Chances are, you've heard of inflammation before. You may even know that there is more than one type. But, do you know what causes it and how to heal it? If not, this science-backed article is for you. We're going to talk all about brain inflammation. This includes going over the different types of inflammation, what causes them, signs of having inflammation and how you can stop it. Read on to find out more.
In a broad sense, inflammation is your body's reaction to a stimulus. Your immune system plays a key role in inflammation because this is the system that reacts when you have a cut, trauma or some form of infection. (1) When people hear inflammation, they typically think of a wound site that swells or gets red. This is one form of inflammation, but we did mention that inflammation can come in two different forms.
The two types of inflammation that a person can have are acute inflammation or chronic inflammation. They are both a result of your immune system's response to a stimulus, and they both come with the same general symptoms. However, this is where the similarities end.
Now that you know what chronic and acute inflammation are, we're going to talk about inflammation of your brain and why it happens. You can't see your brain, and it doesn't hurt like an inflamed cut would given it lacks pain receptors. This can make it more difficult to diagnose brain inflammation or realise that something is wrong.
The mechanism for brain inflammation can often be summed up into two categories which are direct and indirect.
Some of the potential causes of brain inflammation include but are not limited to:
It's important that you know what the most common signs of brain inflammation are, so we're going to talk about the most common ones. This way, you'll be able to potentially recognise if you have an issue with chronic inflammation/brain inflammation.
One of the easiest ways to test for inflammation, in general, is through a blood test. Your physician will be able to look at the results of the blood tests and see if any of your results are elevated because this elevation means that you have some type of infection or inflammation somewhere in your body.
Important Note: a-lot of these tests below are indirect and are general measures of inflammation. They will tell you if your body is inflamed generally but are not specific to your brain unless you get special imaging. If your blood tests do show inflammation and you display other signs mentioned below this could point to a low grade inflamed brain.
Some tests these three things include:
Gut Dysbiosis is a medical term for having an imbalance in the bacteria levels in your body. Your "good" bacteria should balance your "bad" bacteria levels to help keep the "bad" bacteria from taking over and causing issues. However, several things can cause your natural bacteria levels to get off balanced, and this is where you start to see problems with inflammation. (28)
Your doctor can test your stool to measure the levels of yeast, fungi and bacteria in your gut. There are two main gut issue things that can cause an inflammation stemming from the gut, and they include:
Depression is a very common mood disorder that can range from mild to severe. This disorder can have a large impact on how you feel, think, act and handle common daily activities like sleeping, eating and going to work. There are several different types of depressive disorder, and a physician will diagnose it. (31)
As we mentioned earlier, inflammation can cause a variety of medical conditions. This includes depression, and psychologists have done extensive studies on the links between increased inflammation and depression or the worsening of depressive symptoms. (32)
It is important to note that not every person with depression has inflammation or not every person who has inflammation has depression. However, there are links between inflammation and influencing our mood because your central nervous system will be one of the most impacted areas by systemwide inflammation. (33)
Your frontal cortex is the area of your brain that controls your emotions and how you think and feel. It also controls certain areas of speech and motor functions. Scans show that people with depression typically have inflammation in this area of their brains, and this can alter their moods as well as how they handle social interaction and their day-to-day activities. (34)
Inflammation in this area of your brain can lead to mood swings. It can also lead to feeling like you have no energy or you're lethargic. You may also get things like aches and pains or you may find it difficult to concentrate or interact with other people. The severity of these feelings can change as your inflammation levels change. (35)
Even still, cytokines have been shown to disrupt the neurotransmitters in the brain leading to an over abundance of certain neurotransmitters like glutamate.
