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Inflammaging: The Two-Factor Health Buster

Introduction

Inflammation and aging which are referred to as “inflammaging” are two of the most important factors in human health.

Infact, it’s a two-factor health buster!

We all know that inflammation in some way is the root of disease.

Aging is a process that everyone goes through, and we accept this fact.

But why do some age faster than others?

We know from experience that chronological age and medical age can be quite different in some people.

While some inflammation is necessary and beneficial, too much of it can have harmful effects on the body leading to an accelerated aging process.

Inflammation and aging are closely related and understanding how they interact can help us take steps to protect our health as we grow older.

What Is Inflammaging?

Inflammation and aging are collectively termed “inflammaging.” This terminology was first used in 2007, by researchers at the University of Bologna led by Claudio Franceschi.

While acute inflammation is a necessary process that helps the body heal and protect itself, chronic inflammation can lead to age-associated diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and much more.

Aging is a process characterized by the gradual decline in the body’s ability to repair and regenerate itself. Inflammation is a process known to contribute to the aging process.

Thus, inflammation and aging are linked and believed to result from an imbalance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses.

Over time, these conditions progress and become what we consider the “aging phenotype.”

Inflammaging is a major contributor to the development of age-related diseases, and understanding it is critical to developing strategies that can improve our health and slow down the progress of medical aging.

Acute vs Chronic Inflammation

Acute inflammation is a normal, protective response that occurs when the body’s tissues are injured or infected.

It occurs shortly after the onset of an injury or infection and decreases as the healing process is carried out by our body’s immune response. It resolves completely once healing is complete.

Chronic inflammation lasts for a long time and develops into chronic diseases unless detected and measures taken to interrupt its progression.

It’s a risk factor for many age-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, organ failure, and dementia.

Health Effects of Inflammaging

As we know, acute inflammation is a short-duration, natural response, but chronic inflammation is not normal.

It is this abnormal balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory processes which create a state of imbalance in favor of the inflammatory process.

Thus, progression of disease and in a sense, aging.

We always think this is just natural and normal, but is it? Not at all!

Inflammation and the Cardiovascular System

The cardiovascular system is a network of organs that work together to circulate blood throughout the body.

This inflammation can have a negative effect on the cardiovascular system, leading to diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, congestive heart failure, and conductive diseases such as arrhythmias and heart block.

Inflammation can damage the endothelium, which is the layer of cells that line the blood vessels. This damage can cause the blood vessels to become less elastic and more susceptible to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

Inflammation can also lead to thrombosis, or formation of blood clots, which can block the arteries and lead to a heart attack, stroke, organ failure, and amputations.

Inflammation and the Brain

Inflammation can have a devastating effect on the brain and nervous system, leading to a variety of age-related diseases.

One of the most well-known diseases associated with inflammaging is Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, inflammaging has been linked to other dementias via different processes as well as other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of these diseases.

Inflammation can be controlled through lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise which will be covered shortly.

Furthermore, older adults can keep their brains healthy by staying mentally active and engaged in social activities.

By understanding the role of inflammation in aging, we can take steps to protect our brains and nervous systems from the ravages of age-related disease.

So, if you’re looking for a way to save for retirement without getting a tax break now, a Roth 401k may be right for you.

Notice that on the Roth 401k and the Roth IRA, the income limits are the same, but contribution limits are different.

Inflammation and the Musculoskeletal System

Inflammation and aging have a progressively negative effect on our musculoskeletal system, making us more susceptible to falls, fractures, and frailty.

Arthritis is one of the most common results of inflammaging, and it can cause significant pain and disability.

Arthritis develops essentially from an imbalance of cytokines (signaling molecules) which signal the immune system to initiate the body’s inflammatory response to various stimuli.

When there is a constant activation of this process in the joints, we develop arthritis. Until recently, this was considered a “wear-and-tear” problem, but now is considered purely inflammatory.

In the elderly, arthritis is a common cause of falls, fractures, and frailty.

