Neuroinflammation is the term doctors use to describe inflammation that occurs in the brain and nervous system. As in other parts of the body, inflammation in the brain signals underlying disorder or disease. Unresolved inflammation is a process that can sometimes fester and escalate.
In this scenario, it involves a cascade of ever-more-damaging chemicals that are released in a vicious cycle of ever-increasing inflammation. The result may be increasing cellular and tissue damage, eventual disability, and even death. With the aging of the population, the incidence of neuroinflammatory conditions, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, is on the rise. These troubling diseases are expected to afflict growing numbers of people in coming years.
Causes of—and effective treatments for—these neurological diseases are often elusive. But there’s mounting evidence that a healthful, whole-foods diet, featuring plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, may exert protective effects against the development of neuroinflammation. This would mean it’s possible to reduce your chances of being diagnosed with dreaded neuroinflammation-associated diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Antioxidant plant compounds called polyphenols are believed to cross the blood-brain barrier and provide some protection for fragile brain cells against inflammatory damage. They may, in fact, help reduce underlying inflammation. Some plant compounds behave as anti-inflammatories in the body, while others act as antioxidants. Some do both.
In this scenario, the cardiovascular signaling molecule, nitric oxide (NO), acts as a double-edged sword. While NO is generally beneficial in the body, helping to keep blood pressure at normal levels, this tiny molecule can also be recruited by the immune system to behave like a damaging, pro-oxidant compound.
When neuroinflammation occurs, often it is NO that causes the most damage to key support cells called microglia. Microglia are the primary immune system cells in the nervous system. Activation of these cells has been implicated in the development of most major neurodegenerative diseases. It’s believed that plant polyphenols, called flavonoids, may help curtail this particular counter-productive activity in the brain, by helping to curtail the production of NO by microglial cells in the brain. However, this is just one of several theoretical mechanisms by which dietary flavonoids from whole plant foods may be beneficial to brain health.
It remains unclear how or why microglial cells may shift from providing protection for brain cells to causing them damage, but evidence suggests that eating a whole foods diet may help supply the nutrients and plant chemicals the body needs to keep things working as they should, avoiding brain inflammation and the potentially serious diseases associated with it.
We’ve learned that NO plays a large role in neuroinflammatory conditions. Be proactive and check your Nitric Oxide (NO) levels in seconds with Berkeley Life’s Nitric Oxide Saliva Test Strips.