The Importance of Inflammation in Aging

As noted numerous times in the past here at Fight Aging!, chronic inflammation is a bad thing. Aging is the accumulation of damage, and the evidence strongly suggests inflammation to be a mechanism by which many different medical conditions cause damage and reduce life expectancy - such as autoimmune diseases, for example. Even the presence of excess visceral fat tissue appears to raise the risk of age-related disease and lower life span through boosting levels of inflammation. Furthermore, as you get older, and even in the best of circumstances and health, the immune system itself starts to fall into a malfunctioning state in which it causes ever greater levels of inflammation - thus producing ever more damage while at the same time failing to do its job.

Markers of inflammation correlate well with mortality rates, which is well worth keeping in mind given just how easy it is to slip into a lifestyle that greatly raises levels of inflammation.

So avoid inflammation as best you can. The easiest and some of the best tools are calorie restriction and exercise, both of which do far more for a generally healthy individual than any presently available medical technology. But not everyone has the luxury of being able to be a generally healthy individual: those suffering auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis are going suffer increasing inflammation and a lowered life expectancy until a cure arrives. So the future of health has to be as much about technological progress as it is about better using the tools that are to hand today.

Here are a couple of open access papers as a reminder of the bad things that inflammation does to you - and, for most of the younger members of the audience, via the agency of that surplus visceral fat tissue you happen to be carrying around.

Inflammation in Aging: Cause, Effect, or Both?

Aging is a progressive degenerative process tightly integrated with inflammation. Cause and effect are not clear. A number of theories have been developed that attempt to define the role of chronic inflammation in aging ... However, no single theory explains all aspects of aging; instead, it is likely that multiple processes contribute and that all are intertwined with inflammatory responses.

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While there does not appear to be a "cure" for the complex process of aging, it should be possible to facilitate successful aging, namely, aging without significant loss of cognitive or physical function and relatively free of disease. There are lifestyle factors and potential interventions that can slow specific processes primarily through reduction or prevention of chronic inflammation and therefore forestall aging itself.

Systemic immune challenges trigger and drive Alzheimer-like neuropathology in mice

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most prevalent form of age-related dementia, and its effect on society increases exponentially as the population ages. Accumulating evidence suggests that neuroinflammation, mediated by the brain's innate immune system, contributes to AD neuropathology and exacerbates the course of the disease.

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We found that a systemic immune challenge during late gestation predisposes [mice] to develop AD-like neuropathology during the course of aging. They display chronic elevation of inflammatory cytokines [and] significant impairments in working memory in old age. If this prenatal infection is followed by a second immune challenge in adulthood, the phenotype is strongly exacerbated, and mimics AD-like neuropathologic changes. ... Based on the similarity between the changes in immune-challenged mice and the development of AD in humans, we suggest that systemic infections represent a major risk factor for the development of AD.

Infections mean inflammation, of course - one of the many reasons that people exposed to a large burden of infectious disease tend not to live as long as their peers. They become more burdened by damage, from the disease process and from the inflammation that attends it, with each infection. One of the reasons that we live longer than our ancestors is that we are better at controlling and evading infectious disease: not just the diseases that kill people in youth, but the diseases that are survived.

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