Understanding Chronic Inflammation and Aging

Chronic Inflammation and Aging

Inflammation is a biological process that has received quite a bit of media attention in recent years and has been the subject of numerous health trends, especially in the fields of diet and weight loss. Inflammation is defined by the National Institute of Health as “a very complex response to an injury, infection, or other stimulus, in which many different cell types and secreted factors orchestrate protective immunity, tissue repair, and resolution of tissue damage.”

New research suggests that there is an important link between chronic inflammation and aging, with some scientists thinking that inflammation is THE single most critical factor in human aging. While the jury is still out on whether this is really true, we can certainly review the current existing information to discover whether inflammation is something we need to be concerned about if we wish to age gracefully. SPOILER ALERT: It is!

The Research

Most research has been focused on understanding the role of inflammation among the elderly, especially as far as degenerative diseases are concerned. While the overall role of inflammation in the human lifespan from youth to old age is still unclear, there is a fair amount of consensus that inflammation plays a primary role in the accelerated aging process that is usually seen among the elderly.

degenerative aging disease
Staff Sgt. Nick Crouse, a medical technician with the 193rd Special Operations Wing’s Medical Group out of Middletown, Pa., takes the blood pressure of a patient. Crouse and other members of the 193rd Medical Group provided free health screenings at the Hawaii County Office of Aging in Hilo, Hawaii, June 14. Members of the 193rd Medical Group are in Hilo for Medical Innovative Readiness Training.

 

A recent panel organized by the National Institute of Health and National Geroscience Interest Group on aging stated that “It is now recognized that a mild pro-inflammatory state is correlated with the major degenerative diseases of the elderly.”

What causes inflammation?

This begs the question: how does inflammation start in the body?  

A really accurate answer to this question requires a great deal of medical and scientific knowledge and jargon to properly express and understand. I don’t have this, and you might not either.

But a reasonably concise summary from a recent study in the review journal Recent Patents on Inflammation & Allergy Drug Discovery explains, “The inflammatory process induces oxidative stress and reduces cellular antioxidant capacity. Overproduced free radicals react with cell membrane fatty acids and proteins, impairing their function permanently.”

free radicals and inflammation

What exactly does all that mean? Inflammation, simply put, is the body’s attempt to repair an abnormal situation in the body. 

Here’s an example: You get up in the morning, but you’re barely awake. Your eyes aren’t fully open, so on your way around the bed, you stub your toe on the bed post. That toe, since you stubbed it really hard, starts to swell and goes from a bright red color to black and blue as it heals and goes back to normal.  That inflammation process is the body sending reinforcements to the hurt area to protect and/or heal it.

When inflammation goes chronic

Over time, unresolved inflammation can turn chronic. Chronic inflammation is what contributes to the aging process. As research has found, chronic inflammation induces stress (which is interesting, because it is a result of stress on the body, so it results in what causes it), and certain bodily functions and capacities (including the ability to deal with stress) are severely limited. Many of these are critical to the aging process, so these functional problems speed up aging. 

turn back the hands of time

how to prevent inflammation

Now that we have a basic understanding of the aging process and inflammation’s role in it, how do we prevent inflammation from occurring? There is no definite answer to this question; however, two different recent studies examined the role of calorie restriction on the inflammation process.

Both studies, from Ageing Research Reviews and Antioxidants and Redox Signaling examined the anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects of calorie restriction and exercise. This might not be a great surprise to anyone, but these studies found that an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle increased inflammation and, as a result, the aging process.

In fact, the study from Antioxidants and Redox Signaling found that “major chronic aging-related diseases such as atherosclerosis, arthritis, dementia, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases, are inflammation-related.” It is certainly not a coincidence that most of these conditions are also related to a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet choices.

Antioxidants have been found to reduce the work of free radicals and inflammation within the body. Common antioxidants include vitamins A, C, E, folic acid, and beta carotene. One of the best antioxidant supplements I’ve ever found comes from my favorite online shopping club. This supplement is backed by some really strong research evidence that shows it helps significantly reduce inflammation and the problems it causes. It was  one of the first products I bought when I joined the club several months ago, and it’s one of the main reasons I’m determined to stay a customer for life. It’s really that amazing!

Summing It All Up

It is fair to conclude that inflammation is strongly correlated with, and may even be a direct cause of, many aging and degenerative conditions we face later in life. We can also be secure in the knowledge that inflammation is a reactive process of our body in an attempt to heal situations that threaten physical balance, or to combat stress-inducing physical conditions, like poor dietary choices and lack of exercise.

To boil it down to the simplest of terms: inflammation increases the aging process, and poor diet and lack of exercise increase inflammation; therefore, stick to a healthy diet as much as possible and get regular exercise to stay younger longer!

What do you think? Have you ever considered inflammation to be a problem before? What steps are you going to take to reduce it for a healthier, livelier you?

References