What You Need to Know About ‘Inflamm-Aging’—and 3 Things You Can Do Now to Help Prevent It

Photo: Getty Images/ Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury
Always an unwanted guest, chronic low-grade inflammation is linked to all sorts of health woes, ranging from acne and digestive troubles to cognitive decline and cancer. Book some quality time with a health professional and you're bound to leave armed with tips to minimize it. But even if you do everything right—put all the advice into practice—there's still one culprit you just can't beat: aging. And when inflammation and aging go hand in hand, it's called "inflamm-aging."

"As we age, the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle take their toll," explains Raphael Kellman, MD, founder of the Kellman Wellness Center. Even if you  seek to make smart decisions about your health, it's impossible to do so all the time. Life happens. And the accumulation of various lifestyle habits—whether it's stress, lack of sleep, or inactivity—has an impact.

But there's another reason why aging causes inflammation. "As we age, our bodies tend to have more consistently elevated levels of inflammatory biochemicals such as interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α," explains integrative medicine physician Pooja Amy Shah, MD. "While these chemicals are good to help our immune systems fight off infections and keep us healthy, if they are chronically elevated, they can lead to problematic things such as cancer and muscle wasting."

Here's how to deal with inflammation and aging, or "inflamm-aging"

1. Prioritize gut health

"I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the microbiome," says Dr. Kellman.

"The gut microbiota of elderly people generally has decreased diversity which may weaken the barrier of the gut mucosa against bacterial invasion, this can lead to increased and more chronic inflammation," adds Dr. Shah.

'Increasing consumption of probiotic-rich foods can help keep your gut health in top form. And if you really want to zero in on the types of bacteria you need more of, at-home gut testing kits can tell you.

2. Consider thyroid testing

Dr. Kellman says proper thyroid testing is just as crucial as gaining insight into the imbalances in your microbiome. "When either the microbiome or thyroid—or both—are out of balance, inflammation can occur," he explains. "Restoring the balance of the microbiome and getting tested for thyroid disease are imperative.” Many women have a thyroid imbalance as they get older—and don't even know it. The thyroid is directly related to metabolism—and inflamm-aging—so talk to your doctor to see if that’s something you should look at more in-depth together.

3. Try an anti-inflammatory diet

"There are many things that scientists are certain add to the inflammatory response in our bodies. Things such as a highly processed foods diet, chronic stress, and even poor dental health cause chronic inflammation. Over time, these things can degrade the body and speed up aging," says Dr. Shah. "This means that eating a whole foods anti-inflammatory diet—one high in vegetables, fruit, and unprocessed foods—getting enough sleep every night, taking care of your teeth, and mitigating chronic mental stress by things such as exercise, meditation, yoga will all help to minimize inflammation." Eating a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods and low in anything processed will work majorly to your advantage as you age.

While some inflamm-aging is inevitable, both experts believe we have more control than many realize. Dr. Shah adds that the medical and scientific communities still have a lot to learn, too. "Inflamm-aging is a relatively new field of research so there's a lot we don't know yet," she says. "We don't know the precise role of inflammation in many of the conditions listed above. Also, we still have a lot to learn about 'normal' age-related cellular changes that may trigger an inflammatory response."

In other words, do what you can, and don't stress out about it too much. Because, hey, that wouldn't do your health any favors.

Here's everything you need to know about inflammation, including what most people get wrong about it.

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