Originally published on Dr.Weil.com; Used with permission.
Inflammation is vital to healing. The heat, tenderness, swelling and redness surrounding a wound show us that the body is marshaling its healing response. However, in many people, inflammation has escaped its local, temporary boundaries and is happening throughout the body, all the time.
Whole-body, chronic, inappropriate inflammation appears to result from eating processed food, getting insufficient exercise, and experiencing ongoing stress - all of which are common in the modern world. Scientists have long suspected that this kind of unfocused inflammation accelerates aging, leading to faster onset of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers, and ultimately to shortened lifespans. However, solid proof that high levels of inflammation and accelerated aging are linked has been elusive – until now.
Before we go further, I would emphasize that in even the most exquisite control of inflammation cannot stop aging or reverse aging. There's no way to do either, despite what many questionable anti-aging web sites and healthcare practitioners may claim.
In a paper published on June 25, 2014, in the journal Nature Communications, a team from Newcastle University described in detail how inflammation causes cells to undergo more rapid senescence – the deterioration of function leading to cell death, and, ultimately, death of the organism.
The researchers discovered this by studying mice in which a gene that normally modulates the inflammatory response was "switched off" so that the mice were prevented from creating inflammation-calming enzymes. The genetically altered mice were compared to normal mice that retained their ability to produce the enzymes.
The result? The researchers reported that the inflammation-prone mice underwent all aspects of normal aging twice as quickly as the non-genetically altered mice. The lack of key enzymes literally made them old before their time.
The researchers also found that giving the genetically altered mice ibuprofen helped restore their ability to age at a normal rate. This simple, cheap anti-inflammatory drug was able to "reverse the progression of cell senescence and restore the ability of tissues to regenerate," said one of the researchers.
As human beings age, we – like those altered mice – begin to lose our ability to moderate inflammatory response, suggesting we begin aging faster than when we were young. However, I don't recommend that older people take ibuprofen daily except for specific medical reasons, as it can be taxing – and ultimately toxic – to the liver and cause serious internal bleeding.
So are there other healthy aging strategies suggested by this study? It is too soon to draw definitive conclusions, but my Anti-Inflammatory Diet is rich in foods that have been proven to reduce inflammation and protect tissues from it. These include:
- Whole fruits and vegetables
- Asian mushrooms such as shiitaki, enoki and maitake
- Omega-3 rich fish, and fish oil supplements
- Spices including turmeric and ginger
- Green tea
Along with following this diet, you can also contain chronic, inappropriate inflammation via lifestyle changes. Moderate daily exercise – at least 30 minutes a day, at least five days per week – appears to confer anti-inflammatory effects, as do stress-reduction techniques such as meditation and conscious breathing.
This British study is far from the last word on how organisms grow old. The cellular damage wrought by inflammation is likely just one of many metabolic factors that combine to create the changes we group with the label aging. Much more research must be done before we can claim to thoroughly understand the process.
What this study does suggest is that actively managing – and optimizing – our inflammation response can prevent unnecessarily rapid aging. In other words, an anti-inflammatory lifestyle appears to be one of the best ways to increase the likelihood of arriving at a relatively vigorous, healthy old age.
Watch this video for more information: How to Eat: The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
von Zglinicki, Thomas, Chronic inflammation induces telomere dysfunction and accelerates ageing in mice, Nat Commun, 2014/06/24/online, Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited.