Addiction science is still relatively new and researchers are making new discoveries all the time. In recent years, the role of inflammation in addiction and mental illness has started to gain attention. Some studies have found that inflammation may contribute directly to addictive behavior while other studies suggest that inflammation plays a significant role in at least some forms of depression, which in turn increases your risk of developing a substance use disorder.
In the case of depression, researchers believe the inflammatory response, which is meant to fight infection and prevent the spread of disease, triggers a series of behavioral changes. These include fatigue, slow movements, sleep disturbances, isolation, and inability to concentrate–all common symptoms of depression. When you’re actually fighting an infection, these symptoms aid your recovery but when you’re not, you just feel depressed.
It’s also possible that in some people, stress triggers an inflammatory response because, from an evolutionary perspective, your body is preparing to face a physical threat. The inflammatory response gives your body a head start in fighting any infection that may result from injury. That’s why the current thinking goes, life stress can trigger a depressive episode.
It’s clear that if you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, inflammation is not your friend. Keeping inflammation under control should help you feel better and it will likely improve your physical health too. Here are some suggestions for reducing inflammation.
See Your Doctor
First, if you’re feeling the symptoms of inflammation, the first thing to do is see your doctor. Symptoms of inflammation may include body pain such as aching in the muscles and joints, fatigue, excessive mucus, rashes, and digestive issues. As noted above, depressive symptoms such as excessive or disturbed sleep, poor appetite, poor concentration, and social isolation may also be symptoms.
Seeing your doctor about these symptoms is important because they could signal a variety of medical issues, including allergies, autoimmune diseases, asthma, hepatitis, and other conditions that may require medical treatment.
Fix Your Diet
There are two major considerations with diet: avoiding inflammatory foods and eating more anti-inflammatory foods. Of the two, avoiding inflammatory foods is probably the most important. The worst offenders include sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, which are especially abundant in sodas; trans fats, and omega-6 fats, which are common in fried foods and packaged pastries; vegetable and seed oils; refined flour, such as white bread and pasta; and processed meats. Cutting these foods out of your diet should help you feel better pretty quickly.
On the other side, anti-inflammatory foods will make you feel a bit better and they’re typically nutritious as well. Anti-inflammatory foods include berries, especially blueberries, fruits like oranges and cherries, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil. When in doubt, go for whole foods with a minimum of processing.
Coffee and Tea
As discussed above, what you consume has a major effect on your inflammation. Because many people drink their inflammation as well as their calories, coffee and tea deserve special mention. Drinks high in sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, such as sodas, energy drinks, and fancy coffee drinks may be contributing to your inflammation more than anything you eat. It’s better to replace those drinks with tea or coffee.
Both are full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Green tea is the best in this regard, but all coffee and tea offer some benefits. One recent study found that the mechanism by which caffeine keeps you from falling asleep may also reduce the production of inflammatory molecules in the body.
Manage Your Stress
As noted above, inflammation is often triggered by stress as the body prepares to face a physical threat. Unfortunately, this system is not well adapted to our current, more chronic forms of stress. Prolonged levels of high cortisol impair the body’s ability to manage inflammation and this is likely one reason chronic stress increases your risk for a number of health issues, including heart disease, obesity, and more frequent illness.
Managing your stress by reducing your obligations, getting regular exercise, getting adequate sleep, socializing with positive people, finding ways to relax every day, and so on, can significantly reduce inflammation.
Exercise is important for recovery for many reasons, including improving your mental health. There are several mechanisms by which this works and one may be that it reduces inflammation. We don’t entirely understand how exercise reduces inflammation but studies show that regular moderate exercise does reduce inflammation markers in the blood.
This may happen because exercise stresses the body, causing minor damage, which is managed with increased production of anti-inflammatory molecules. However, it works, it’s clear that even 20 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, each day reduces inflammation.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight significantly increases inflammation in the body. Excess body fat actually releases inflammatory chemicals and research suggests that this is a major reason obesity is linked to health issues such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression.
The good news is that many of the behaviors that reduce inflammation also help you maintain a healthy weight. Eliminating inflammatory foods, eating more anti-inflammatory foods, and exercising regularly make maintaining a healthy weight much easier, and the anti-inflammatory effects are compounded by fat loss.
More and more research is finding that inflammation is a mediating factor in many diseases, including depression. The good news is that unless you have an underlying medical issue, you can do a lot to reduce inflammation and the consequent health risks just by making a few healthy lifestyle changes, including eating a healthier diet, exercising regularly, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight. Furthermore, these various efforts tend to reinforce each other.
At Enlightened Solutions, we believe that the secret to a strong recovery from addiction is living a happy, healthy life. Our program emphasizes holistic, individualized treatment for mind, body, and spirit. To learn more, contact us today.