The Insidious Link Between Anxiety and Inflammation

Inflammation is one of the responses that the immune system produces to combat a foreign threat, such as a virus or an infection. In chronic inflammation, inflammation lingers for a long period of time — months or perhaps even years — possibly becoming an ongoing condition in the individual’s body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a number of serious health concerns, including autoimmune disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and more. New research has discovered a link between anxiety and inflammation; although the question of whether anxiety causes inflammation or whether inflammation incites anxiety has yet to be answered, some research suggests that protecting against or reducing inflammation in the body may offer benefits for those who experience anxiety.

How Chronic Inflammation Harms Human Health

The Insidious Link Between Anxiety and InflammationAlthough in general, inflammation is a healthy response to infection or injury, chronic or long-lasting inflammation can eventually become detrimental to your health.

For example, individuals with an unusually high number of markers for inflammation will also have a higher risk of developing chronic medical conditions. Health conditions like metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are more common in those who suffer from chronic inflammation. In addition to the symptoms of the particular disease an individual develops, chronic inflammation can also cause the symptoms like fatigue and body pain.

Causes and Contributing Factors

While the presence of autoimmune disease increases the likelihood that someone suffers from chronic inflammation, there are other factors to consider. If you meet any of these criteria, there’s a higher than average chance that you either suffer from chronic inflammation or will develop the condition in the future.

  • are age 50 or older
  • are overweight or obese
  • consume a diet rich in unhealthy fats and sugar
  • smoke cigarettes
  • have low testosterone or estrogen levels
  • suffer from stress or anxiety
  • have a sleep disorder

There are other conditions that are often present in those with chronic inflammation. These conditions include asthma, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis and periodontitis. There’s some indication that a poor gut microbiome may also contribute to chronic inflammation. As a result, people who suffer from a chronic peptic ulcer, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may also be suffering from chronic inflammation.

Taking steps to alleviate inflammation may also help reduce the severity or frequency of symptoms for these other medical conditions. Alternatively, taking steps to boost the health of your gut microbiome may help reduce chronic inflammation.

New Research Finds a Link Between Anxiety and Inflammation

In a recent study, researchers examined a broad sample of subjects, looking for inflammation markers in their blood. They looked for the markers identified as CRP, IL-6, and TNF-alpha in each of the 853 subjects, recording the degree to which the markers were present in each subject. They also asked each of the individuals to complete a questionnaire that focused on the state of mind and level of anxiety each was experiencing.

Upon examining their findings, the research team discovered that men with higher levels of CRP, IL-6 and TNF-alpha also reported experiencing more severe anxiety. Similarly, women with higher levels of anxiety had more of the CRP and IL-6 markers in their blood.

Simply verifying that both inflammation and anxiety are present in the body at the same time still doesn’t prove that one causes the other. Attempting to show that there’s a stronger link between anxiety and inflammation, the researchers administered doses of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to the test subjects. LPS is a compound that’s known to trigger the immune system’s inflammatory reaction. As expected, inflammation markers in the blood of each subject increased significantly, with the IL-6 marker being the highest. It was also observed that anxiety levels in the participants increased to corresponding levels.

This research confirms the belief that inflammation may be a cause of anxiety and that by controlling chronic inflammation, anxiety may also be reduced. It also suggests that inflammation may increase the risk for diseases other than heart disease, diabetes and anxiety. In taking steps to reduce inflammation by introducing anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients into your diet, you may be able to lower your risk for anxiety and a broad range of other chronic conditions.

How Can You Reduce Inflammation Risk?

In general, processed foods should be avoided and replaced with more natural or plant-based foods. This is because processed foods contain high levels of refined carbs that lead to insulin resistance when consumed frequently or in high quantities. The result is an increase in the production of inflammatory cytokines in your body. Additionally, processed foods have high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids, which are also an inflammatory agents when consumed out-of-proportion with the balancing omega-3 fatty acids.

Specifically, the following inflammatory foods should be avoided:

  • refined carbs (white bread, baked goods, etc.)
  • fried foods
  • soda and other drinks that include high amounts of added sugar
  • burgers, hot dogs and other types of processed meats
  • margarine, lard and shortener

The Insidious Link Between Anxiety and Inflammation 1

While all plant-based foods make better eating options, these particular foods provide specific anti-inflammatory benefits:

  • tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • kale, spinach and other leafy greens
  • nuts, including walnuts and almonds
  • salmon, tuna, sardines and other types of oily fish
  • fruits, including strawberries, cherries, blueberries and oranges

Even before research linked chronic inflammation with a state of anxiety, it was known that diet affects emotional health. People who eat more processed foods experience more depressive episodes and struggle with stress more frequently. They also feel anxiety more acutely.

On the opposite side of the same token, eating a Mediterranean diet, or a diet comprised largely of plant-based foods, has been shown to lead to better emotional and cognitive health. People who stick to a more natural diet feel generally happier and more energetic. They also experience lower levels of stress, which is also known to trigger feelings of anxiety. A number of natural nutrients may also help protect against inflammation. These include inositol, magnesium, quercetin and resveratrol.

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