Falls with fractures of weight-bearing bones have a high mortality rate and this is not from the acute event, but rather from the recovery which seems to be a “domino effect” with multiple health issues seemingly arising during this period when the body is at a weaker than usual state.

Frailty is a syndrome characterized by a reduction in physiologic reserves and dysfunction of multiple systems.

Although there are several mechanisms behind frailty, the presence of chronic inflammation is believed to play a significant role.

How Diabetes and Obesity Contribute to Inflammaging

Diabetes and obesity are both common contributors to inflammaging. The two most common causes of diabetes are obesity and poor diet.

When someone is obese, they have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

This is because obesity causes the body to become resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, blood sugar levels increase, which can lead to diabetes.

A diet that is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates is inflammatory in nature and leads to insulin resistance.

This type of diet can also lead to obesity, which further increases the risk of diabetes.

So, you can easily end up in a cycle of inflammation and disease progression that will negatively affect your health and cause your body to age at a quicker rate than it should.

Obesity also leads to changes in the immune system.

These changes include inflammation of adipose tissue which stimulates activation of macrophages and mast cells which are just two of the most active cells of the immune response.

This is no surprise, but it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and eat healthy foods.

Why Does Inflammation Increase Cancer Risk?

Inflammation is a natural response when it lasts for short duration, but in the long term, it can also damage healthy cells.

Researchers have linked chronic inflammation with an increased risk for cancer. Inflammation seems to promote tumor growth and make tumors more resistant to treatment.

Scientists are still working to understand all the ways that inflammation contributes to cancer development and progression. At least, they have identified a few mechanisms so far that give us some information.

Inflammatory cytokines are signaling proteins that help regulate the immune response. They can promote cell growth and inhibit cell death.

For example, some inflammatory cytokines stimulate angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels. This process is important for tumor growth because tumors need a blood supply to grow larger.

Another way inflammation can contribute to cancer is by promoting epigenetic changes. Epigenetics refers to modifications to the DNA that affect gene expression but don’t change the DNA sequence itself.

Inflammation can cause epigenetic changes that silence genes that normally suppress tumor growth or activate genes that promote cell proliferation.

Finally, inflammation can induce oxidative stress, which can damage DNA and lead to cancer-causing mutations.

Inflammatory cells produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are highly reactive molecules that can damage DNA, proteins, and lipids. Therefore, eating foods containing antioxidants are so important.

While the link between inflammation and cancer is clear, the exact mechanisms by which inflammation contributes to cancer development and progression are still being investigated.

Strategies to Fight Inflammation

There are several strategies that you can employ to fight inflammation, which is important for aging individuals.

  • Get enough quality sleep every night.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet and avoid inflammatory foods.
  • Maintain a normal weight.

Let’s expand on these action items for more specifics.

Quality Sleep: How Much is Enough?

Getting enough quality sleep is essential for reducing inflammation and preventing the negative effects of aging.

Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

There are a few things you can do to ensure you get quality sleep every night.

  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  • Establish a regular sleep schedule.
  • Limit screen (blue light) time before bed.

3 Exercise Strategies for Reducing Weight and Inflammation

There are three categories of exercise that can help reduce inflammation and promote weight loss. Exercise is a key part of any strategy to reduce inflammation, as it helps to keep the body active and healthy.

It is important to focus on exercises that promote weight loss, such as resistance training, aerobic activities, balance, and flexibility exercises.

#1: Resistance Training

Resistance training is a type of physical exercise that involves working against resistance to increase muscle strength and endurance.

It is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can help reduce the risk of age-related muscle loss.

Resistance training can also help improve bone density and reduce the risk of injuries.

#2: Aerobic Activity

Aerobic activity is any form of exercise that gets your heart rate up and causes you to breathe harder.

The most common types of aerobic activity are walking, running, biking, swimming, and using an elliptical machine. All these activities work your heart and lungs and can help improve your overall health.

Aerobic activity is another important strategy for reducing inflammation and promoting overall health.

Research has shown that aerobic exercise can help reduce inflammatory markers in the blood.

Aerobic activity can also help improve sleep quality, which is another important factor in reducing inflammation.

