Stress, food, and inflammation: psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge

Psychosom Med. 2010 May;72(4):365-9. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181dbf489. Epub 2010 Apr 21.

Abstract

Inflammation is the common link among the leading causes of death. Mechanistic studies have shown how various dietary components can modulate key pathways to inflammation, including sympathetic activity, oxidative stress, transcription factor nuclear factor-kappaB activation, and proinflammatory cytokine production. Behavioral studies have demonstrated that stressful events and depression can also influence inflammation through these same processes. If the joint contributions of diet and behavior to inflammation were simply additive, they would be important. However, several far more intriguing interactive possibilities are discussed: stress influences food choices; stress can enhance maladaptive metabolic responses to unhealthy meals; and diet can affect mood as well as proinflammatory responses to stressors. Furthermore, because the vagus nerve innervates tissues involved in the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of nutrients, vagal activation can directly and profoundly influence metabolic responses to food, as well as inflammation; in turn, both depression and stress have well-documented negative effects on vagal activation, contributing to the lively interplay between the brain and the gut. As one example, omega-3 fatty acid intake can boost mood and vagal tone, dampen nuclear factor-kappaB activation and responses to endotoxin, and modulate the magnitude of inflammatory responses to stressors. A better understanding of how stressors, negative emotions, and unhealthy meals work together to enhance inflammation will benefit behavioral and nutritional research, as well as the broader biomedical community.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • C-Reactive Protein / immunology
  • Cause of Death
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Eating / psychology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Inflammation / mortality
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Psychoneuroimmunology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism

Substances

  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • C-Reactive Protein