Inflammaging; The Hidden Cause Of Disease And Ageing, And How to Control It

human body with fire raging images, and term Inflammaging

Inflammaging (also known as inflammaging or inflammageing) is something you're going to hear a lot more about, especially if you're post menopausal and interested in how to age well.

We know that inflammation is a natural and key process to fight infection or injury, but hidden chronic inflammation can contribute to various age-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and even cognitive decline. It's like the stealthy villain that lurks in the background, contributing to the wear and tear on our bodies.

And while menopause can promote inflammaging (oestrogen is a natural anti inflammatory hormone, and we are more at risk of insulin resistance), the good news is that our diet and lifestyle do loads to help us manage and control it.

You can watch the video below or listen to the podcast (episode 134);

What is Inflammaging?

Let’s say you’ve just accidentally cut yourself. Your immune system kicks in the inflammation response, rushing white blood cells, antibodies and other immune molecules to the affected site where they isolate the injury and seal off the wound to slow blood loss and ward off infection. The area becomes inflamed (swollen, red and warm).

Over time, as the wound heals, the inflammation will start to subside. The immune cells will begin to release anti-inflammatory molecules that reduce swelling and promote tissue repair. Blood vessels in the area will start to grow back, and new tissue will begin to form – that’s your scar and eventually a layer of new skin.

Once the crisis is averted, a healthy immune system then goes back to normal and shuts off the alarm. But when your immune system isn’t at its best, it can keep the inflammation going, and if unchecked this can lead to chronic ‘hidden' inflammation that can lead to health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer. 

On top of that your immune system can start to ‘misfire’, to attack things that are actually harmless (eg gluten or pollen). This can lead to auto-immunity and promote more inflammation in the body.

Your body is a well-oiled machine, and over time, it's inevitable that a few nuts and bolts might start to rust. Inflammaging adds a layer of “rust” (or oxidative stress) that makes the gears grind a bit less smoothly. Our bodies become less resilient, and things that once seemed like no big deal can start to take a toll.

Can we test for inflammaging?

The problem is that you can’t see chronic inflammation from the outside, but you can be sure it’s happening on the inside and causing you to age faster (inflamm-age!)!  

It's difficult to test for inflammation in any one area, but there are general blood markers you want to look out for, including;

  • C-reactive protein (or CRP). This test can tell you if there's an excess of inflammation in your body, but it can't pinpoint the exact source.
  • Ferritin – high levels of iron stores can indicate inflammation
  • HbA1c – high levels are a risk factor for insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes, both indicators of high inflammation
  • Vitamin D – low levels increase the risk of inflammation
  • Thyroid (TSH, T4, T3 and Antibodies) – low thyroid hormones and high antibodies can identify an autoimmune condition

Contact us for info on our comprehensive blood panels that include these and other important health markers.

Drivers of inflammaging

As well as general ageing (wear and tear), there are many factors that could be pushing up your inflammatory processes. Including;

  • Poor diet – sugar, refined carbs, unhealthy fats, food allergens, nutrient deficiencies and ultra processed foods can trigger inflammation. Spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels can activate inflammatory pathways in the body. And they can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, leading to a cascade of inflammatory responses.
  • Stress – cortisol can stimulate the release of inflammatory molecules in the body. Chronic stress can also weaken the immune system, making it less effective at managing inflammation.
  • Sedentary lifestyle – lack of physical activity can contribute to chronic inflammation by impairing the body's ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar. Exercise helps reduce inflammation by promoting the release of anti-inflammatory molecules and improving circulation.
  • Poor sleep – sleep deprivation disrupts the body's natural immune response and increases levels of inflammatory markers. It can also affect the balance of hormones that regulate inflammation, leading to a chronic state of low-grade inflammation.
  • Environmental toxins – exposure to toxins such as air pollutants, plastics, heavy metals and chemicals can trigger an immune response that results in inflammation. These substances can directly damage cells and tissues, leading to ongoing inflammation.
  • Underlying infections and poor gut health – chronic infections, such as those caused by viruses or bacteria, can keep the immune system on high alert, leading to persistent inflammation. The immune response designed to fight off the infection can inadvertently contribute to tissue damage and inflammation. An imbalance of gut bacteria (dysbiosis) can lead to a leaky gut, where harmful substances escape into the bloodstream and trigger an immune response. This chronic immune activation can result in systemic inflammation.
  • Menopause – oestrogen is known to have anti-inflammatory effects, and studies have found that the decline in oestrogen levels after menopause can lead to an increase in inflammatory markers in the body.

Natural ways to calm inflammation

The good news is that there are some simple steps we can take to manage this whole inflammaging thing naturally:

  1. Anti-inflammatory diet – load up on fruit & veg, oily fish, organic meat, legumes, ginger, garlic, herbs & spices, olive oil, coconuts, green tea, avocados, nuts and seeds.
  2. Relaxmanage your stress daily! Get that me-time in and make it non-negotiable. It might just be a 15 minutes reading a book, listening to music, walking in nature – whatever floats your boat.
  3. Sleep – optimise your sleep by getting to bed early, blocking all light, relaxing before bed, and taking supplements if you need to (try Feel Sleep).
  4. Move – regular physical activity keeps those inflammation levels in check – mix up cardio (could just be a brisk walk), with strength training (muscle is anti-inflammatory!) and stretching. Check out my tips on exercise over 40.
  5. Detox – minimise your exposure to chemicals, especially in your household and personal products. More tips here.
  6. Support your Gut – get more diversity into your veggie intake to feed your gut bacteria! Probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir and kombucha are great ways to rebalance your microbiome. Checking for underlying infections is essential if you have ongoing digestive issues (contact us for info on our stool testing).
  7. Balance your Hormones – if you're not on HRT, make sure your diet is rich in phytoestrogens and your environment is low in xeno-estrogens like pesticides, BPA and synthetic fragrances. Get your thyroid properly checked out too. Keep your blood sugar balanced to keep insulin in check.
  8. Overnight Fastingtime restricted eating has been shown to support your immune system. Leave 12-16 hours between dinner and breakfast.
  9. Stay connected – social interactions, particularly those involving close relationships, can trigger the release of oxytocin, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can help regulate the immune response.
  10. Supplement – anti-inflammatory supplements to consider include Omega 3 DHA/EPA, Vitamin D, Curcumin, Boswellia, Quercitin, Vitamin C. (Please check with your Dr if you're on any medication or have a health condition).

The bottom line is while inflammation is going to increase naturally as we age, the key to controlling inflammaging and keeping it at bay is to have a strong functional immune system and gut, and lead an anti inflammatory lifestyle as much as possible.

If you'd like help with any of this, or you have ongoing symptoms you'd like to resolve, do get in touch and we can send you more info on how we can help.

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