#3: Balance and Flexibility Training

Balance and flexibility training are important for everyone, but especially for those who want to fight inflammation and aging.

Balance training helps to keep you stable and strong, while flexibility training keeps your muscles and joints supple.

Both balance and flexibility training can be done easily at home with just a few pieces of equipment.

This type of training helps to improve your overall strength, coordination, and balance.

It will also help to reduce your risk of injuries by keeping your muscles and joints healthy.

Nutrition Strategies for Fighting Inflammation

There are many nutrition strategies that can be used to help fight inflammation. It is paramount to make sure you are getting enough protein, vegetables, antioxidants, and healthy fats.

When I started on this section, I realized an entire book would not even cover it all. Therefore, this will only tickle the surface to get you started.

But let’s lay out some general guidelines.

How Much is Enough Protein?

Protein is essential for repairing and building muscle, and it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough protein as you get older.

The recommended daily intake for protein is around 0.36 grams per pound, so a person who weighs 150 pounds would need around 54 grams of protein per day. Of note, this will be different for patients with kidney disease.

There are several high-quality sources of protein, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can get protein from tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Get Your Vegetables!

Certain vegetables are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Some of the best include broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, leafy greens, and cabbage.

Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale are high in vitamins A and C. These vegetables contain high levels of antioxidants and other nutrients that help to reduce inflammation.

Additionally, they are low in calories and high in fiber, making them a healthy choice for anyone looking to improve their diet.

Fruits: Are Some Better Than Others?

Certain fruits are better for you than others when it comes to fighting inflammation and aging.

Fruits high in antioxidants, such as blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, and cherries, can protect against harmful toxins and free radicals in the body.

These fruits are also low in sugar, making them a good choice for people looking to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

Fruits that are high in sugars such as oranges, bananas, grapes, and pineapples are going to increase blood glucose levels and even though some contain antioxidants are not the best choice.

Best choice overall – go for the blueberries!

Good and Bad Fats

Not all fats are created equal. Inflammation is often caused by eating too many omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in processed foods and vegetable oils.

To help reduce inflammation, focus on consuming more omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and various raw nuts such as walnuts.

These healthy fats help to reduce inflammation and promote overall health.

There are also good fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and other nut oils to use for cooking.

These are higher in monounsaturated fat. Some are also high in vitamin E and polyphenols which are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory.

Be careful though as some processes destroy the good and make them bad!

In general, if the fats you are eating or cooking with was processed – beware!

Whole Grains

Whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet and offer many health benefits. They are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

When selecting whole grains, it is important to choose those that are highest in fiber and nutrients, but the least processed. Some of the best options include oats, quinoa, and brown rice. These grains can help to reduce inflammation.

I do take issue with gluten-containing foods. Gluten is added to many foods as a thickener, and it also adds texture and flavor. It is found in many processed foods.

There are some individuals that have gluten allergies, and there are studies addressing its role in inflammatory bowel diseases.

In general, the more a product is processed – the lower the quality of the nutrition!

So, there is some confounding information. Personally, I limit eating these foods.

Pro-Inflammatory Foods to Avoid

It can be said, “We are what we eat!” Therefore, if what we eat is not healthy food, can we expect to be healthy?

Of course NOT!

There are certain foods that promote inflammation, while others help to reduce it.

Foods that promote inflammation include sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, saturated fats, and processed meats. (Possibly foods with gluten?)

These foods should be limited or avoided altogether to help reduce inflammation.

Conclusion

Inflammaging is the term used to describe the chronic, low-grade inflammation that occurs as we age.

Inflammaging can lead to several health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease just to name a few.

There are several strategies we can employ to help reduce inflammation and fight the effects of inflammaging.

There are many things that contribute to inflammation, but diet is a major factor!

By following these tips, we can get our body healthy and reduce inflammation.

After writing this blog, I have a new goal to follow a healthier diet.

So, come along with me and let’s get healthier!

I hope you find this blog on Inflammaging helpful and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below or send me an email.

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-Kelly Thurmon

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