Is Exercise Anti-inflammatory? What the Science Shows

exercise inflammation organic chemistry

I always hated to exercise. Maybe it was decades of accumulated mitochondrial damage from a high sugar diet and every day chemical exposures. Maybe I was just "too busy". Maybe I wasn't convinced it really mattered because I had always been thin.

Today, both personally, and in my practice, I view exercise as one of the pillars of radical change - one of the behaviors that we can expect to yeild much more than the sum of its parts. We are designed to move, to sweat, and to commune with our physical selves in this active way.

Is there science behind why exercise may be the panacea for modern-day inflammation?

If you've read my writing or listened to my presentations, you know I am keenly interested in the role of dysregulated inflammation as a driver of chronic disease. I believe that inflammatory signaling can be rehabilitated. That pathologies can be reversed.

I was very interested when my friend shared a paper with me entitled: Skeletal Muscle PGC-1α1 Modulates Kynurenine Metabolism and Mediates Resilience to Stress-Induced Depression.

Drawing on a body of literature that suggests that exercise increases the production, within muscles, of an enzyme called PGC-1alpha1, researchers stressed rodents for 5 weeks, in an effort to elucidate how exercise protects against stress-induced depression. They found that this enzyme was protective in that it decreased the amount of potentially neurotoxic kynurenine (and quinolinic acid) by facilitating its conversion to kynurenic acid. These chemical changes were confirmed on muscle biopsy of adult volunteers before and after three weeks of exercise.

While this is not an interventional study, these do exist, and this dovetails with the tenets of an ancestral lifestyle that protected us from modern chronic diseases through exposure to sun, movement, and nutrient dense food.

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More