Can Inflammation Make you Lose Motivation?


You hurt, so you're not really energized and ready to get things done. In fact, new research supports the idea that your inflammation may be causing this lack of motivation. Let's dig in.

New Motivational Theory

According to a new study, there's a scientific explanation for why you're not motivated to go to work when you have a cold. And it's not just time-limited conditions like colds and the flu that zap our drive. Conditions that cause low levels of inflammation and hang around indefinitely are just as bad when it comes to killing resolve (think arthritis, depression, obesity, even aging).

Researchers at Emory University provided note-worthy insight into the mind-body connection. It seems that inflammation triggers a protective series of neurologic events to force you to lay low and save your energy. It does this by taking away your motivation to get things done.

That protective mechanism, say the researchers, originated as an adaptive response in the immune system. Molecules (cytokines) released by the immune system affect how dopamine is released in the reward pathway of the brain. It's this reward loop that's critical to getting stuff done. Meaning, you feel satisfied and gain pleasure by crossing that nagging task off your list.

Apparently, these immune cells can also, unlike other cells, change between different metabolic states. This means the patterns of cytokine release could be affected in a way that would signal the brain to conserve energy (i.e., decrease motivation) for use by the immune system.

It used to be a good thing, but...

This protective mechanism worked well for our ancestors. The immune system, challenged as it was by predators and microbes of every description, needed incredible amounts of energy. No problem-it had its own system for calling for help. During times of sudden or severe stress, using the dopamine pathway, it could signal the other body systems to save energy.

The course of events in a crisis may have looked like this:

A caveman is inflamed (by smallpox or a lion) → inflammation alerts the immune system → the immune system sends cytokines to the brain → the cytokines disrupt dopamine pathway → without dopamine to motivate him, The caveman is content to rest→ as well-rested caveman heals, the inflammation resolves

Here's the thing: Modern life is pretty easy, compared to the lives of our ancestors. The researchers at Emory believe that since we are no longer dealing with such frequent and severe, sudden stress, and that we experience on-going, low-levels of inflammation, the protective mechanism may no longer be helpful. It may even be harmful.

How Does this Apply to Me?

You have low-level pain in your knee and ankle and low back. Because of this, you don't feel like getting much done. Unlike our caveman ancestor who needed an extra immune system boost to conserve his energy to heal from a close to deadly infection, resting your immune system isn't needed.

First, if you're feeling amotivational due to aches and pains, control that inflammation through supplements and diet. Good ones include curcumin/turmeric, high-dose fish oil, glucosamine/chondroitin. A great book on diet was written by Dr. Pitts. Next, get your aches and pains and problem areas fixed or managed through a physician expert in orthobiologic injections. Meaning, as an example, have high dose platelet-rich plasma injected into that knee and ankle and platelet lysate injected into that low back. To learn more about this approach, read my book called Proactive.

The upshot? Inflammation can zap your drive to get stuff done. Hence, it makes sense to address that inflammation either through supplements, diet, or getting treated!