In the last few weeks, we’ve discussed how chronic inflammation destroys our health. However, I also discussed some antidotes in the form of food, sleep and exercise.
Today I want to talk briefly about the harmful influence inflammation has on our mind.
Keeping my mind healthy is one of my top priorities. As someone who learns, writes and teaches extensively, every ounce of focus becomes my life-line. If your mind is not healthy, you won’t be able to focus on the most essential things in life.
In today’s article, let’s look at how inflammation derails the health of your brain and mind.
How Inflammation Affects Your Brain Function
The pathway of how inflammation affects your brain function is quite straightforward. High levels of blood sugar creates high levels of inflammation. And higher levels of inflammation in the body are associated with sub-optimum brain function.
So what causes your blood sugar to increase? Sugar and refined carbs. Eat sugar and your blood sugar will go up.
In a previous article, we discussed how sugar, refined carbs and unhealthy fats increase the level of your inflammation in your body. So if you can control what you eat, you can manage your blood sugar level and thus your inflammation levels as well.
But we also know that it’s not just foods high in sugar and carbs that cause inflammation. In fact lack of sleep, lots of stress, and even body fat, especially around the waistline, can amplify inflammation.
A study, published in one of the most respected neurology journals, found that people who have biomarkers linked to inflammation in their 40s and 50s may have more brain shrinkage and poorer memory function decades later than those without the biomarkers.
In another study, researchers found that a bigger waistline and a higher body mass index (BMI) in your 60s may be linked to greater signs of brain ageing years later. The study suggests that these factors may accelerate brain ageing by at least a decade.
This means that having a potbelly in your thirties becomes a high-risk factor for a declining brain when reaching your fifties and sixties.
Another interesting finding of high levels of inflammation was the lack of access to your empathy centre when inflammation levels were high. The empathy centre is also known as your “connectedness” centre which is responsible for empathy, compassion and planning for the future.
How Inflammation Affects Your Happiness
Food impacts how we relate to each other. It affects how we relate to ourselves and our experience of the world around us.
We know that depression is an inflammatory condition. Higher levels of these inflammatory chemicals correlate to the changes in the brain that link to depression. Therefore, a diet high in sugar is associated with a higher risk for depression as well as dementia.
Inflammation reduces your body’s ability to make the happy chemical serotonin. The higher levels of inflammation antagonises the receptors in the brain where serotonin can do what it’s supposed to do; keep us happy.
Second Chance to Repair Your Brain
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If you are serious about reversing the ill effects of inflammation, there is good news.
Scientists have recently found out that we can turn on the growth of new brain cells and reverse the current condition to repair the brain.
As research shows, aerobic exercise produces the chemical BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which turns on the growth of brand new brain cells. This process is called neurogenesis.
So according to this research, those who exercised for a year compared to the control group had these three important advantages:
- Exercisers had higher levels of BDNF
- On MRI scans, exercisers had a bigger memory centre
- On neuropsychological testing, exercisers had a better memory
Moreover, those people who exercise regularly become more resistant to developing Alzheimer’s disease – a disease for which there is no cure.
The more BDNF you can produce, the better it is for your brain’s ageing and memory. However, your body’s high level of inflammation works against the ability to grow new brain cells by reducing BDNF formation. And a lower level of BDNF is a characterisation of depression too.
So if you want to repair your brain and give it a second chance, then start exercising regularly and eat healthier and wholesome food. That’s good for both your inflammation levels and happy mind.