This New Study Connects Inflammation To Brain Problems Later In Life
Inflammation can sometimes seem like a mysterious force causing all sorts of health issues, but there's all sorts of science explaining how it can cause fatigue1, poor digestion2, and even mood disorders3. This time, however, researchers found a new connection to cognitive decline.
Researchers found those who live with chronic inflammation have worse memory and thinking skills compared to those that don't have it. The study, which was released on Thursday in Neurology, followed over 12,000 adults of an average age of 57 for 20 years, measuring their cognitive skills at the beginning of the study, in the middle, and at the end. Researchers also took note of certain inflammation markers in the blood.
Those with high levels of inflammation showed an 8 to 12 percent decline in cognitive skills over time, with memory skills taking the worst hit. Researchers even controlled for other factors like education and heart health, so inflammation was truly pinned as the culprit.
Unlike the acute inflammation you get with injuries (swelling with a sprained ankle or irritated skin with a scrape, for example), chronic inflammation hangs around the body way longer than it should and kicks into high gear when your immune system is overactive.
How do you know if you have chronic inflammation?
So it's clear that living with inflammation spells trouble. But how can you even tell if you have it? Inflammation is no stranger to variety, as it rears its head in a million different ways.
Externally, you could be plagued with skin problems like psoriasis and eczema, deal with puffiness around the eyes and face, or even carry extra weight around your midsection. Internally, inflammation can make you tired, anxious, depressed, and digestively demolished (and these are just a few of the markers).
How can you heal chronic inflammation?
Battling this biological beast starts with your diet. Incorporation of inflammation-fighting foods like leafy greens, heart-healthy fats, or turmeric will help calm things down over time. It's best to avoid foods that will trigger your immune response—top offenders include sugar, gluten, and highly processed oils.
While dealing with this massive cause of so many issues may seem overwhelming (you may want to calm yourself, stress is linked to inflammation too), making the right changes to your diet, over time, can do wonders to reduce its negative effects. If that's not enough for you, prioritizing sleep and getting consistent exercise will help mitigate inflammatory problems as well. Your brain and your body will thank you.
Elizabeth Gerson is a former mindbodygreen intern and a student at Stanford University studying Psychology and Communication with a specialization in Health & Development. She has also written for SFGate.com and The Stanford Daily and runs a paleo(ish) food Instagram, @healthy_lizard.