Many different brain disorders have been linked to inflammation in the brain. This includes post-concussion syndrome, depression and Alzheimer’s dementia. A recent literature review found that blood tests measuring inflammation are also increased in people with Parkinson’s disease. These studies suggest that inflammation is a key factor leading to many brain diseases.

These studies lead to perhaps the most important question for people wanting to protect their brains. Where is the inflammation coming from?

This study linking inflammation to Parkinson’s disease was published by JAMA Neurology in November. Researchers from Beijing found 25 studies that compared blood levels of markers of inflammation in 1547 Parkinson’s patients with 1107 healthy controls. They found consistently higher levels of interleukin 1b, 2, 6 and 10, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and C-reactive protein as well. The editors of the journal noted that IL6 and TNF are also elevated in depression and Alzheimers dementia.

The fact that inflammation causes brain damage is actually old news. The first wave of this research came over a decade ago, linking depression to heart disease. This is because this same inflammation makes the plaque in your arteries more likely to rupture, causing heart attack and stroke. The complex link between the heart and brain is a fascinating subject, but inflammation is a key smoking gun affecting the health of both.

But inflammation happens for a reason. And the possible causes are different in different people. The list includes chronic sinus problems, tiny pockets of inflammation buried in the jaw bones under root canals, intestinal inflammation linked to food allergies, alterations in gut bacteria after antibiotics, repetitive strain or inflammation in painful joints, and many other factors. Diet, stress, physical activity, toxins and many other factors can all contribute to inflammation in the body – or the brain.

This is why an integrative approach to assessing brain health is so important. Even the best neurologists in the most advanced hospitals in the world do not consider the whole person. Ironically, the more specialized they are, the more myopic their perspective on the brain. The doctors who are most responsible for assessing and treating brain disorders are the least likely to think outside the cranium.

This narrow focus on one single part of the body is not limited to neurology. It is a pervasive problem with medicine that is an inescapable consequence of specialization of knowledge. The huge amount of information that doctors need to learn in order to master their specialty makes it very difficult for them to learn much outside that specialty.

The exception to this rule is the small number of pioneering physicians who have stepped outside of the current paradigm to embrace the potential of integrative medicine. This includes a few neurologists, cardiologists and other specialists who can identify and treat the potential causes of disease that lie outside of the conventional scope of practice of their specialty.

Most people think that integrative medicine is all about using natural medicines in combination with regular drug treatment. This is certainly one of the benefits of an integrative approach, but perhaps a more important part of this approach is to figure out how to help the body heal itself. This includes identifying blockages and hidden stressors to reduce the barriers to health.

The central role of inflammation explains why many different stressors can cause the same disease. It also explains why the same stressor can cause many different diseases. This paradigm-busting fact is slowly creeping into the medical literature, but it is one of the fundamental principles of integrative medicine. And it is why any person who wants superior results from their medical treatment must absolutely include this approach in their long-term care.