Inflammation: What it is, What is Too Much, and How it Can Damage Your Health
Inflammation is a normal and healthy part of life. Your body tightly monitors this process to help you heal when you get an infection or injury. When you cut your finger, for instance, inflammation can keep you from bleeding to death.
Inflammation is your body’s way of healing or fighting off infection. Inflammation should do its job — go to the site of injury or infection and heal or repair — and then calm down.
But inflammation can get out of control. Your body can no longer manage it. That type of inflammation — called chronic inflammation — can create problems within your body. Eventually, chronic inflammation can lead to disease and negatively impact the aging process.
Aging is a complex process. Your genes, lifestyle, stress response, environment, and how your organs operate are unique and determine how you age. Everyone will age differently.
At the same time, you want to reduce the impact the aging process has on your body. Being healthy requires steady energy, a lean strong physique, and reducing your risk for disease as you move into your 60s, 70s, and beyond.
Inflammation and Disease
Scientists suggest that inflammation plays a major role in the aging process. Inflammation contributes to most disease, after all, but it can also age you. Scientists have even coined a term — “inflammaging” — to describe inflammation as a risk factor for disease as you grow older.
Inflammation becomes a risk factor for many conditions including heart disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, dementia, and muscle loss.
Being overweight or obese can make inflammation worse. Fat cells release inflammatory markers called cytokines that increase your risk for diabetes and other diseases.
A vicious cycle occurs. Metabolic diseases like diabetes keep insulin levels — and therefore inflammation — high.
Researchers have found over the past decade that over one-third of older adults aged 65 and over were obese. Obesity, coupled with aging, can increase your risk for disease, poor physical functioning, and early death.
Inflammation and Age
Scientists are still putting together the puzzle pieces of age-related inflammation. Some of the reasons they’ve found include:
- Aging increases inflammatory proteins including C-reactive protein (CRP).
- Aging raises oxidative stress, when dangerous free radicals overtake your body’s antioxidant defense system.
- The cleanup crew that gets rid of damaged proteins and other junk within your cells — a process called autophagy — slows down. As a result, your cellular debris piles up.
- Your healthy gut bacteria deteriorates with age. You have less gut bacterial diversity. Many of the anti-inflammatory bacteria that fight infection in your gut decrease as you grow older too.
- You make less stomach acid, which can create heartburn or acid reflux. Your digestion suffers. More serious problems like poor nutrient absorption and bacterial overgrowth can also occur with low stomach acid. So can osteoporosis, weakness, fatigue, cramps, and anemia. Researchers find that 23 – 35 percent of people over 65 have low stomach acid.
- When stomach acid goes up rather than down — into your esophagus rather than down your stomach — inflammation and chronic heartburn can occur. Done repeatedly, this can increase your risk of cancer.
All of those and other factors can create a perfect storm for inflammation and aging. Inflammation in one organ — say, your gut — can eventually lead to inflammation throughout your body.
To be fair, chronic inflammation does not always cause disease. Many diseases are multifactorial, meaning more than one thing creates or advances that disease including genetic and environmental factors.
But inflammation is a big piece of the aging puzzle. When you reduce age-related inflammation, you can improve your quality of life and reduce your disease risk.
Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation and Prevent Disease
A lot of information about age-related inflammation remains a mystery. Yet some common-sense measures can help reduce that inflammation and your risk of disease at any age:
- Eat more anti-inflammatory foods. Compared with anti-inflammatory fats, we eat about 20 times more inflammatory fats today. Wild-caught fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can balance those inflammatory fats and lower inflammation. So can eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are an especially good source of a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that can lower inflammation.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being obese is an underlying condition for inflammatory diseases, as well as creates the perfect environment for diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Losing weight can have a profound impact on inflammation. Nutrient-rich foods with healthy fat, dietary fiber, protein, and the right carbohydrates provide the fuel you need to create and maintain a healthy weight. Our Core and Advanced Nutrition Plans provide the foods you need to lose weight and keep it off for the long haul.
- Consider fasting. Fasting — where you alternate eating with not eating — has anti-inflammatory effects. You needn’t go to extremes here. Try having a healthy dinner, close the kitchen for the night, and push breakfast forward — say, 10 or 11 a.m. — the following morning. You’ll create a 12 to 16-hour fasting window that can lower inflammation and help you lose weight. Talk with your healthcare practitioner before undergoing any type of fasting.
- Take the right supplements. Certain nutrients can help manage inflammation. Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, can support inflammatory conditions including inflammatory bowel disease. Other research shows nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D can lower inflammation. Talk with your healthcare practitioner about specific nutrients that might benefit your condition.
- Minimize toxins. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and many products we use every day such as cosmetics and household cleaners can accumulate. Over time, these things create a toxic burden that increases inflammation. In the beginning, this might occur in, say, your lungs when you breathe in harmful fumes. Eventually, toxins lead to inflammation throughout your body. Heavy metals such as mercury in fish, diesel exhaust, and cigarette smoke can also set off your immune system, increasing inflammation. Learn ways to naturally detox with your diet here.
- Exercise consistently. Regular fitness can improve muscle mass, reduce your risk for chronic diseases, and help you lose weight. All of those things can reduce inflammation and help you age gracefully. Regular exercise can also lower death from certain cancers, protect against diabetes, and possibly support your immune system.
- Visit your chiropractor. Poor spinal health can interfere with the pathways of inflammation. Chiropractic care can help. One study found that after only nine chiropractic adjustments, individuals with chronic low back pain had lowered inflammatory markers including CRP and normalize inflammation levels. Chiropractic care can also help address specific concerns about aging and age-related inflammation while providing an individualized dietary and lifestyle protocol for your condition.
Scientists will continue to unravel the complex web of age-related inflammation. Don’t for the newest breakthrough to take control of inflammation and reduce your disease risk. Common-sense basics like good sleep, a healthy diet, an ideal weight, regular exercise, and the right nutrients can keep inflammation at bay so you live a healthy, happy, vibrant life.