How Does Inflammation Relate to Mental Health?

Whether you are a health and wellness novice or veteran, you’ve probably heard of inflammation. Everyone experiences inflammation to some degree. In fact, inflammation is a normal reaction in the body that protects us when we have an injury or experience stress.

Think about when you get a paper cut at the office or an injury at the gym. You most likely experience some sort of pain, redness, immobility, swelling, and heat, more commonly referred to as PRISH. Although these symptoms may be uncomfortable, these signs and symptoms are a good thing. They signal the body is attempting to heal itself, and they remind you to rest the injury.

However, chronic inflammation can lead to potential health issues and future diseases, including adverse effects on mental health. Here is how inflammation relates to mental health and how to reduce inflammation.

inflammation and mental health

Inflammation and mental health

“There is a growing body of evidence that suggests inflammation may play a role in mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and even schizophrenia,” shares Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board Certified Family Physician and Mental Health and Wellness Coach. “While the exact nature of the relationship is still being explored, it is clear that inflammation can have a profound impact on mental health.”

Dr. Mitchell says some studies have shown inflammation can alter brain function and neurotransmitter levels, both of which are involved in cognitive function and mood. In addition, inflammation has been linked to changes in the structure of the brain, which may contribute to mental health conditions.

“While the exact role of inflammation in mental health is still being elucidated, it is clear that it is an important factor to consider. Given the potential consequences of inflammation, it is important to take steps to reduce inflammation,” notes Dr. Mitchell.

How to reduce inflammation in the body

1. Avoid inflammatory foods

One of the greatest sources of inflammation in our society comes from the Standard American Diet, more commonly referred to as SAD. Some foods that are notorious for causing inflammation include:

  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Fried foods
  • Genetically-modified crops (GMOs)
  • Gluten
  • Grain-fed dairy and meat 
  • Hydrogenated fats
  • Lard
  • Processed foods
  • Red meat
  • Refined carbohydrates and grains
  • Shortening
  • Soda and other sweetened beverages
  • Sugar
  • Trans Fats found in margarine, packaged cookies, and crackers
  • Vegetable oils like canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil 

Luckily, our diets are one of the easiest ways to alleviate inflammation, which leads us to the second way you can reduce inflammation.

2. Eat inflammatory fighting foods

One of the best ways to eliminate inflammation is to eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, notes Dr. Mitchell. Simple swaps in your daily diet can help reduce inflammation, so stock up on inflammation-fighting foods like:

  • Avocado
  • Beets
  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut oil
  • Dark leafy greens like collard greens, kale, and spinach
  • Fatty fish like mackerel, sardines, salmon, and tuna
  • Fruits like blueberries, cherries, oranges, and strawberries
  • Green tea
  • Nuts like almonds and walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Pineapple
  • Tomatoes
  • Turmeric 

Enjoy a morning cup of green tea or create a delicious turmeric latte. For lunch, make a hearty afternoon salad complete with avocado slices, dark leafy greens, a handful of berries, and a sprinkle of chia seeds for an added crunch. Looking for more ways to incorporate more of these inflammation-fighting foods into your meals? Try an anti-inflammatory diet.

3. Eliminate environmental toxins

In today’s world, toxins are all around us. Environmental toxins can be found in our air, beauty products, food, and water. (Yikes!) Toxins like air pollution, heavy metals, herbicides, and pesticides can seriously disrupt our body’s natural processes, which can trigger inflammation. 

Since it is darn near impossible to avoid all environmental toxins, do what you can to eliminate toxins in your life. Ditch plastic water bottles for reusable glass bottles, skip chemical-laden cleaners for more Earth-friendly options, and swap out your bath and beauty products for more natural ones.

4. Minimize mental stress

Just like physical stress, chronic psychological stress activates the body’s inflammatory response, but working to minimize mental stress can help reduce inflammation. Try incorporating more mindful movements like meditation, stretching, or yoga

The simple act of breathing can even decrease stress levels in the brain, so if you feel yourself becoming stressed, remember to just breathe. Take time during the day to find moments of calm, relaxation, and stillness. It can really make a difference in your day and reduce inflammation.

5. Reduce physical stress

Exercise is also important for reducing inflammation, as it helps to increase circulation and reduce stress levels, notes Dr. Mitchell. However, be sure to incorporate adequate rest days so the body has time to properly recover and rest. You do not want to create more inflammation by overdoing it.

“It is also important to get enough sleep every night, as sleep deprivation has been shown to increase inflammation levels,” she shares.

Inflammation and mental health

There are many lifestyle choices that can help to reduce inflammation. Avoiding smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep each night, and managing stress are all important notes, Dr. Mitchell.

Additionally, there are supplements that can help to reduce inflammation shares, Dr. Mitchell. She recommends curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics as these have all been shown to be effective in reducing inflammation.

Remember, inflammation is a good thing, but too much of it can disrupt our mental health. Start incorporating these five changes to help reduce inflammation in your life. Your mental health will thank you.

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About Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a background in a digital marketing coupled with her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health, wellness, fitness and nutrition, Ashley offers a healthy alternative to traditional writing. You can learn more Ashley and her writing over at her blog, Three to Five a Day.

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