell you? Inflammation drives altered thinking processes and therefore, it becomes a negative feedback loop. It is hard to have one without having the other.
Now you might be wondering ‘Why are you telling me this or why is this important’? It is important because now we know that there is another way of assisting depressive and anxious thoughts. If we can calm down body burden by ridding body inflammation, then we have more leverage managing emotional stress.
How do I know if I have inflammation in my body? Well, there are many ways, but the most rudimentary way is through standard blood work. There are blood biomarkers that test for inflammation including white blood count, HS-CRP, and more. However, there are two problems with solely relying on this method. One, our standard conventional ranges are so wide that there is often a fair bit of inflammation already occurring by the time it shows up on your labs. Secondly, it doesn’t provide you with enough detail in terms of where to start. For example, if your white blood count is low, you know you have an underlying infection…but where? It could be coming from many sources.
You must think of this in the bigger sense of, ‘How do I feel daily?’. Do I feel chronically fatigued (hormone dysregulation, circadian rhythms altered due to poor sleep hygiene, lack of sufficient nutrients or minerals)? Is my digestion off (gut dysbiosis, constipation, diarrhea, parasites or infection)? Do I get sick often? Suffer from migraines, bloating, dry itchy skin or hair loss…Do I experience constant migraines, brain fog, forgetfulness, etc.
“Chronic stress shouldn’t be part of your life. It is important to recognize whether you see this as short-term stress or long term, and to seek assistance accordingly.”
Thinking like this is preventative. Because of the feedback loop I just described, we cannot disregard diet, sleep, stress management, screen use (including time on social media), movement, and your relationships may be what is keeping you inflamed. It is another entry way into finding a solution to your labile mood, depression, and anxiety. It may be advantageous for you to explore supplementing with adaptogens or other supportive vitamins and minerals as a way of calming down the inflammation. Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, American ginseng, or licorice root are a few that come to mind when I think of downregulating the cortisol response. It really depends on what stage of adrenal fatigue you are in. Are you at the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue or are you hanging by a thin thread? Food and lifestyle factors come first, but sometimes we need a bit of help to manage symptoms. Chronic stress shouldn’t be part of your life. It is important to recognize whether you see this as short-term stress or long term, and to seek assistance accordingly.
Finally, if you really want to zone in on the cause of the inflammation and you recognize that it tends to be focused more on hormones (sex, thyroid, cortisol production) digestion, toxins in your environment, etc. then there are specialized tests to consider so you can get more granular and proactive in disease prevention. I personally feel these tests are excellent if you are tired of guessing why you ‘feel the way you do’ and you want to take action. Please contact me if you are at this stage of your journey – I can help.
Either way – I hope this gives you a clearer sense on how to approach your mood and overall well-being. Brain inflammation is a real thing and I suspect you will start to hear about it frequently in psychological and psychiatric articles.