Is Your Brain on Fire? | Brain Inflammation and How To Reverse It

by Dr. Nick Zyrowski June 07, 2022

The stress of today’s world is unavoidable, but did you know it can cause destructive brain inflammation, along with oxidative stress damage? With a pandemic and stay-at-home orders in place, unemployment numbers skyrocketing and protests around the world, it’s no wonder that we’re all more anxious than we’ve ever been. Unfortunately, this level of constant stress takes a toll on your brain health. Let’s take a further look into what brain inflammation is and how you can reverse it.

Signs and Symptoms of Brain Inflammation

What is inflammation? Inflammation is not always a bad thing. It is a response in your body typically caused by an acute injury of some sort. This could be as simple as high stress, a muscular injury, surgery or even an infection. In these cases, inflammation is a normal part of your body’s immune response. Inflammation begins to wreak havoc on our bodies when it is unresolved and it turns into a chronic state.

Chronic inflammation can develop anywhere in the body, including the brain. Unlike the inflammation of an injury or arthritis, brain inflammation doesn’t cause pain since the brain has no pain receptors. This doesn’t mean it’s not there, causing hidden damage to your most vital organ. It’s very important to know why your brain is inflamed because this will point you in the right direction to address it and relieve symptoms.

Acute inflammation often causes noticeable symptoms, like pain, redness, or swelling. Brain inflammation symptoms are usually much more subtle and less detectable. This makes them easy to overlook.

Common symptoms of brain inflammation include:

  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue

These symptoms can range from mild to severe and last for several months or years. If the problem does not get resolved, it can become permanent.

Causes of Brain Inflammation

Things in our everyday life can contribute to increasing inflammation: emotional stress, a diet high in sugar or processed foods, poor digestive health, and exposure to toxins. When the stimulus is ongoing, your immune response keeps working but is unsuccessful, which then leads to an increase in inflammation. The chronic inflammation then changes your immune system and activates genetics (epigenetic changes), leading to disease. Nearly all diseases result from some form of chronic inflammation. Some major examples include: Arthritis, ADHD, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Autism, Crohn’s and Colitis, Acne, Multiple Sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases like Lupus.

Causes of brain inflammation include:

  • Chronic inflammation in the body: There are no real tests to diagnose inflammation on its own. But certain blood tests are a good starting point, including ones that highlight C-reactive protein (CRP), which indicates infections or inflammation in the general body (like the joints), and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), which reflects inflammation of the heart. Many individuals don’t know they have chronic inflammation until they’re diagnosed with another condition.
  • Leaky gut: Your “leaky gut” also can cause a “leaky brain” via the gut-brain axis. The blood-brain barrier also becomes permeable, which allows damaging molecules to leak into and inflame the brain itself.
  • High blood sugar and diabetes: Avoid having a blood sugar that is too low or too high. Insulin resistance and diabetes are notorious brain inflamers. A healthy fasting blood sugar falls below 100 mg/dL. If your results are between 100 and 125, you are considered prediabetic. Over 125, you will get a diagnosis of diabetes. If your blood sugar is below 70, that is considered lower than normal.
  • Hormone imbalances: A decrease in sex and thyroid homornes
  • Food intolerances: Gluten commonly inflames the brain. Also, rule out dairy, soy, eggs, and other grains as sources of inflammation.
  • Chronic stress: Persistent stress triggers inflammation in the body. The brain gets protected by a blood-brain barrier, but after repeated stress, that barrier gets weak and can leak. That gives inflammatory proteins a path into the brain, causing direct inflammation.
  • Environmental toxins: There are chemicals we use in our homes every day that take a toll on our wellness. Our brains are no exception. These can include household items like cleaning products, air fresheners, perfumes, and pesticides. These toxic chemicals are fat-soluble and can enter the brain, especially if the blood-brain barrier is not strong.

Combat Brain Inflammation


Omega-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are two long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that are found in high concentrations in the brain and eyes. These fatty acids play an important role in the central nervous system, and low intakes can affect brain health. Although DHA and EPA can be synthesized slowly from alpha-linolenic acid in the body, fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, sardine, tuna and trout are rich dietary sources of these omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Taking supplements of DHA and EPA can help you meet your needs for these important fatty acids. Studies show that DHA and EPA supplements improved memory function in older adults who complained of mild memory lapse. DHA has also been reported to support heart and brain function, in addition to slowing the rate of cognitive decline.

