Aging Process Speeded By Chronic Inflammation

AgingHealthspan: the years of life spent relatively free of disability and serious illness. A study from the Yale School of Medicine released in the October, 2013, issue of Cell Metabolism shows that chronic inflammation can speed the aging process and significantly reduce healthspan.

Chronic inflammation is different from the swelling that occurs with a specific injury, such as a sprained ankle. Acute inflammation can typically be resolved with ice and time. Chronic inflammation is a slowly advancing disturbance that cannot be felt or tested for.

It starts with the immune system, the body’s first line of defense against damage or harm. During the aging process the body’s cells change, causing the immune system to produce low-level, chronic inflammation throughout the body. The Yale research is the first to show that inflammation is directly linked to functional deterioration during aging.

The Yale study has identified an immune sensor, Nlrp3, as the specific trigger of inflammation. Nlrp3 is activated with age and is the common start of inflammation-driven functional decline. This inflammation is associated with many chronic age-related diseases, including gout, arthritis, diabetes, impaired memory, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Mice were tested to determine whether reducing Nlrp3 activity could lower inflammation and age-associated functional decline. Results showed that there were fewer age-related disorders such as bone loss, dementia, cataracts, and glucose intolerance in the mice with lower Nlrp3 activation

Vishwa Deep Dixit, Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study said the question is whether the trigger for aging that causes low-level inflammation can be switched off to slow the onset of the chronic diseases that occur with age.

If the Nlrp3 immune sensor could be manipulated to reduce or delay the chronic inflammation that speeds the aging process, it could possibly lead to prolonged healthspan, and old age reasonably free of disability or disease.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in November, 2013, also said that chronic inflammation is associated with an array of unhealthy aging characteristics, and a likelihood of successful aging that is decreased.


And a study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, shows that Alzheimer’s disease is also associated with inflammation. The problem with Alzheimer’s is that there are not enough of the molecules needed for tissue recovery, so the resolution of the inflammatory process does not happen. The study determined that stimulating the resolution of inflammation may result in less loss of brain function.

Researchers continue to look for therapies or diets that could prevent chronic diseases through reducing excessive inflammation processes. In the meantime there are some tried and true suggestions for improving overall health that may also reduce chronic inflammation.

Control weight: In addition to controlling weight, it is important to pay attention to where the body is putting on fat. Accumulating fat in the waist area can indicate chronic inflammation.

Control stress and get enough sleep: Stress has been found to be related to the accumulation of belly fat. Stress hormones bind to receptors on fat cells, encouraging storage of fat and increasing the number of fat cells. These cells produce more chemicals that increase inflammation.

Exercise: But in moderation. Research suggests that extensive workouts can actually increase inflammation. 60 minutes of activity at one time gives the health benefits needed without risking increased inflammation.

Diet: Follow a Mediterranean-style diet that includes plenty of fruits, nuts, vegetables, olive oil, and fish to protect the heart and lower the levels of chemicals that encourage inflammation. Include antioxidant-rich foods, green tea, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Floss and brush daily: There is a well-established connection between heart disease and gum disease.

Probiotics: UCLA School of Medicine researchers report that intestinal inflammation could be related to white blood cell damage in other parts of the body, resulting in a whole body inflammatory response.

As the population over 50 increases, doctors are seeing an associated increase in age-related diseases. Researchers now say treating those individual diseases may be wrong, and that they may be more effectively handled by treating the chronic inflammation shown to speed the aging process.

By Beth A. Balen

Yale University
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