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1306 NW Hoyt St #411
Portland, OR 97209

(503) 248-1182

Naturopathic Medicine, Neurotherapy

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Is your brain inflamed? How to know and what to do

Noel Thomas

FNM 322 brain inflammation

Do you have any of the symptoms of brain inflammation, also called neuroinflammation, listed below? Brain inflammation doesn’t hurt like an inflamed ankle would. Instead it causes various symptoms, depending on the person, including:

  • Brain fog
  • Unclear thoughts
  • Low brain endurance
  • Slow and varied mental speeds
  • Loss of brain function after trauma
  • Brain fatigue and poor mental focus after meals
  • Brain fatigue promoted by systemic inflammation
  • Brain fatigue promoted by chemicals, scents, and pollutants

The brain can become inflamed like the rest of the body, although the brain has its own immune system. It’s important to take brain inflammation seriously because it can rapidly degenerate the brain, raising the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other brain degenerative diseases. In fact, scientists have discovered that brain aging is more related to the brain’s immune cells than the neurons, as previously thought.

Learning how to spot and dampen brain inflammation can help you enjoy better brain function, slow the aging process, and lower your risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

What causes brain inflammation

Brain inflammation can be caused by inflammation in the body, such as from chronic joint pain, infections, leaky gut or gut inflammation, or an unmanaged autoimmune condition. Inflammation in the body releases immune cells called cytokines that activate inflammation in the brain.

This is now being cited as a primary cause in many cases of chronic depression, such as in cases where people don’t respond to antidepressants. This is because the medications do not address brain inflammation.

The brain’s immune system

At the root of brain inflammation are microglia cells, the brain’s immune cells. They were once considered simply to be glue that held neurons together, but newer research shows how important to brain function they are. In fact, they outnumber neurons ten to one.

When the brain is healthy the microglia dispose of dead neurons, beta amyloid plaque, and other debris that interfere with healthy communication between neurons. They also facilitate healthy neuron metabolism and neuron synapses.

However, when something triggers inflammation in the brain, the glia cells switch into attack mode.

This hinders communication between neurons so they fire more slowly, creating symptoms such as brain fog, slower mental speed, slower recall, and slower reflexes.

Brain inflammation also shuts down energy production in the neurons, so brain endurance drops, making it harder to read, work, or concentrate for any length of time. This also leads to depression.

In the long run, chronic neuroinflammation results in neuron death and brain degenerative disorders.

Factors that cause brain inflammation

Many things can cause brain inflammation. If you have symptoms of brain inflammation, you want to address any of these factors to restore health to your brain.

  • Diabetes and high blood sugar
  • Poor circulation, lack of exercise, chronic stress, heart failure, respiratory issues, anemia
  • Previous head trauma
  • Neurological autoimmunity
  • Eating gluten when you are gluten intolerant
  • Poor brain antioxidant status
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Systemic inflammation
  • Inflammatory bowel conditions
  • Leaky blood-brain barrier

The blood-brain barrier and brain inflammation

One of the biggest risks to triggering brain inflammation is a leaky blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is a thin lining that surrounds the brain and is designed to allow only nano-sized particles in or out as needed.

However, like the gut, it can become damaged and “leaky,” allowing foreign invaders in to trigger the microglia. Although the blood-brain barrier degrades easily, it can also regenerate through dietary and lifestyle modifications similar to how you can repair leaky gut. For instance, high stress degrades the blood-brain barrier, but normalizing stress can allow it to repair. Simply stabilizing your blood sugar and stress levels, removing inflammatory foods, addressing chronic health issues, and taking powerful antioxidants can help restore the blood-brain barrier.

Factors that can break down the blood-brain barrier

  • Chronic stress
  • Alcohol
  • Elevated blood sugar and diabetes
  • Chronic environmental toxic exposure
  • Elevated homocysteine from B vitamin deficiency
  • Poor diet and antioxidant status
  • Systemic inflammation

Taming brain inflammation

Brain inflammation can be caused by a food intolerance, lack of sleep, gut infections, hypothyroidism, extreme stress, autoimmunity, systemic inflammation, and other factors. If you start to feel your “head clear” when addressing brain inflammation, that’s a sign you’re on the right track. Although various botanical flavonoids can address brain inflammation, you still need to address the underlying cause of inflammation.

Compounds that have been shown to help dampen brain inflammation in addition to addressing underlying cases are:

  • Apigenin
  • Luteolin
  • Baicalein
  • Resveratrol
  • Rutin
  • Catechin
  • Curcumin

Dose depends on the degree of brain inflammation. Ask my office for high-quality, extremely bioavailable forms of nutraceuticals that help dampen brain inflammation, as well for guidance on how to address underlying causes.