Aging is inevitable, but “inflammaging”
doesn’t have to be.
Coined by researchers in Italy, inflammaging is a term used to describe the kind of chronic, low-grade inflammation that speeds up our rate of cellular aging. The result? Premature aging of our skin and body, accelerating the processes that lead to collagen breakdown, fine lines, wrinkles and lacklustre skin, thinner hair and brittle nails, as well as contributing to age-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and arthritis.
As we get older, our ability to provide the optimal environment for our gut microbes to produce anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids naturally declines. But many of the effects of inflammaging are preventable with healthy diet and lifestyle choices.
While its causes are complex and varied; UV radiation, stress and environmental toxins certainly play a role. Recent studies also suggest alterations to the gut microbiome and impaired intestinal epithelial barrier–leaky gut syndrome, can be a major factor. The key to strengthening your gut lining and the health of your microbiome is eating a nutrient-dense, gut-friendly diet.
There are many potential factors that can trigger or increase excessive inflammation, but what’s important isn’t only focusing on stopping or reducing inflammation — which is essentially just a symptom — but rather looking at the bigger picture. Unfortunately, the solution in modern medicine to inflammation has been, “Let’s just prescribe a drug that knocks out inflammation.” But you’re way better off asking, “Why is there damage and excessive inflammation, and what can we do about it?”
The following strategies address both: What’s stoking chronic inflammation in the first place, as well as how to put out or control the fire that’s burning — and ultimately slow down the aging process.
1. Address the Stress in Your Life
One of the biggest drivers of inflammation is stress. There are a few ways stress triggers inflammation, but one of the most significant is by interfering with and disrupting the body’s hormones and complex messaging system, essentially “turning on” the immune system to produce inflammation.
2. Swap Processed, Sugary Foods for a Rainbow of Produce
Refined carbs and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages are especially dangerous. They cause insulin levels to spike, potentially leading to insulin resistance, and they contribute to weight gain and “bad” LDL cholesterol, all of which can fuel inflammation.
A diet high in sugar and refined carbs also leads to an inflammatory process called glycation, which hardens and weakens collagen. Processed and fried foods also tend to be loaded with volatile omega-6 fatty acids, which are inflammatory by nature.
On the other hand, healthier eating patterns, which include consuming lots of fresh fruits and vegetables along with fiber-rich whole grains and other plant foods, was shown to cause fewer spikes in blood glucose and was associated with reduced markers of inflammation.
Part of the inflammatory process is governed by endorphins — they help control the repair process, keeping inflammation from becoming excessive. But if you’re not moving, you’re not producing endorphins.
That doesn’t mean you have to become an elite athlete or even work out intensely. Instead, walk more, do some yoga, and take up hobbies that keep you moving, like gardening, golfing, hiking, or biking. When we move a moderate amount, it’s enough to stimulate endorphin production.
Staying physically active helps keep weight in check and reduces body fat. Fat cells are known to secrete a type of inflammatory molecule, especially the dangerous visceral fat that collects around your midsection.
4. Mind Your Gut Microbes
A healthy balance of bacteria in your body (a.k.a. your microbiome) works to prevent excessive inflammation in a few different ways. For starters, 70% of your immune system resides in your gut, and the microbes there help modulate your body’s immune response, which includes regulating inflammation.
Recent research suggests that overuse of antibiotics and changes in diet, among other factors, have led to a less diverse and resilient microbiome among modern populations. A strong gut barrier ensures that potentially inflammatory substances can’t make their way through your GI tract and into your system.
All the strategies discussed above – a veggie-loaded diet, reducing stress, and getting exercise and enough sleep – can all help keep your gut bugs happy.
5. Get Your Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids — whether you consume them in fatty fish like salmon and sardines or take supplements such as krill oil — are one of the most effective ways to reduce inflammation, especially for those at risk for heart disease. Not only are they potent antioxidants, omega-3s seem to exhibit direct anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting COX-2 enzymes.
Omega-3s also balance the effects of inflammation-stoking omega-6 fatty acids. The ideal is to keep a low ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, which you can easily do by reducing your intake of processed and fried foods (which are cooked in oils that are loaded with omega-6s), and upping your intake of fish and taking omega-3-rich supplements.
6. Look to Turmeric and Other Anti-inflammatory Herbs
Most herbs have antioxidant properties that help control excessive inflammation. Among the best is turmeric. It’s a potent antioxidant that lends electrons to hungry free radicals, neutralizing their damaging potential. But turmeric has another useful function: It also works a little like a natural, more gentle ibuprofen.
When you take ibuprofen, you’re blocking an enzyme called COX-2, disconnecting the ability of cells to send out the signal that you need an influx of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, cutting the inflammatory response. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs do that, too, but they also block an enzyme, COX-1, which helps protect the stomach, which can leave it vulnerable to ulcers.
Other herbs and natural remedies I recommend: Reishi, Cat’s Claw, and Ashwagandha are antimicrobial and have anti-inflammatory properties.
7. Take In Electrons
The free radicals that cause inflammation are so damaging because they’re incomplete molecules missing an electron. As free radicals steal electrons from whatever cells and tissues they can, they wreak major havoc along the way. So if you can increase your system’s supply of electrons, it could help neutralize them and reduce the damage.
Alkaline water is electron-rich water, so it donates electrons that help neutralize free radicals. And breathing in negative ions from the air around pine forests and natural bodies of water also can donate electrons to your body, which may help reduce inflammation.
A trail walk or trip to the shore also gives your system a break from the pollution produced by cars and factories. Air pollution is loaded with positive ions, electron-deficient particles that rob electrons from other molecules and increase systemic inflammation.
Clearly our modern world promotes inflammation at every turn, whether via polluted air and processed food, or by encouraging a stressful and sedentary lifestyle. But with the few simple changes, it’s easy to put out the fire of chronic, uncontrolled inflammation!