This is the second post in our series exploring inflammation, how it plays into common conditions, and natural ways to ease inflammation. You can read all about inflammation, when it’s good, and why chronic inflammation is harmful here.
Sore muscles, low mood, fatigue--what do these issues have in common? Some of you may recognize these as symptoms of overtraining, but these three issues also share the common thread of inflammation. Both physical and emotional stress can create inflammation, meaning you don’t need to go for a grueling 2 hour run to feel sore, defeated, and tired.
Exercise is a physical stress to the body but the results of exercise depend on intensity and duration. Compared to individuals who do not exercise, those who exercise at any level have lower levels of inflammation. This makes sense when you consider the positive effects that exercise has on factors such as stress and cholesterol levels. Conversely, intense and lengthy workouts, are like an assault on the body instead of gently challenging the body to adapt. Prolonged exercise increases levels of numerous inflammatory markers in the brain and muscles, and can damage muscle tissues. Moreover, there appears to be a point at which exercise switches from a healthy challenge to a harmful activity: while people who exercise moderately are less likely to get sick, those who exercise intensely are more likely to get sick. Given that intense exercise increases inflammation, you can see how chronic intense exercise can lead to chronic inflammation and sickness.
Emotional stresses, like giving a presentation or worrying about a fight with a loved one, can force the body to react to a social stressor similarly to anticipating physical injury. This means your body is already preparing your immune system for harsh cellular battle before the stress even takes place. And, you guessed it, this involves an increase in inflammatory molecules throughout the body.
Similar to exercise, the outcome of emotional stress is directly related to the duration of the stress. While a short-term emotional stressor can promote our immune system’s response, chronic stress can dampen it. And remember, we want our immune system to be strong enough to respond appropriately when faced with an injury or infection. What we don’t want is an otherwise minor cold to have us down for the count for weeks. Chronic stress and inflammation can feed into each other, creating a vicious cycle: emotional stress can increase inflammation, and inflammation can in turn increase levels of cortisol, a hormone released when the body is under stress.
Inflammation and Mood
Inflammation, physical and emotional stress can contribute to depressed or anxious mood states as inflammation alters levels of neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers in our brain are involved in mood, cognition (thinking), behavior, sleep, and appetite. So, through inflammation, you can experience pain, fatigue, and low mood in response to emotional stress. Inflammation is also why an intense workout can lead to mood and behavioral changes that we associate with emotional stress, even when we’re not feeling stressed.
What To Do
Since inflammation is a common factor in physical and emotional stress, incorporating foods and practices that ease inflammation can help improve symptoms in both of these situations:
- Get outside! Even leisurely activities while sitting in a garden can lower cortisol levels. Remember, by reducing stress (see below), you will help reduce inflammation.
- Practice stress management techniques such as mindfulness, which may lower levels of inflammation that occur in response to stress.
Eat regularly -- don’t wait until you are starving! Low blood sugar is stressful to the body and increases inflammation. This may require checking in with your hunger more often than you are used to.
- Eat all of the colors. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables contain a wealth of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Summer favorites include tomatoes, bell peppers, arugula, chard, kale, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cherries. Bonus: toss one or two of these into your post-workout smoothie for an anti-inflammatory boost!
- Healthy fats found in coconut (see below) and fatty cold water fish help fight
Try Golden Root Turmeric Latte Mix! Curcumin, the active component in turmeric, is a potent anti-inflammatory compound that targets multiple inflammatory pathways (i.e. it works overtime for you). Golden Root also contains organic powdered coconut milk, another food that eases inflammation. Here are a few ways to try Golden Root:
~ Enjoy a Golden Root Turmeric Latte to help with muscle rest and recovery. If you’re also dealing with emotional stress and fatigue, try a latte for the afternoon for an uplifting boost.
~ Not in the mood for a hot latte? Try one of these easy and refreshing recipes to cool the fire of inflammation when it’s hot outside.
~ Blend some Golden Root into your post-workout smoothie. Isn’t it pretty?
Photos by Taylor Powers Photography
Maria Capecelatro is a Master Nutrition Therapist at Dream Nutrition in Denver, CO. A former college athlete and perfectionist, she’s no stranger to the effects of physical and emotional stress on energy and mood. That’s why she started Dream Nutrition: to help those feeling tired, stressed, and depressed feel like themselves again through nutrition and lifestyle changes. Don’t let stress get in the way of being your best self! Contact Maria at email@example.com or via her website.
Photo by: JoAnne Capecelatro Photography