When we hear the term “inflammation”, we often think of it as a negative or harmful process. This is because chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of health problems, including autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
However, inflammation is a natural immune response that is triggered by the body’s immune system in response to things like infection, injury, or tissue damage. It is designed to alert our bodies, eliminate harmful stimuli and promote tissue repair.
The inflammatory response can be divided into two phases: the acute phase and the chronic phase. The acute phase is a rapid and short-term response that is initiated within seconds to minutes after tissue injury or infection. The chronic phase, on the other hand, is a slower and longer-term response that can persist for weeks, months, or even years.
The mechanism of acute inflammation is quite complex and involves various players. But the basic idea is that during ‘invasion’ of harmful particles the body’s immune cells release chemical messengers, such as cytokines and chemokines, that attract more immune cells to the site of injury or infection. The immune cells, including neutrophils and macrophages, then engulf and destroy invading pathogens or damaged cells, thus protecting your body.
Immune cells also increase blood flow to the affected area, which causes redness, warmth, and swelling at the site of injury or infection. That’s one of the ways you can tell that your body is infected. When inflammation becomes chronic though, this constant state of “war” can cause damage to healthy tissue and accumulation of harmful substances, which has a negative effect on the body and contributes to age-related diseases.
Inflammation and aging
As we age, our immune system becomes less efficient at controlling inflammation, leading to a state of chronic low-grade inflammation.
Constant state of inflammation can damage tissues and organs, contributing to the aging process and age-related diseases. Inflammation can also lead to the accumulation of damaged cells in the body which further contribute to the aging process by promoting inflammation and impairing tissue repair.
More specifically, here are several ways in which this silent, on-going inflammation can contribute to aging:
- Cellular damage: Chronic inflammation can cause cellular damage over time by increasing oxidative stress and the production of free radicals, which can damage cells, DNA, and other cellular structures. This damage can accumulate over time and contribute to aging.
- Telomere shortening: Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of chromosomes that shorten as cells divide. Chronic inflammation can cause cells to divide more frequently, leading to accelerated telomere shortening and cellular aging.
- Senescent cells: Chronic inflammation can also lead to the accumulation of senescent cells, which are cells that have stopped dividing but remain in the body. Senescent cells can contribute to aging by promoting inflammation and impairing tissue repair.
- Altered immune function: As we age, our immune system becomes less efficient at controlling inflammation, leading to a state of chronic low-grade inflammation known as “inflammaging.” This chronic inflammation can damage tissues and organs, contributing to the aging process and age-related diseases.
- Age-related diseases: Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. These diseases can further contribute to the aging process by causing additional cellular damage and impaired tissue repair.
There are several major theories about how chronic inflammation affects aging. One of the theories is cleverly termed “inflammaging”, which claims that as we age the number of pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemicals) increases, while the number of anti-inflammatory chemicals goes down.
Moreover, we become more susceptible to genetic mutations, increased gut permeability, changes in hormonal and microbiota composition, mitochondrial dysfunction, etc. All of these, combined with poor diet, lack of exercise, irregular sleep and other environmental factors pushes our bodies into a state of chronic low-grade inflammation.
Controlling inflammation as an anti-aging strategy
There is increasing interest in studying how reducing inflammation can be used as an anti-aging strategy and how it can contribute to longer, healthier life. This mainly takes place by preventing or reversing age-related diseases that are connected with inflammation. The basic chain of thought is the following:
- By controlling inflammation, we are decreasing the probability of developing age-related diseases;
- This increases the quality and longevity of the cells and prevents or slows down the deterioration of tissue;
- All of this creates rejuvenation potential and repair capacity that are important for anti-aging treatments and approaches.
Aging has many dimensions and components. The goal of a lot of modern research is to take inflammation related aging out of the equation and thus halt the process of aging.
Therefore, reducing chronic inflammation is an important strategy for promoting healthy aging.
Here’s what research has shown so far:
- Mechanism for cleaning up harmful products in our body deteriorates with age. Strategies like restricting caloric intake (especially as we become older) have shown to reduce inflammation and activate disposal of these harmful materials in the body. This delays aging and improves overall health.
- As I mentioned before, accumulation of senescent cells is another problem associated with inflammation that supports aging. There is evidence that chemically induced removal or elimination of certain senescent cells in mice reverses aging.
- Maintaining healthy gut biota is crucial for many reasons. Experiments show that mice that live in germ-free environments have lower pro-inflammatory chemicals and live longer. Another study shows that improving microbiome in middle-age increases lifespan of killifish.
While many of these results have been confirmed in animal studies, there is still plenty of evidence to think that similar results can be achieved among humans. I have talked extensively about the dangers of inflammation, inflammation assessment, and strategies to reduce inflammation. I am also a firm believer in optimal aging and the future is all about finding ways to postpone the expiration date of our cells and organs.
Lifestyle factors such as an anti-aging diet, anti-aging supplements, regular exercise, stress management, and good sleep hygiene can all help to reduce chronic inflammation and support healthy aging. There are also many other ways you can actively say NO to the damage that comes with time.
First and foremost, be one the lookout of inflammation. Inflammation assessment is the best way to find early signs of inflammation. It can either give you peace of mind or help you prevent inflammation-related diseases. Look into IV vitamin therapy which can be helpful for reducing chronic inflammation. You can also explore natural hormone therapy which is actively used as an anti-aging treatment.
The Dempster Clinic – Center for Functional Medicine is here to help you with your health concerns. Feel free to use our complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session to discuss your health problems and concerns and how we can assist you in achieving your optimal health.
Dr. John Dempster, ND
P.S. Since gut issues and disruption of microbiota can have a pro-inflammatory effect and contribute to premature aging, you could also look into the Healthy Gut Institute. It’s a program designed to help you create the foundation to looking and feeling your very best self.