Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) & Inflammation
By: Dave Asprey
October 24, 2012
Psychoneuroimmunology (say that three times fast, or just call it PNI) is the scientific study of your mind, body and overall health. Specifically it is the study of “the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body.”
As a biohacker, if I wasn’t already happily unavailable, I’d want to date a psychoneuroimmunologist. That has to be the sexiest profession ever. One of the core tenets of the Bulletproof program is that if you get your “hardware” working right (your body), then your brain is capable of more than you’ve ever dreamed possible.
PNI is the research helping you upgrade your mind and body through food and stress control – the Bulletproof way. This supports the Bulletproof Diet because it is more than eating the right foods – it is a lifestyle that involves becoming more resilient and happier by increasing awareness of how your mind and body are affected by food and your environment. That’s the Bulletproof state of high performance I keep talking about.
According to PNI, upgrading your body begins with avoiding proinflammatory foods – the dominant principle in the Bulletproof Diet. A recent study done shows that insulin is a key pathway leading to stress and negative influences in the body.(1) Your diet modulates key pathways to inflammation through sympathetic activity, oxidative stress, and proinflammatory cytokine production.(5) Stress and depression are also correlated to higher insulin levels.(23)
Problems with Inflammation
High insulin levels in the body are at the center of many diseases. Together, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes account for almost 70% of all deaths in the United States – inflammation is a common link between these diseases.(15,17) Inflammation is also linked to many autoimmune diseases and some mental health issues.(30)
Diets that promote inflammation are high in refined starches, sugar, and trans-fats. Refined starches and sugars can alter blood glucose and insulin levels, and postprandial hyperglycemia can increase production of free radicals as well as proinflammatory cytokines.(15, 25)
In order to avoid inflammation, and therefore many diseases, eating a diet with high ratios of omega-3 to omega 6 fatty acids and natural antioxidants is important.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, avocado, and grass-fed beef curb the production of AA-derived eicosanoids, which spike insulin.(27) American’s levels of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids are abysmal and contribute to many diseases of inflammation. These fatty acids compete for the same pathways, and thus their balance is important.(28)
Think I’m kidding? On the Bulletproof Diet, my WellnessFX test showed my ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 was 1.28. Anti-aging doctors hope for 4:1, and the average American can be as high as 40:1.
A study done in China found that lower n-6 to n-3 ratios (ie eating less omega 6) are associated with lower proinflammatory cytokine production and demonstrate significant inverse relationships between annual fish consumption and depression.(9) The more fish eaten, the lower the prevalence of serious clinical depression. Stress and depression were associated with less fruit and more snack consumption.
You may want to try low-mercury fish like anchovies, tilapia, and trout to avoid harmful metals, or go with my favorite, krill oil.
Stress and Your Gut
The vagus nerve is involved in digestion, absorption, and metabolism of nutrients.(7) Unhealthy food, stress, and depression have negative effects on vagal activation. This shows that there is a direct correlation between your brain and gut because stress hinders your guts essential actions.
Stress also influences your food choices, and increases insulin resistance. Stress increases maladaptive metabolic responses to unhealthy meals, which affects mood and proinflammatory responses to stressors.(1) Avoid or hack your stress at home and in the workplace in order to get the most from the nutrients in food.
Two ways I have successfully reduced stress are through learning to control my breathing and heart rate. For breathing, focus on using your whole diaphragm and slowly letting air in and out through your nose. It may help to place your hand on your belly and make sure your belly rises and falls while breathing in and out. Good practices for this are yoga (pranayama) and taking a class called “The Art of Living.” (If you have more share them!)
Learn to control your heart rate with the help of technology. A device called the emWave2 measures the space between heartbeats, and through feedback, can help you increase your heart-rate variability. Increased HRV is associated with being able to respond to situations in a healthy way [http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/gpr/10/3/229/]. There is a correlation between mental health and good heart rate variability.
As a biohacker, I am an advisor to the company that invented Heart Rate Variability training, and I insist that my executive performance coaching clients use the emWave2 because of the systemic effects it has on so many levels.
Combine the Bulletproof Diet with two of my biohacks – learning to breathe properly and improving your heart-rate variability – and your brain and gut will work better together. You will interpret this as feeling Bulletproof.
Psychoneuroimmunology is a relatively new field, and gives us an idea on how stress and food affect the body. Minimizing inflammatory foods and enhancing vital nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, not only helps you avoid disease – you live more optimally. Add a life you enjoy into the equation and you can push your body and mind to new heights :). Hack on biohackers.
If you have questions about psychoneuroimmunology or have some cool insights about foods effect on your brain function share them below!
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