Immune Health and Inflammation - Key Players in the Fight Against Aging

An infection invades your body. Cells become damaged. White blood cells respond to the scene, dispersing infection-fighting chemicals into your blood and tissue. Pain, swelling, and/or redness may ensue but if all goes to plan, the infection is thwarted. 

This process is representative of the helpful side of inflammation, what we think of as acute inflammation. This biological response is essential to a healthy immune system. 

What happens when the inflammation becomes chronic? What if the healthy immune response is unable to turn itself off? How does this impact us as we age? Is there any way to stop it?


Chronic Inflammation and Disease: A Vicious Cycle

We know that an appropriate immune response to infection or injury is inflammation. It is the inability to resolve this inflammation that becomes troublesome. 

Inflammaging is the result of chronic, low-grade inflammation persisting as we age. We know that this process contributes to most age-related diseases including cancers, dementia, heart disease, and obesity.

Chronic inflammation can be triggered by injury, inappropriate diet, stress, or environmental response to toxins. We can also be genetically prone to chronic inflammation. 

Inflammaging creates senescent cells – cells that refuse to die off when they should. The senescent cells release inflammaging cytokines (proteins that tell cells what to do) that damage healthy cells in the area. The cycle continues around and around, resulting in disease.

Disease results from the imbalance in pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines created by the inflammaging cycle above. When pro-inflammatory cytokines, influenced by various factors like age, genetics, senescence, and environmental factors, start to outweigh their anti-inflammatory counterparts, immune dysfunction appears.

Immune dysfunction leads to an array of negative impacts including diminished vaccine efficiency, further immune cell function issues, and increased inflammation. These factors encourage inflammaging and the process feeds itself again and again. Without a braking mechanism, disease is inevitable. 


Stopping the Cycle and the True Fix

Understanding the cyclical way inflammaging influences our bodies and creates disease processes is vital to gaining a foothold on reversing the damage. There are several examples of simple sources of inflammation becoming big problems.

An environmental or biological sleep disruption leads to a sudden upsetting of your circadian clock. This leads to impacts on your immune system, which results in inappropriate responses causing continued sleep disruption. 

The cycle of sleep and circadian clock disruption must be broken. We cannot treat the inflammation over and over without fixing what is causing the problem with the circadian clock. The inflammatory process will simply restart. 

An illness or dietary issue leads to an imbalance in your gut microbiome. 70% of the immune system exists in the gut. A gut lacking a healthy anaerobic environment promotes inflammation. 

Common advice for an unhealthy microbiome is to just take probiotics. Putting anaerobes into an unhealthy environment will just lead to their demise. We must restore the healthy gut with fiber and butyrate, then add anaerobes as needed to the healthier environment. 

Hormone dysfunction can be a prominent cause of inflammation that leads to imbalance across the body. As hormones influence sleep, gut health, and appropriate responses to various stressors, it is vital that any hormonal issues be addressed ahead of resolving inflammatory processes.

Fixing the cycle is vital to dealing with inappropriate, chronic inflammation that leads to inflammaging. Arthritis is a common disease process that stems from inflammaging. All too often, the proposed solution is to simply treat the inflammation with steroids or NSAIDs. Unfortunately, the cause of the inflammation persists and resumes its work once the temporary solution wears off. We must think of arthritis as an inflammatory disease that involves treating the underlying immune system responses. 

It is possible to treat the root cause of inflammation – whether it stems from your circadian clock, your gut, or your hormones. In our gut health example above, we should introduce fiber, increase butyrate and truly restore the gut environment. When thinking about osteoarthritis, simple ways to do this are through things like supplements (i.e. spermidine, EGCG, trehalose) or regenerative options like Pentosan Polysulfate (PPS).  

Additionally, building muscle is vital to fighting off inflammaging as we age. We often give up on strength training as we get older, trending toward running, biking, or other aerobic exercises. Muscle tissue produces myokines. Myokines influence every organ system and lower the number of bad cytokines that cause damaging cells. 

Inducing appropriate autophagy to remove the senescent cells that cause so much trouble will help prevent inflammaging. Supplementing with spermidine can induce this process and help improve cellular immune function. 

Chronic inflammation, and its resulting inflammaging, causes diseases. Find the cause, stop the cycle, and fix the inflammation. Staving off the damaging process of inflammaging will improve your life span and your health span.

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Published December 10, 2021

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