Inflammation has been associated with chronic conditions we commonly encounter, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. In addition to these metabolic conditions, inflammation is at the root of depression, anxiety and ADHD.
What is “Inflammation”?
Inflammation involves the release of compounds from our genes in response to a stimulus. That stimulus could be a cut or injury, in which we need a short and fast inflammatory response to protect us from infection and promote healing. Stimuli related to diet and lifestyle also influences how our genes release inflammatory compounds. A diet that is high in inflammatory nutrients will continuously stimulate our genes to produce inflammatory compounds triggering inappropriate chronic inflammation that leads to impaired function and poor health.
Food, Genes, Inflammation and Mental Function
Inflammatory biomarkers and dietary patterns related to inflammation have been linked with depression, anxiety, degenerative diseases and ADHD. There are many mechanisms that explain these physiological connections. This is just one example of how food directly influences gene expression, inflammation and mental health.
Omega-6 dietary fats stimulate our genes to express, or produce, inflammatory compounds called cytokines. Cytokines are then released throughout the body and activate enzymes that degrade serotonin and its precursor tryptophan. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the digestive tract and nervous system that plays a role in learning, mood, sleep and appetite. When cytokines are elevated less serotonin and tryptophan are available for cognitive function (Mueller and Schwarz, Mol Psychiatry, 2007).
Equally powerful are omega-3 dietary fats that turn down the expression of cytokines helping to increase serotonin and tryptophan.
Omega-6 and omega-3 fats influence cytokine production and therefore have direct impact on mental health and performance, but complete elimination of omega-6 dietary fat is not necessary, nor is it possible or even healthy. But increases in omega-3 fats with reductions of omega-6 fats in the diet are crucial to balancing inflammation and improving brain function.
Omega-6 fat is found in:
- Soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil and vegetable oil
- These oils are used in processed foods, mayonnaise, salad dressings and fried foods
Omega-3 fat is found in:
- Oily fish, such as wild salmon, sardines, herring and other oily fish
- Ground flaxseeds
- Hemp seeds
- Organic canola oil
- Leafy green vegetables
Begin to make swaps where you can. For example, trade regular mayo for Spectrum Naturals Canola Mayo and choose salad dressings made with canola and olive oil instead of soybean oil. Avoid fried foods. Keeping working on moving towards a diet made up of unprocessed foods where you are in control of the ingredients in the foods you eat.
Click on “Anti-Inflammatory” on the left of your screen for delicious, anti-inflammatory recipes. Next up, How Do You Know If You Are Inflamed? Stay tuned.
Photo Credit: Prevention Magazine, Brain on Fire
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