Vitamins B6 (as pyridoxal 5’-phosphate), B12 (as methylcobalamin), and folate (as 5-MTHF)

Vitamins B6, B12, and folate are B vitamins that are cofactors for the metabolism of homocysteine. High blood levels of homocysteine, which can occur on low intake of these vitamins, have been associated with neurodegenerative diseases, while treatment with folate, B12 and B6 has been found to improve cerebral function. (5) Studies report that intake of B vitamins may improve methylation, prevent brain damage and slow cognitive decline such as age-related memory loss. (6)

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)

NAC is a supplemental form of the semi-essential amino acid, cysteine, that is readily available in many foods. You may choose NAC supplements to increase the intake of cysteine, which is used in the body to promote the production of glutathione, an antioxidant essential for cellular detoxification of reactive oxygen in brain cells. NAC is crucial for brain health because it decreases the formation of free radicals that can cause oxidative damage in the brain.


Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid found in the brain and accounts for 13 to 15% of the phospholipids in the human cerebral cortex. It is vital for normal functioning of the nerve cells and is involved with cell signaling. Dietary supplements of phosphatidylserine have shown to improve cognitive function and improve verbal recall.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)

Acetyl-L-Carnitine is produced in the body from the amino acid L-carnitine that plays a role in energy production, acts as an antioxidant and prevents stress related damage in brain cells. It also increases acetylcholine synthesis, which functions as a neurotransmitter involved in learning and concentration.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that is soluble in water as well as fat, which has been reported to prevent cell damage in the body. Additionally, alpha-lipoic acid has a unique property that enables it to regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione. Alpha-lipoic acid has also been reported to decrease oxidative damage and decline in memory associated with age.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 is widely prevalent in every cell of your body as it is essential for the electron transport system in the mitochondria, production of ATP, and cellular respiration. CoQ10 is also an antioxidant that plays an important role in preventing oxidative damage to cells and tissues by free radicals. CoQ10 plays a role in growth and is found in whole grains, fish and meat. Low levels of CoQ10 have been observed in neuromuscular and neurodegenerative disorders, indicating its role in maintaining brain health. Research suggests that CoQ10 supplements may be helpful in treatment of Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.


Along with the proper supplements, changing your diet can have an incredible impact on reducing brain inflammation. There are nutritional changes you can implement that will enhance your brain wellness.

A low carbohydrate diet, like the ketogenic diet, can be a beneficial tool in fighting brain inflammation. Since you eat a high-fat diet, you get a lot of healthy fats that nourish your brain and cut out the carbs that can cause inflammation.

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish can be an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Wild-caught fish are the best kinds of fish to buy rather than farm-raised. Wild-caught fish are less likely to contain high amounts of mercury. You can get fish like Salmon, Sardines, and Mackerel, which are all loaded with healthy fats.


Avocados are packed with healthy fats. Not only are these fruits great for heart health, but they also help regulate blood sugar. They are anti-inflammatory, which makes them incredible for brain health. Avocados are rich in vitamin E, and that assists with protecting brain cells.


Broccoli contains high levels of vitamin K, which helps prevent mental decline. Brain inflammation can lead to cognitive issues, so veggies rich in this vitamin are helpful for keeping the brain sharp.


This is great news for many of us who love our coffee in the morning, or as an afternoon indulgence. In moderation, caffeine can reduce brain inflammation and diseases associated with it, like dementia. Moderation means one to two cups per day. Many people drink too much coffee and that can lead to anxiety and headaches, among other issues.


Cacao is the raw form of chocolate. What we see in most grocery stores is extremely unhealthy because it has tons of sugar and artificial ingredients. Cacao is loaded with flavonoids and brain -boosting antioxidants. It is also delicious!

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens like collards, kale, and spinach can help slow down age-related mental decline. These veggies are full of vitamin K and choline. Choline is crucial for neurotransmitters involved in the memory processes.


Nuts have high amounts of vitamin E that helps reduce inflammation. When choosing nuts, some of the best for brain health are walnuts and hazelnuts due to their high vitamin content. They are also high in antioxidants.

Putting It Together

When you have a toxic, or inflamed brain, it becomes unhealthy and will not function well. There are many people who suffer from neurodegenerative issues, psychiatric disorders, anxiety, depression, and other brain issues. It is critical to get the proper support for overall brain health.

More people have brain inflammation than you may think. If you have experienced any of the symptoms we have mentioned here, you may want to consider incorporating these supplements and nutrients into your daily routine.

Brain issues can present themselves in multiple ways. It has been a misunderstood topic for years. When you put it all together and use a combined approach of eating healthy foods, removing toxins, and taking proper supplements, you can reverse brain inflammation and feel like yourself again!

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Dr. Nick Zyrowski
Dr. Nick Zyrowski

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