Inflammation and Mental Illness: The Lupus Connection

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD


Inflammation and mental illness can be detrimental your healthThe redness and swelling that often characterizes inflammation is not just a local problem. It can occur throughout the entire body, even in the brain. Scientists believed that safeguards in the brain stopped the activation of faulty immune cells. However, recent studies have shown that those who are suffering from Lupus have immune systems that allow toxins to sneak past the blood-brain barrier, causing inflammation and mental illness problems. The worsening inflammation can also cause adrenal fatigue problems, but there is hope.

What Is Lupus?

The autoimmune disease Lupus is one that has confused scientists for years. When you have an autoimmune disease, your body’s defenses get confused about which cells are foreign invaders or bacteria, and which are friendly cells. The immune system thinks that its own cells are the problem and begins to attack itself. Sometimes it is just one area of the body, like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, where the thyroid is attacked. Other times, as in the case of Lupus, it is a whole body response.

Lupus was identified traditionally by a butterfly-shaped malar rash across the nose and cheeks (the lips traditionally do not have any rash), joint pain and swelling, dry eyes, confusion, memory loss, and skin lesions that are worsened by sun exposure. Effects often do not stop there. Lupus is capable of attacking all of the principal organs of the body, such as the kidneys, lungs, heart, blood vessels, and the brain, with severe consequences.

Women have a higher prevalence of Lupus than men. It can appear at any age, although it is more pronounced in early and middle adult years. Also, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics seem to have a higher incidence of Lupus than others.

The Link Between Inflammation and Mental Illness

Two scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital have been researching the immune systems of Lupus patients and their link to mental illness. Mental illness symptoms are common in those with lupus. The goal of their research was to see if negative outcomes could be prevented by developing a new drug to help safeguard the brain against the problematic effects of inflammation and mental illness.

Through using mice models, researchers discovered that a cytokine protein released by white blood cells throughout the body in Lupus patients (which sounds the alarm and causes the immune system to attack various systems) was able to cross the blood-brain barrier. There, it caused microglia, the protective force in the brain, to begin attacking and killing synapses, leading to mental illness.

By working with various models, the scientists used a drug that would block the cytokine protein so the immune system’s alarms in the brain would not be signaled. In the models, it was found that the brain damage was minimized and the physical symptoms were also decreased, thereby lessening the effects of inflammation and mental illness.

There is an exciting possibility of using this drug in the future for those who are suffering from Lupus. However, more research is required before it can be used in humans. This research also confirms for anyone suffering from mental illness that inflammation signals can cross the blood-brain barrier and play a role in the development of mental illness symptoms.

Inflammation: A Symptom or The Cause?

Inflammation and mental illness causesIt is important to remember that inflammation and mental illness are just symptoms of a more significant problem. As the old saying goes, if you “can’t see the forest for the trees,” it means you need a different view to figure out what is going on. Sometimes this means you have to take a symptom and track it back to find out the real issue. Stress and dietary problems are major culprits in the development of inflammation.

When you are exposed to stress of any kind (infections, viral illness, emotional stress, or a skinned knee) the body reacts by signaling the body to take care of this stress. This alarm system is called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. The NEM has the power of the entire body at its disposal to deal with the stress. It communicates through the body by using six specific circuits. These are the hormone, bioenergetics, detoxification, inflammation, cardionomic, and neuroaffect circuits.

If you are functioning well, these silent circuits work to quickly return the body to a normal state. You may feel some effects of the virus or bacteria, but in a few days, you’re back to work like nothing ever happened. This is a good thing!

However, as most people know, not every illness or stressful day is easy to bounce back from in just a few days. Sometimes an illness is present for months, the source of emotional stress doesn’t go away, the loss a job hurts financially for months. What happens then?

The body keeps struggling to bounce back. One of the signs that the body is failing is inflammation and mental illness. Typically, the body responds to stress by producing a powerful anti-inflammatory hormone called cortisol. This helps overworked and aggravated areas of the body calm down and heal. When cortisol begins to run out, the body quickly begins to spiral out of control and symptoms begin to show up. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Restless legs
  • Mood disorders
  • Attention deficits
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic pain
  • Lethargy
  • Exhaustion
  • Uncontrolled anger

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome: The Failing Body

This failure to improve can show up as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). The cortisol that the body is producing is made by the adrenal glands (small organs that sit on top of the kidneys).

