How Inflammation Can Affect Your Mood, According To Science

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If you're in a bad mood, any number of factors could be at play — your commute was annoying, your job is stressful, or maybe you're just having one of those days/weeks/months where nothing seems to go your way. If you notice you're in a bad mood a lot, though, a growing body of research says that inflammation can affect your mood, and it's important to know how to combat it.

Acute inflammation is part of the immune system’s normal response to an injury or infection, and helps in the body’s tissue repair process, Harvard Health writes. But when inflammation becomes chronic, that’s when health trouble — and its eventual impact on your mood — can start. Chronic inflammation can happen if acute causes of inflammation are left untreated, Healthline writes. Autoimmune illnesses can also contribute to your body's immune response going awry, and long-term exposure to allergens, polluted air, or other irritants like industrial chemicals can also cause ongoing inflammation, according to Healthline.

According to a study published in 2018 in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, inflammation and negative mental states may be linked. Lead study author Jennifer Graham-Engeland, associate professor of behavioral health at Penn State, said in the press release that this study is the first to examine the links between “momentary and recalled measures” of mood, and evidence of inflammation. Researchers found that recurring negative moods tracked throughout the day over time were associated with elevated levels of inflammatory biomarkers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), which is linked to cardiovascular disease.

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In order to better understand the links between bad moods and chronic inflammation, Penn State researchers asked participants to track their emotions over the course of the day over a two-week period, according to the study. Investigators also coupled each participant mood assessment with a blood draw to measure for inflammatory biomarkers. They found that negative mood reports were consistently associated with higher levels of inflammation in the body.

These findings also confirm prior research showing that mental illness and inflammation are linked, according to Penn State. The Psychiatric Times writes that a hijacked immune response resulting in chronic inflammation may be a factor into the onset of mental illness, too.

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Fortunately, there are steps you can take to try to heal and reduce chronic inflammation. Green leafy veggies, fatty fish like tuna and salmon, berries, olive oil, and tomatoes are considered anti-inflammatory foods, according to Harvard Health. Mind Body Green notes that improving your gut health with probiotics and probiotic foods, and regularly taking steps to reduce stress may also reduce inflammation. Exercise, yoga, meditation, and time spent outside can all help ease stress and help you relax. If you're concerned about inflammation, it might also be a good idea to check in with your doctor. If needed, your provider may recommend certain anti-inflammatory supplements (like turmeric/curcumin), or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin, according to Healthline. In some cases, steroids are prescribed for periods of time to get inflammation under control.

While the mental and physical effects of chronic inflammation can take a serious toll on your health, the good news is that some lifestyle and medical interventions may help calm your immune system down, and lessen your chances of chronic illness or mood changes over time. If you experience ongoing bad moods and can't figure out what's causing them, it might be helpful to check in with your doctor to see if any underlying health conditions are contributing to your mood issues.