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How nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress may impact inflammation


Nutrition

There are multiple ways by which food impacts inflammation. For example, having a balance of more “bad” foods (e.g., ultra-processed foods, refined grains) vs. “good” foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich foods) can change the gut microbiome leading to intestinal permeability and epigenetic changes (changes to how your genes work [What is Epigenetics? | CDC]) in the immune system, causing systemic chronic inflammation.


“Bad food” can have a negative impact in a variety of ways - for example, high glycemic index foods, which can be found in ultra-processed foods, can increase oxidative stress (when there are more (bad) free radicals than (good) antioxidant defenses in your body [What is oxidative stress?] ) and activate inflammatory genes .“Good” foods help in a variety of ways - for example, omega 3 fatty acids are thought to be precursors to molecules that resolve inflammation and impact the expression of genes involved in inflammation.


In addition, nutrition can impact obesity. Obesity can cause excess adipose tissue, which can release a variety of pro-inflammatory molecules.


Exercise

One way exercise may reduce inflammation is that exercise and, in particular, muscle contraction may release proteins into the blood that can systemically reduce inflammation.


In addition, exercise can help reduce obesity, which in and of itself drives inflammation. In fact, exercising and lowering BMI lowers hsCRP levels more than just exercise alone.


Sleep

There are a few theories on how sleep impacts inflammation. In one theory, when sleep is restricted, blood pressure doesn’t drop as it is supposed to and may trigger blood vessel walls that activate inflammation. Another theory is that sleep deprivation changes the body’s stress response system. Yet another theory is that a sleep shortfall may reduce the efficacy of the brain’s cleaning system (glymphatic system), which typically clears built up beta-amyloid protein. Build up of this protein can lead to inflammation (as well as worse deeper, non-REM slow-wave sleep and a decreased ability to consolidate memories).


Chronic Stress

Chronic stress and psychological stressors (like a high demand/low control job) can disrupt the body’s ability to downregulate inflammatory activity, leading to systemic chronic inflammation.


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