AFS is not recognized by traditional physicians, so it is essential to have a qualified health coach to address your symptoms. The temptation to search on the internet and self-name what is going on is powerful, but to receive the best care, it is imperative that you find someone who is trained in adrenal fatigue and its causes.

Heal the Brain and Reduce Inflammation

Dealing with inflammation and mental illness can be a scary thing. It is not like a scraped knee where you can see what is going on visually. When you feel the waves of depression or anxiety hitting you over and over again, you may start to wonder if relief or healing is possible or even real. It is so important for you to find help and support through these difficult times.

Some great resources for mental illness can be found through a therapist, support groups at your local library or hospitals, and online forums to help you find answers to your questions. Being able to voice your feelings and your emotions will assist you greatly in your healing.

Foods are a great way to reduce inflammation in the brain as well. You may be surprised at how many of these delicious foods are already in your diet. Some of these anti-inflammatory foods include:

  • Coffee:
  • You can enjoy that hot cup of java in the mornings. Just make sure you don’t add lots of sugar or flavored creamers that will negate the healthiness of it. Coffee may not be a good idea if you are in advanced stages of adrenal fatigue due to its stimulatory effects.

  • Butter:
  • This contains butyrate which helps to increase brain function and prevent gut permeability. This is only true for real butter, preferably made from grass-fed cows’ milk.

  • Olive Oil:
  • Using Olive oil to redice inflammation and mental illness causesThe same chemicals, called polyphenols, that keep the oil fresh, can also help to prevent damage to the brain. Olive oil contains 30 compounds of polyphenols.

  • Spices:
  • Tumeric, ginger, and curry will not only delight your taste buds but also help to decrease inflammation.

  • Green Leafy Vegetables:
  • Spinach, kale, and collard greens can be easily found in most stores, and help to prevent oxidative stress from free radicals.

  • Bok Choy:
  • If you can find it, this is an excellent source of anti-inflammatory compounds. It has 70 polyphenol compounds which is higher than any other leafy vegetable.

  • Colorful Vegetables:
  • This includes tomatoes, beets, broccoli, and celery (including celery seeds in fresh, dried, or powdered form).

  • Berries:
  • Cherries, strawberries, and blueberries are all excellent anti-inflammatory foods. Blueberries, specifically, have been found to improve the memory of the brain, slow down mental decline, and help maintain motor function (like walking).

  • Pineapple:
  • This contains bromelain which is a powerful anti-inflammatory. It can help to thin the blood which helps to increase blood supply to the brain. Please note: Women who are pregnant should not consume large amounts of pineapple due to the increased risk of bleeding.

  • Nuts:
  • Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts contain healthy fats which fight against inflammation.

  • Fish:
  • Salmon, mackerel, and tuna not only help the brain but also have omega-3 fatty acids that help the heart and reduce inflammation.

There Is Hope for Inflammation and Mental Illness

Inflammation and mental illness resolutionsJust because science may not have all the answers for managing inflammation and mental illness, it does not mean that you are alone with no help. Hope can be found through the many resources that are available to you. There are support groups throughout the United States for you to contact and participate in for help. There are also support groups located all over the world. So do not delay; find help today!

The research that has found the strong correlation between inflammation and mental illness helps us understand where the roots of mental illness lie and where to begin healing. By ensuring you have less stress, a healthy diet, quality exercise, and proper supplementation, you can prevent the worsening of inflammation and flare-ups of Lupus.

Most of all, it is possible to find peace in your spirit today. By seeking out help, doing gentle meditation, participating in talk therapy, and being able to voice your concerns will help to bring some quietness and healing to your mind.

 
© Copyright 2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Just because science doesn’t have all the answers for inflammation and mental illness, it does not mean that there are none. Hope can be found through resources such as therapy, support groups, and changing your diet to reduce inflammation.


Inflammation and mental illness