As I have shared with readers and audiences over the years, when someone ages poorly, it results from decades of inflammatory imbalances.
Inflammation is necessary for the body to defend itself from pathogens and mutating cells, and for the body to heal itself after trauma or disease.
However, when the immune system produces excessive levels of inflammation, and does not correctly limit the amount of inflammation after its task has been completed, then inflammation becomes associated with unhealthy aging, and chronic disease.
For example, it is apparent that neurological diseases are affected, if not triggered by, inflammatory responses of the immune system.
Immune cells of the brain and nervous system release inflammatory factors, cytokines and complex mixtures of other small immune molecules.
These factors result in nervous cell and immune system inflammation and eventually, death of nerve cells.
Last month, the journal of Immunity and Aging reported the results of genetic and immunological studies of Sicilian centenarians, individuals that are 100 years or older.
The researchers concluded that these individuals, all active and “in relatively good health”, survived longer than their cohorts, because their immune system was at “optimal performance” and that they were able to control inappropriate levels of inflammation.
More evidence for the contribution of inflammation to aging poorly, for example cognitive abilities, is seen in a seemingly irrelevant study in which the use of fish oils was shown to counteract the negative effects of sugar drinks.
In this study, rats learned how to run a maze. After their lesions, one group of rats was fed a sugary solution for over 6 weeks. After six months, the rats ran the maze again from memory.
Rats that were on the sugar, could not remember how to run the maze, but those on sugar along with omega-3 fatty acids, were able to run it. The omega-3 fatty acids counteracted the negative effects of the sugary diet.
We know that high sugar consumption results in increasing size of fat cells, adipose tissue, and that fat cells release inflammatory molecules that are associated with the cardiovascular, joint, and insulin-related issues seen in obese individuals.
In addition, it has been shown that there are compounds in omega-3 fatty acids that counteract inflammatory responses.
Therefore, the results of the maze study may be attributable to the fact that the omega-3 helped down-regulate pro-inflammatory cytokines, messengers that initiate the inflammatory process.
During the past decades, I have watched the health outcomes of older individuals that have followed a regimen that maintains inflammatory balance.
In their 70s, 80s, and early 90s, they work full days, sometimes in physically-demanding positions, are on little or no medication, and find that they are more active, than individuals 20 years their junior.
Balanced immune inflammation, immune homeostasis, is the key to an active life.
One must generate enough inflammation to defend oneself from infectious disease, and help the body heal, but a healthy person has to be able to limit and control inflammatory responses at appropriate levels for the tasks at hand.