Brain inflammation, otherwise known as neuroinflammation, can occur for numerous reasons. Just as our bodies can become inflamed, so can our minds since they’re intricately connected. You may experience brain fog, difficulty thinking, cognition challenges, and fatigue symptoms if you have brain inflammation.
Scientists believe an inflamed brain could contribute to mental and neurodegenerative illnesses like depression and Alzheimer’s. Our brains have their own immune system, so various conditions can occur when the cells become damaged. Many scientists now believe that malfunctioning immune cells in the brain, rather than neurons, cause cognitive decline.
Brain inflammation may also occur because of swelling or infections in the body. When part of the body becomes inflamed, it triggers a release of immune cells called cytokines that activate brain inflammation. As you can see, the mind-body connection means that any inflammation affects our entire system rather than just an isolated area.
Scientists have found that microglia cells, the brain’s immune cells, are the main culprit behind inflammation. These cells promote mental clarity and healthy communication between neurons in a healthy brain.
They help clear toxins from the brain, such as beta-amyloid plaque and dead neurons, that inhibit cognitive function. Finally, they facilitate neuronal metabolic changes that are critical for brain plasticity.
However, when microglia cells malfunction, they attack even healthy brain cells. Typically, these inflammatory cells become activated in response to an immediate threat, such as bacteria or injury. When the microglia cells go into “attack” mode for extended periods, it’s known as chronic neuroinflammation.
This reaction causes neurons to fire more slowly, leading to brain fog, cognitive decline, and perhaps depression or dementia. But what causes the microglia cells to trigger brain inflammation in the first place? We’ll delve deeper into this topic below and list a few ways to reverse neuroinflammation.
5 Causes of Brain Inflammation (And Ways to Heal It)
1. An Unhealthy Diet May Cause Cognition Problems
The food you consume can promote healing or disease within the mind and body. Unfortunately, most modern foods negatively impact our health and the planet. For most of our existence, we ate simple foods from nature that our bodies knew how to assimilate into energy. Our foods have become calorically dense but void of most nutritional value.
Processed foods have high sugar and omega-6 fatty acid content, which promote disease when consumed in large quantities. Since our bodies see these foods as a threat, they increase inflammation in response. As we eat more food-like substances instead of whole foods, our minds and bodies deteriorate further.
However, an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can promote healing and well-being. If you want better brain health, try incorporating more fresh, whole foods into your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon can improve brain functioning and cognition. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains will also provide essential nutrients for the mind and body.
2. Poor Metabolic Health Can Cause Brain Inflammation
Metabolic health refers to having ideal levels of five markers: blood pressure, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, waist circumference, and blood sugar. Unfortunately, one study found that just twelve percent of Americans meet the criteria for optimal metabolic health. And scientists know that poor overall health can lead to brain inflammation and chronic diseases if left unchecked. When chronic inflammation occurs, it inhibits the body’s ability to metabolize food properly. In turn, this causes the immune system to overreact and trigger inflammation.
Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and practice stress-management techniques like meditation to enhance your metabolic health. Also, avoid eating highly processed foods like sweets, chips, and other boxed snacks. In addition, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night and limit electronic use to improve your well-being.
3. Exposure to Environmental Toxins and Substance Abuse Can Cause Cognition
Research shows that exposure to environmental pollutants and cigarette smoke can lead to brain inflammation. Both toxins trigger the release of proinflammatory cytokines, which damage healthy cells in the brain. Also, research shows that excessive alcohol consumption can cause the immune system to release these inflammatory proteins. Finally, other drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine can lead to neuroinflammation by increasing oxidative stress.
To protect your cognitive health, avoid smoking and taking hard drugs. If you live in a congested city, install a HEPA filter in your home to remove environmental toxins. Also, limit your alcohol consumption to a few drinks per week.
4. Excess Visceral Fat Can Create Brain Inflammation
The Washington University School of Medicine found that excess abdominal fat — also known as visceral fat — leads to systemic inflammation. Their study published in Diabetes also discovered that fat surrounding the internal organs can cause insulin resistance and other metabolic diseases. Visceral fat also sends inflammatory signals to the brain, resulting in cognitive decline.
If you want to reverse brain inflammation, it’s essential to reduce weight around the midsection. The best weight loss strategy involves exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management. Try to engage in physical activity at least thirty minutes daily, three times a week. Also, it helps to keep track of your calories, so you don’t consume more than you burn daily.
5. Chronic Stress Can Decrease Cognition
Arguably, chronic stress impacts overall health more than any other factor. Stress shows up in our minds and bodies as mental illnesses, fatigue, Diabetes, and many other diseases. Studies show that chronic stress negatively impacts neurotransmitter metabolism and can cause emotional dysregulation. Our immune systems can only handle so much stress before they start to turn against us.
However, we can reduce chronic stress in many ways, such as by exercising, eating nutrient-dense foods, and practicing mindfulness. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, aromatherapy, and other holistic methods can all significantly lower stress levels. As a result, we can lower our brain inflammation and experience more stable emotions.
Final Thoughts on Causes and Solutions for Brain Inflammation
In our modern world, we have many stressors despite all our conveniences. This stress can take a heavy toll on our minds and bodies, sometimes leading to chronic illnesses. However, we don’t have to accept brain inflammation and poor health as inevitable outcomes of life. We can take control of our health and improve cognition by getting back to the basics: exercising, eating a balanced diet, and managing stress. Healing ourselves takes conscious effort, but feeling vibrant and healthy is worth it.