Inflammation & Child Mental Health

Inflammation and Mental Health

When we think of “health”, we tend to envision physical health. This is perhaps especially true when the word “inflammation” is involved, which conjures images of various wounds and injuries. It can be easy to forget that mental health is as important as physical health. It is perhaps even easier to overlook the fact that while inflammation could have a negative impact on your physical health, it could also negatively impact mental health. And while it might be a hard topic to consider, it should be noted that this is true of children and adolescents just as much as it is for adults.

It’s important to understand that physical health problems can trigger or worsen mental health issues. This is true for inflammation, which has been linked to a number of mental health problems in children and adolescents including:

  • Depression

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

  • Tourette’s Disorder

So how exactly does inflammation impact mental health? Let’s take a look.

Research on Inflammation Mental Health 

Published in 2014 is a systematic review of more than 67 studies covering 3,952 youth showing that inflammation is sometimes higher in individuals with certain mental disorders or conditions. The link is highest for individuals living with autism spectrum disorders, however it is also present in a variety of other conditions. Elevated levels of inflammation were found in adolescents and children with the following:

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Major Depressive Disorder

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Tourette’s Disorder

  • Attention Deficient/Hyperactivity Disorder

  • Schizophrenia

The results of elevated inflammation levels in youth with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are consistent with existing research involving adults. This might suggest that the issue is, in fact, one that merits further investigation.

If you have a child or adolescent living with a mental disorder or condition of some kind, you might be wondering exactly what all of this information means for you. How can this help? It is becoming increasingly clear to researchers that elevated inflammation might play a key role in certain mental illnesses.

And while more research will need to be conducted in order to determine exactly how inflammation impacts mental health, you don’t need to wait for those studies to be completed before you take action. The knowledge that inflammation can negatively impact your child’s health is enough reason, in and of itself, to take action and look into lowering their inflammation levels. Doing this could help keep them physically and mentally healthy, even if the exact reasons behind why that is the case are net yet clear.

This might sound like an arduous task, but the fact of the matter is that reducing inflammation can start with improving the diet. I work with my patients every day on addressing lifestyle and diet to lower inflammation in the body and the brain. Removing junk food, sugar and low quality food and replacing it with organic vegetables, clean fats and meats, plus exercise, sufficient sleep and a healthy lifestyle can do a lot to lower inflammation levels.  Swapping grain fed meat sources for grass fed meat sources, for example, could help reduce inflammation and work to improve your child’s overall health.  Children and adolescents often eat food that promotes inflammation and teens are often sleep deprived and do not get sufficient time for exercise. Making even small changes in diet and lifestyle can have an impact on inflammation and it is often a gradual process of making small changes that then turn into habits that works best.