How mindfulness can help reduce inflammation
It’s long been known that stress can undermine our health because it increases inflammation in the body. Thereby increasing the risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even depression. Thankfully, due to scientific research, mindfulness has been shown to reduce this risk. This is especially in older adults, and those who are overweight with a high body mass index (BMI).
Mindfulness practice appears to lower inflammation levels by enhancing our resilience to stress. When we’re stressed our bodies experience the fight-or-flight response due to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. This prepares us to protect ourselves by staying to fight or running away.
Another hormone, adrenaline, is also released. This increases the heart and respiratory rate. It also directs blood flow away from body systems, like the digestive, immune and sexual ones that aren’t essential for threatening situations like stress.
Stress and inflammation
These reactions are all healthy and adaptive, however, with chronic stress, these changes become maladaptive and can cause chronic health problems. Inflammation is the bodies response to threat, both physical and psychological. In response to stress, there will be an increase in what’s called pro-inflammatory chemicals. So, if we are in a near constant state of stress, these chemicals will be pumping around our bodies almost 24/7. Not a good scenario.
Effects of inflammation on the body
With this scenario, inflammation can cause significant effects on the body. Including damage to joints and tissues causing pain and stiffness; narrowing coronary blood vessels, contributing to hypertension and atherosclerosis. It can also damage the bowel causing colitis and it’s associated difficulties, as well as the triggering of low mood associated with depression.
Whilst there is limited evidence that Mindfulness training acts by directly lowering inflammation in the body, there is strong evidence that developing and enhancing Mindfulness is an effective way of reducing stress in our lives. The reduction in stress then has the flow on effect of limiting inflammation.
It is ok to have our bodies react in ways that keep us safe when we are experiencing immediate threats to our well-being. It seems that it’s not ok to be vigilant- on guard- long-term, as this can lead to chronic inflammation, and consequent physical and mental health issues.