Ok, let’s face it: We’re all getting older. However, some of us are aging way faster than others. Why is that? - you may wonder. Well, recent research has managed to get some answers on that question.
While aging is a very complex process, involving many factors such as environmental, genetic and epigenetic, chronic inflammation is at the top of the list contributing to aging processes so aging is indeed an inflammatory process.
So when we know that chronic inflammation is a pervasive feature of aging, we actually hold the key to slowing these aging processes down in our own hands. Yes, you’re guessing correctly: We need to reverse chronic inflammation through healthy lifestyle choices.
Inflammation itself is nothing we would need to fear - quite the contrary, actually. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to fight invading pathogens or acute traumatic injuries, so we actually need it to a certain degree. However, if this so called acute inflammation doesn’t subside and becomes persistent, low-grade inflammation, that’s what leads to tissue degeneration and therefore enhances the aging process. That’s why Claudio Franceschi from the University of Bologna, Italy, called this process “inflammaging” - a combination of the terms inflammation and aging.
Scientists describe aging as a complex process in which our body responds to external stimuli, such as environmental, as well as to internal, e.g. genetic by producing increased levels of pro-inflammatory signals, such as cytokines, especially interleukin-6 (IL-6) and TNF-α. Additionally, the release of reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause oxidative damage to cells and tissues, further promoting inflammation. To make things even worse, it is evident that inflammation increases with age as elderly people show consistently elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
To further emphasis the significant of chronic inflammation, scientists believe it to be a risk factor for a broad range of age-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cancer.
So, the question we have to answer is: What causes chronic, low-grade inflammation that leads to all sorts of age-related diseases? And what can we do to reduce these damaging effects of inflammation on our bodies?
Our microbiome is home of trillions to trillions of microorganisms. Scientists have shown that with age, the barrier of the oral and gut mucosa against bacterial invasion deteriorates. Additionally, the gut microbiota in elderly people lacks microbiol diversity (1, 2) which is associated with chronic diseases.
Studies show that with age, the number of anti-inflammatory microbiota are diminished while inflammatory and pathogenic microbiota are increased (3).
A study analysed the gut microbiota of 728 female twins and found that individuals who were highly frail possessed a significantly lower diversity in their gut microbiota than those who were ‘low frail’. Furthermore, certain bacterial species that were associated with frailty and others that were associated with healthy aging have been identified in the study. (4).
So, what does that mean for us? How can we make sure that our gut microbiota shows a high diversity to promote healthy aging?
The composition of our microbiome is determined by the nutrients available in the gut. When we feed it a healthy, balanced diet, you create an environment where your good bacteria can thrive. If you, however, lean towards processed foods with a high amount of sugar and unhealthy (trans-) fats, you’re denying beneficial microbes important nutrients such as plant polysaccharides. These beneficial microbes have important functions in our body such as improving the immune system or reducing inflammation.
Promoting a diverse gut microbiota is actually not that difficult and you probably guessed it already: Our diet is the foundation. A diverse diet containing plenty of vegetables and fruits ensures that you give your body and especially your gut everything it needs.
So how and what exactly should you eat for a healthy microbiome?
Fiber: Aim for 40g per day minimum. It plays an important role in your digestive health as it is the fuel the colon cells use to keep themselves healthy.
Fruits and veggies: quantity isn’t always king though it helps of course. But when it comes to fruits and veggies, the variety may be just as important as different chemicals and types of fiber support different kinds of bacteria.
Go for high-fiber vegetables: Not all veggies are created equal. Artichokes, leeks, onions and garlic contain high levels of inulin (a prebiotic fiber), some veggies, like lettuce, only have little fiber or nutrient value.
Choose foods and drinks with high levels of polyphenols: Polyphenols are a category of plant compound that is thought to boost digestion and act as fuel for microbes. You can find them in nuts, seeds, olive oil, berries, coffee, and tea, especially green tea.
Try not to snack: Give your microbes a rest by taking breaks between eating.
Aim for fermented foods containing live microbes as often as possible: But be aware of the amount of sugar in them. Aim for unsweetened joghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, raw milk cheeses or kimchi
Avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose: These reduce gut diversity and disrupt the metabolism of microbes.
Have a sip of alcohol: If consumed in small quantities, alcohol has actually been shown to increase gut diversity. Large amounts on the other hand are harmful to your microbes and your health.
Of course, food is not the only factor that is causing inflammaging. There are so many other ones that initiate and maintain a low-grade inflammatory response.
smoking: I don't have to tell you that smoking is bad for you. I’m sure you already know that. But did you know, that there is an evident link between inflammation and smoking? Smoking triggers your immune system due to vascular injury. This is associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers such as CRP which may predict future cardiovascular events.
low levels of sex hormones: Research has found low testosterone to be associated with an increase in metabolic risk as well as systematic inflammation. A study showed that a testosterone deficiency was associated with the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in men, while testosterone substitution reduced them.
obesity: Obesity can put you at risk of many serious diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or insulin resistance. It’s also an important risk factor for inflammation as adipose tissue contains cells that promote the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. If you want to know more about this topic, hop over to this article to learn how inflammation and obesity are connected and promote one another.
It’s never too late to get started with a (more) healthy lifestyle. You may not feel the effects of your health choices today (though I am sure you feel some effect), but you will sooner or later. Inflammaging is a lifelong process that doesn’t just start when you’re older. That’s why taking care of your body is so important.
We don’t have to experience painful and unhealthy aging. With the right lifestyle choices we can reduce the risk of inflammation and promote healthy aging. Food is a good starting point. The food we eat can either be our body’s best friend or its greatest foe. Make your body and your food be best buddies by opting for a balanced and diverse diet to promote a healthy lifespan.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that I am not a doctor or a medically trained person. What you're reading here is information that I researched and summarized to the best of my knowledge and processed it for your digest. Information stated on iamliesa is for educational purposes only, this information is not to replace advice from your health care practitioner. If you have any concerns about your health, always consult your general practitioner.