If any market remains at the top of just about every sector of health care and related products, it’s anti-aging. Regardless of health, age, gender, ethnicity or any other demographic, the majority of people are interested in delaying aging—and the signs of it—as much as possible. Even researching a topic related to aging can evoke both a scientific and personal interest.
One such topic is “inflammaging.” Despite sounding scary, it’s a combination of the words inflammation and aging, and is defined as “the state of systemic, low-grade inflammation that increases with age, independent of attack by infectious pathogens”(Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;908:244-254).
This inflammation most likely results from chronic stressors that have triggered an inflammatory response the body can no longer overcome. Examples include obesity, overconsumption of food, consumption of a diet high in fat and sugar, or lack of exercise.
Acutely, some inflammation helps the body overcome stressors, such as exposures to pathogens or other threats to the immune system. The stimulus increases inflammation, the body adjusts to the threat and returns to balance where inflammation is no longer present. However, as people age, the body has a harder time maintaining the inflammatory balance. Therefore, if too many stressors are present, the inflammation remains present chronically and balance can no longer be restored.
This chronic low-grade inflammation is thought to be one of the main mechanisms behind the negative signs of aging. Thus, decreasing as many stressors as possible may help offset some of the negative signs of growing older (Nutr Rev. 2017;75:442-455), including but not limited to physical appearance associated with aging.
Inflammation can be triggered by metabolic dysfunctions such as nutrient excess, obesity and physical inactivity. Inflammation can in turn trigger alterations in metabolism, immune function and overall well-being.
Another potential cause of inflammation gaining a lot of research attention is gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in the microbial composition of the intestinal microbiome. This imbalance occurs from a loss of microbial species that benefit the immune system and is caused by lifestyle, obesity, antibiotic usage and the Western diet.
In addition, many suggest that as part of a modern lifestyle, people are too clean. This theory argues that throughout history, the human immune system and certain microbes developed together when people and their environments were much less clean. In this “old friends” hypothesis, people lost these “old friends” in the modern hyperclean environment—and now they’re needed back again to help return things to balance (Elife. 2021;10:e65180).
Excerpted from a longer article, “The age of inflammation,” can be read in full in Natural Products Insider’s cognitive health digital magazine.
Susan Hewlings, Ph.D., R.D., is director of scientific affairs at Nutrasource/GRAS Associates.