I’m continuing a discussion on the importance of the B vitamin folate to brain health. Before getting to that, a review of the effects of inflammation on the brain is in order. Inflammation is a very important area of study in academic medicine as it relates to all of our chronic diseases and aging in general. Inflammation plays a significant role in Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and stroke and now we learn that it is integral to depression. How does the brain become inflamed? Here are a few of the ways:
1. Multiple Sclerosis arises when immune cells turn against the healthy tissues they are intended to protect. This attack causes inflammation and ultimately destruction of the protective coating around nerve cells.
2. Microglia are protective cells in the brain which fight against invaders by releasing inflammatory compounds. They also clean up cellular debris. Under certain circumstances their release of inflammatory compounds can become unbalanced and cause more harm than good.
3. Fat cells release inflammatory compounds like interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha ( TNFα) which get to the brain and cause damage.
4. Excess sugars combine with proteins forming “advanced glycation end products” which cause inflammation everywhere they go. Also excess sugar causes insulin resistance which leads to excess TNFα which reduces the brains ability to repair and rewire itself. (neuroplasticity)
5. Chronic stress leads to activation of the sympathetic nervous system which causes excess secretion of inflammatory cytokines.
What does all of this have to do with depression (not to mention B vitamins)? More Friday. I promise this will get practical!