Anxiety disorders affect millions of people all around the world. The symptoms can range from mild to debilitating, and the anxious feeling can come and go seemingly without warning. People with anxiety usually report things like excessive worry, racing thoughts and a feeling of panic. These feelings can revolve around everyday activities like interacting with people, going to work, driving, leaving the house or performing new tasks. (36)
It is widely thought that anxiety comes from the amygdala region of your brain because this is the area of your brain that deals with intense emotional responses. Your neurotransmitters take this signal from the amygdala and carry it to other areas of your central nervous system. In turn, your body gets ready for fight or flight by elevating your heart rate, tensing your muscles and diverting blood flow to your brain. (37)
If you have inflammation in this region of your brain, it could potentially put your amygdala region into overdrive. This means that it sends these fight-or-flight responses to your central nervous system in situations where it doesn't necessarily need it. For example, if you go out of your home, your brain could prompt this anxious response because you're uncomfortable. There isn't any immediate danger. (38)(39)
People who have chronic anxiety could have chronic inflammation, and this inflammation can flare up in response to stress. This is why some people tend to feel generally anxious all of the time while other people seem to have symptoms that come and go as the inflammation levels increase or decrease. Additionally, a study showed that as soon any inflammation levels went down in the brain, people reported feeling less anxious. (40)(41)(42)
Did you know that inflammation has links to several different mental illnesses? Other mental illnesses that have links inflammation include:
Neurodegenerative diseases include a class of medical conditions where the person slowly loses their neurons. As these neurons die, the person can start to lose function. This means that the symptoms of the disease can get worse as the disease progresses. For many of these diseases, there is no way to stop the progression of them, and they're usually fatal. Common Neurodegenerative diseases include Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington's and Batten disease. (52)
For the past two decades, scientists have started to link inflammation with these Neurodegenerative diseases. Particularly, they've noticed that chronic inflammation can be a warning sign that the person is in the early stages of developing their Neurodegenerative disease. There are also links to aging and these types of diseases since most people with Alzheimer's disease are elderly. (53)
However, studies show that brain inflammation can be a key warning sign that you're starting to develop a Neurodegenerative disease. Since your central nervous system controls your physical and emotional responses, inflammation here could cause shifts in mood, personality, cognitive function and on your motor skills. (54)
Additionally, inflammation can have a negative impact on your body's ability to heal any neurological damage. In turn, this could potentially allow a Neurodegenerative disease to show more symptoms because the damage isn't healing because your immune system is overstimulated. Brain inflammation can also block critical receptors in your central nervous system that are responsible for cell repair and maintenance. (55)
Brain fog is a blanket term for having trouble focusing, learning new things or remembering where you put things. For example, have you ever gone into a room to get your glasses or keys and found them on your head or in your pocket but you have no memory of putting them there? This is a short episode of brain fog. Almost everyone has been through this at one time or another, and your brain fog tends to come and go in short bursts. (56)
But, did you know that brain inflammation can cause more episodes of brain fog? This is because inflammation can slow down the rate your brain's neurons fire. When this happens, your brain processes as a whole slow down. This slow down can leave you feeling foggy, slow or dull as you go about your daily activities. (57)
Additionally, inflammation can cause damage to your neurons due to oxidative stress. This damage can also slow down your brain's function. It can delay your brain's healing process from inflammation as well. (58)
All of these small things can result in you having difficulty concentrating or remembering when you put items like your keys. If the inflammation gets severe enough, it can cause fluctuations with your mood, wandering thoughts, poor memory, confusion and disorientation. (59)(60)
There are several ways that you can stop inflammation in its tracks. Once you identify that inflammation is causing your problem, you can work on treating it.
The first step in treating any inflammation or infection involves finding out what the exact cause is. Your doctor can help by performing routine blood tests, but the most common cause of inflammation is poor gut health. To reduce the inflammation levels, you want to start healing your gut. The other way to know your source is to get some blood tests done (e.g. heavy metals, mould exposure, lymes disease).
Processed foods are naturally harder on your body than natural foods because there are more artificial ingredients that your body has to concentrate on breaking down. You can start healing your gut by removing sugar and gluten from your diet. Gluten can cause inflammation throughout your digestive tract, and sugar can also contribute to inflammation. (61)(62)
Processed food is another thing that isn't good for your body because your body has a hard time breaking down some of the components. Dairy is considered to be one of the most inflammatory foods in today's diets. This is due to dairy's protein and sugar content. (63)(64)
Exercising for as few as 20 minutes a day is enough to stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, and this is the system that is responsible for increasing your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. When this happens, your body releases epinephrine and norepinephrine. These homes activate your immune cells, and this stops the release of cytokines. This reduces inflammatory markers in your blood. (65)(66)
You can also add a few supplements and nutrients to your diet to help reduce inflammation naturally. These key things include:
Brain inflammation can be a serious condition that can affect different systems throughout your body. We've outlined several possible causes of brain inflammation, how to test for it and how you can treat it. As always, you want to talk to your doctor before you make any large lifestyle or diet changes.