There are many factors involved in the aging process, from the length of your telomeres to the unavoidable passage of time. One of those factors is the often-discussed inflammation. It’s easy to think of inflammation as just an irritation, something that happens when you eat an item that doesn’t agree with you or come in contact with something abrasive. But in reality, inflammation is much more important and influential than that.
The better you understand inflammation and its link to age-related diseases, the better you can begin to combat its effects. Read on for more information on what exactly inflammation is, what it does to our bodies and how to protect yourself from its aging effects.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a word that gets tossed around a lot in the health and wellness community these days. It seems as though it’s become a blanket term to encompass the cause of all our discomfort. But medically speaking, inflammation is very specific. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, inflammation is the response of the body’s immune system to stimulus. Acute inflammation can appear in the form of redness, swelling, heat, pain or loss of function. In more severe cases, it can cause exhaustion, fever and generalized symptoms of feeling ill. It can be detected by changes in the number of defensive cells in the blood or, in very extreme cases, sepsis.
Despite all of these side effects, inflammation is completely necessary and even good for our bodies. Without inflammation our bodies would be overrun by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Inflammation is part of our natural defense against intruders. When a foreign body, like a virus or bacteria, enters the body, your white blood cells kick into combat mode. This healthy inflammation lasts a few hours or days and then backs off when the threat has been eliminated.
Chronic inflammation is of long duration and can wreak havoc on your body. Cytokines, part of the body’s potent virus-killing chemical arsenal, can move throughout your bloodstream, potentially damaging healthy tissue. The damage can build up, inciting the formation of plaque in your arteries and may even promote tumor growth.
How Does It Contribute To The Body’s Aging Process?
It’s this chronic inflammation that can contribute to the aging process. It’s been indicated as the common denominator is many age-related diseases, such as arthritis, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Inflammation can seriously impair function independent of disease as well. Excessive weight can spark an inflammatory response within fat cells. It doesn’t just slow us down. With weight gain, fat cells grow larger and begin to churn out cytokines. In one study, the cytokine IL-6, usually produced by the immune system when the body is fighting an infection or healing a burn, was elevated by as much as 10 times the normal level in the body fat of overweight people. IL-6 and other inflammatory factors can block insulin’s ability to communicate within a cell, which can lead to the development of insulin resistance.
Chronic stress can incite inflammation as well. The hormone cortisol has a role in regulating the inflammatory response. When stress is severe and ongoing, it can interrupt the hormone’s ability to do its job. This allows inflammation to continue unchecked. Stress has also been linked to an increase in the production of certain inflammatory white blood cells, which can increase the risk of inflammation-related diseases.
How Can You Fight Back?
One way to fight inflammation is with smart food choices. Doctors have a special interest in using probiotics to influence the inflammatory response originating in your gut. Your intestines are home to 70 percent of your immune cells. Both good and bad bacteria that live in your gut, known as microbiota, influence the health of your immune system. Eating well supports a healthy bacterial balance. A healthy diet can keep excess weight at bay as well, which can eliminate the inflammation caused by being overweight.
For more information on how to fight inflammation and other factors contributing to the aging process, follow our series based on the Ultimate Anti-Aging Guide: Younger In 8 Weeks.