We usually feel inflammation as pain, swelling, or redness–especially after an injury–and it’s a normal and essential part of healthy immune function. But unlike acute inflammation, an ever-present, systemic, and low-grade inflammation is a major contributor to the aging process, and is often painless and hardly detectable. You probably won’t feel this type of inflammation, but it does make serious health problems–like an artery-blocking blood clot–much more likely.
Does Inflammation Cause Aging?
Inflammation is involved in nearly every disease process either as a contributing factor or as a consequence. When you accidentally cut your finger, or have an insect bite, your body immediately responds with an acute inflammatory reaction and activates white blood cells that rush to the site of injury to protect against infection and start the healing process–we notice this as redness or swelling.
After the injury has healed sufficiently, your body has complex mechanisms that regulate inflammation under ideal circumstances, activating and calming inflammatory responses as needed–this is inflammation at work in a good way.
But with chronic inflammation, your body fails to turn off this response, contributing to a “slow burn” for sometimes years, and it’s not related to an injury as simple as a cut on your finger.
This slow burn is a simple metaphor for a complicated process by which the body responds to external and internal factors that increase levels of proinflammatory signals like C-reactive protein, cytokines, and reactive oxygen species (ROS). These pro-inflammatory compounds damage cells, and continue to release other metabolic waste that worsens inflammation (1).
How are these compounds produced, and what can you do about it? You’ll find out exactly that in just a moment.
Why ‘Inflammaging’ is Making You Age Quicker
To emphasize the relationship between inflammation and aging, scientists coined the term ‘inflammaging’ to describe what happens when inflammation contributes to chronic disease and damage to the body (2).
We know now that inflammation is an underlying cause for most age-related disease, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Type 2 Diabetes (3).
We’ve all seen what an poorly healing cut on the skin looks like, but imagine if something similar were occuring on the inside of your body in response to something we can’t see, like leaky gut, or autoimmune reaction.
Inflammation plays a primary role in many diseases, such as:
Arthritis. Even though there are many different types of arthritis, inflammation is a key component to the aches and pains. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the joint is damaged which leads to bone shear, pain, and inflammation. On the other end of the spectrum. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune reaction that turns the body’s own inflammatory immune cells against itself.
Diabesity. Low grade inflammation can be measured with something called C-reactive protein or CRP. Research has found that obese individuals, and those with Type 2 Diabetes both have elevated levels of CRP. Fat cells, especially those around the belly, produce CRP; meanwhile, high blood sugar levels lead to increased inflammation and CRP. It’s no surprise that obesity is a key risk factor for diabetes, and that BOTH these things are leading risk factors for coronary artery disease–all three have chronic, low-grade inflammation in common (4).
Cancer. It’s estimated that 30 percent of all cancers are a result of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation produces harmful debris called free radicals, or reactive oxygen species (ROS), and when these substances damage cells it can cause mutations in DNA and RNA (5). ROS in particular negatively affects a cell’s ability to function normally, and that can cause destructive molecules to accumulate faster than the body can get rid of them.
Alzheimer’s Disease. Sustained inflammation within the brain speeds up the mechanisms that contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease. A prolonged immune reaction in the brain contributes to the build up of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain, which is the primary factor for Alzheimer’s Disease (6).
How to Reduce Inflammation
Reducing levels of inflammation always begins with what we put in our body, plus a few key supplements that give your cells the ability to reduce the damaging effects.
- Eat a healthy diet, and promote a variety of gut microbiota. Everyone’s intestinal microbiome is as unique to them as a fingerprint. Research shows that poor microbial diversity in the gut is associated with higher levels of chronic disease. If you already know you’re sensitive to gluten, or don’t tolerate dairy well–you should seriously consider removing these foods from your diet. Continuing to eat foods you aren’t properly digesting creates inflammation in the gut, and can trigger autoimmune reactions and create problems like leaky gut or imbalances with friendly bacteria.
- Balance blood sugar. High insulin, like we experience if we’re insulin resistant, is incredibly pro-inflammatory (4). Eliminating processed sugar and carbohydrates is a must if you want to reduce the level of inflammation your body produces.
- Eat more foods that fight inflammation. Food isn’t just calories, but information we give our body multiple times per day. Basics like blueberries, beets, broccoli, and citrus are great sources of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that support your body’s detoxification pathways and cellular integrity. This delightfully vibrant detox juice is a favorite, and packs a healthy punch for inflammation, detox, and fiber.
Ginger and turmeric are two other anti-inflammatory foods, and can be used on their own, or as spices you add to a dish.
CBD–or cannabidiol–which is a naturally occurring component of the hemp plant, interacts with pathways that exist in every human called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a complex system of neurotransmitters and signaling molecules that control the expression of certain proteins.
Some of these proteins are inflammatory, like C-reactive protein, and other cytokines.
CBD has been shown to modulate the production of inflammatory cytokines, and balance immune response (7)
- Manage stress. Acts of self-care like stress reduction aren’t indulgent–they actually keep you much healthier over the course of your life. We experience physiological changes in our body as a response to inflammatory proteins produced by stress. Chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression are all worsened by stress (8).
We may not be able to change stressful situations we encounter, but we can change our perception of them by cultivating skills like guided imagery, meditation, or taking small moments during the day to center our thoughts with deep breathing exercises. These cost absolutely nothing to perform, and bring great value to your day.
It’s Never Too Late To Reduce Inflammation
Everyone ages. For all the unique experiences we have, this is one we will all share–but the shining thing to remember is that we don’t have to age in an uncomfortable, unhealthy way.
It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, we can all benefit from reducing chronic inflammation.
We are living longer now than we ever have before, but living healthier is key to that longevity. If you’re already seeing the effects of inflammaging, it’s not too late to make changes that can halt–and even reverse–those damaging effects.
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