Feeling blue? That less-than-sunny mood you’re experiencing may actually start in your body.
Increasingly more research suggests inflammation can prompt changes in the brain that impact behavior and mood. Studies have identified higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and other markers of inflammation in people with major depression, anxiety disorder bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers even suggest some mental illnesses like schizophrenia may actually be caused by inflammation. Even in the absence of clinical psychiatric disorders, elevated CRP levels increase your risk for psychological distress and depression.
But there’s happy news: what you eat and how you live has a powerful impact on inflammation. Here are six science-backed ways to soothe inflammation’s effects and support a healthier, more positive mood.
1. Kick the chips (and bagels and scones)
You know that sneaky snack food habit you have? It’s a recipe for inflammation. Sugary snacks like cookies, candy, ice cream and sodas are major players in the body’s inflammatory processes – along with serious health concerns like insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity. Bagels, pasta and bread made with refined carbs have the same effects. Soybean oil, corn oil and other processed oils in fast foods, chips, cookies and pastries create imbalances in omega-3 and omega-6 fats, linked with inflammation. And trans fats (think French fries, donuts and pie crusts) make markers of inflammation skyrocket.
Swear off fast foods, and purge your pantry; get rid of anything high in sugar, refined carbs or unhealthy fats. Instead, replace packaged snacks with more nutritious versions. Better yet, snack on berries, apples, carrots, almond butter, cherries, guacamole and hummus – all foods high in nutrients that dampen inflammation and support healthy mood.
2. Go Mediterranean
The Mediterranean diet, which is based on traditional foods eaten by people in Greece, Italy and surrounding regions, is packed with potent anti-inflammatory foods. A number of studies show it can lower inflammation, ease depression and anxiety, and improve mood.
Here’s how to follow the Mediterranean diet:
- Amp up fruits and vegetables. Emphasize berries, crucifers, leafy greens, carrots, onions and tomatoes; they include inflammation-reducing nutrients.
- Eat less meat and more fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. They’re rich in omega-3 fats that dampen inflammation and support balanced mood.
- Use olive oil as your primary fat. It’s rich in unique antioxidants shown to lower markers of inflammation.
- Swap white breads and pasta for whole-grain versions. Or, better yet, stick to brown rice, millet, barley, oatmeal and other whole (not-ground-into-flour) grains. But don’t overdo it on the grains; low-carb diets can reduce inflammation.
- Drink green tea. No, it’s not Mediterranean, but it’s rich in a compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which is shown to blunt the production of pro-inflammatory compounds and lessen inflammation.
And whatever diet you’re following, make sure it supports healthy weight. Excess body fat promotes low-grade, chronic inflammation and impacts mood.
3. Sign up for a yoga class
Yoga is one of the best ways to combat stress, a key player in chronic inflammation. Ongoing psychological stress increases levels of CRP and is linked with higher levels of inflammation, along with depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. Yoga eases stress and anxiety to fight inflammation.
A regular practice improves mood and overall sense of well-being. But yoga isn’t the only option. Tai Chi, Quigong, meditation and deep breathing practices have similar effects. Look for an online class and sign up with a buddy for more fun (and accountability).
If you’re extra tense, try soothing supplements; lemon balm, rhodiola, valerian and L-theanine (hello, green tea) can ease anxiety and stress.
4. Walk more
Besides its billions of other benefits, exercise supports the body’s production of anti-inflammatory chemicals. Physical activity helps shed fat, a contributing factor in whole-body inflammation. Plus, regular movement boosts mood and lessens stress.
Even 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise like walking leads to anti-inflammatory effects. Up your steps in little ways every day. Try taking hourly breaks to run up and down the stairs, or park at the far end of the lot. You can also walk while you’re making calls. Several times a week, amp up the intensity with a more vigorous buddy hike. You can increase your motivation and gratification with a phone app that tracks daily steps; Pacer and ActivityTracker are easy-to-use, free versions.
5. Baby your belly
Intestinal bacteria play a key role in both inflammation and mood, and disruptions in the gut’s microbiome can impact the brain and your behavior. Beneficial bacteria in the intestines make hundreds of neurochemicals that impact mental processes, including mood. And about 95 percent of the body’s serotonin – which is linked with lower anxiety and happier outlook – is made by gut bacteria.
But gut inflammation disrupts the balance between good and bad microbes, impacts brain chemistry and mood. It’s one reason people with chronic gastrointestinal disorders are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Keep your gut happy and healthy by including probiotic-rich foods (think yogurt, kimchi, tempeh), focusing on high-fiber vegetables and legumes to nourish beneficial bacteria and staying plenty hydrated. Keep in mind even low levels of dehydration can impact gut bacteria.
6. Supplement your life
While you’re making all of these healthy lifestyle tweaks, add an extra layer of support with natural supplements that reduce inflammation and improve mood. One of the best is curcumin, the active compound in turmeric root. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, and as little as a gram per day can significantly lower CRP levels. Plus, it’s able to improve mood and ease anxiety and depression.
Isolated curcumin is more effective than whole turmeric. You can try taking a supplement that contains piperine or black pepper extract to dramatically increase absorption. Other inflammation-taming options: alpha lipoic acid, boswellia, resveratrol, cat’s claw and ginger.
Decreasing inflammation isn’t the only way you can give yourself a mood boost. Keep reading to learn more: