Inflammation is one of those popular topics lately, with everyone talking about different methods of reducing inflammation in the body. For the most part, you might think of addressing inflammation for the purpose of reducing your odds of chronic diseases. And it is true that inflammation can be linked to many conditions such as cancer and diabetes.
Surprisingly, new research has pointed to yet another reason for us to all think about inflammation and take better care of ourselves. The study examined whether body proportions might be linked to brain structure, and the results give us yet another reason to address inflammation in the body. Study participants with higher body mass indexes (BMI), particularly those who tended to carry excess weight around the midsection, were found to have lower brain volumes. Specifically, these subjects displayed reduced gray matter in the brain.
What does that mean? Scientists believe that carrying excess weight, especially around the midsection, can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. When the immune system is “switched on”, it releases cytokines. Normally this response is helpful to fight infection, but an overload of cytokines on a long-term basis can actually do more harm than good.
This inflammatory response alters the body’s production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, along with insulin, glucagon, and C-reactive proteins. The result is changes in brain function and operation. Over the long term the brain’s gray matter is actually reduced.
Unfortunately, mood changes can actually result in increased stress responses and cravings for more foods (usually the inflammation-causing kinds, like sugar and white flour). This cycle only perpetuates inflammation in the body and creates patterns that are difficult to break.
As for the resulting changes in brain function, scientists have a bit more work to do. In the future we will discover how these changes might impact brain health, or whether those changes could be linked to other chronic illnesses. In the meantime, follow a healthy diet aimed at reducing inflammation and BMI, and you can ward off many of these concerning effects.