A growing body of research points to the role of low-grade chronic inflammation in accelerating biological aging, a process that has been termed inflamm-aging. A recent review looks at how such inflammation is brought about and the wide range of outcomes associated with it.
Although inflammation in response to a threat to the body is an invaluable biological response, this process becomes pathological if such inflammation becomes long-lasting. This type of low-grade inflammation is a long-lasting subclinical amount of inflammation that is not severe enough to present definite or readily observable symptoms. To date, chronic inflammation has been associated with the initiation and progression of type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, cardiovascular disease, frailty, sarcopenia, osteoporosis, and cancer. Overall, this inflammation is a highly significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality in older adults.
A number of mechanisms can produce this type of chronic inflammation. Some of these are associated with biological aging processes over which we have little control, but others are treatable or are related to modifiable lifestyle factors. Chronic infections are one example of a treatable mechanism that can produce such inflammation. For example, chronic inflammation produced by gum disease has been associated with cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, blockages of blood vessels, and strokes. Obesity has also been associated with a greater number of inflammatory markers. A number of dietary factors have also been shown to promote inflammation; in particular, diets that are high in refined starches, sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats, and low in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (natural sources of antioxidants and fiber). It also appears that many chronic diseases can produce this sort of inflammation, so that managing these diseases should also manage any associated inflammation.
In addition to being vigilant about potential sources of chronic infection like gum disease and about managing chronic conditions, this review suggests that nutrition and physical activity are important steps that we can take to help minimize the inflamm-aging process.
Fougere B, Boulanger E, Nourhashemi F, et al. Chronic inflammation: accelerator of biological aging. Journal of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. (2016). DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glw240