Inflammation is the process by which the body’s immune cells and chemicals protect us from infection and foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses.  Inflammation is the first response of the immune system in fighting infection or irritation. Without inflammation, we would not be able to survive in a hostile world infested with dangerous microorganisms. Inflammation involves a number of responses aimed at destroying, or at least slowing down, invading pathogens.

However, the immune cells and their inflammatory chemicals can cause damage to the body’s tissues. In a perfect world, inflammation should stop when the threat to the body has been eliminated. Unfortunately, chronic inflammation may persist with or without a foreign threat to the body.  This could be the result of an increased sensitivity of the inflammatory response, or the process now perceives the body’s own tissues as foreign.

Both aging and age-related disorders are associated with an increase in chronic inflammation. As we age, we tend to develop chronic inflammation and inflammatory related disorders such as arthritis. Most elderly people have some degree of low-grade inflammation and an inflammatory related disorder. Chronic inflammation contributes to aging because it produces harmful free radicals that injure or and even kill normal cells. Chronic inflammation and aging are a vicious cycle—the aging process contributes to the level of chronic inflammation, which, in turn promotes aging.

Inflammation is not disease or location specific.  It affects the entire body and causes a variety of diseases.  While it can occur anywhere, it is particularly pronounced in the cardiovascular and nervous system, which happen to be the two systems most dependent to our survival. Inflammation is a key risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and an even bigger risk factor than high cholesterol. Inflammation contributes to age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

We have seen so far that inflammation is directly related to aging, and hence inflammatory and age-related disorders.  Therefore, keeping inflammation under control should be a part of anyone’s comprehensive health strategy.  Inflammation affects people differently. You can determine the extent of inflammation in your body by obtaining a test that determines your level of C reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a general inflammation indicator that can determine inflammation-related cardiovascular risk. CRP levels correlate with cardiovascular risk as follows: Less than 1 mg/L (low risk), 1-3 mg/L (medium risk), greater than 3 mg/L (high risk).  Unfortunately, test for markers of inflammation in the nervous system are not as developed.

If your CRP level is elevated, taking steps to lower it is a good idea for both health and longevity. If your level is normal, some basic anti-inflammatory steps are still warranted and include:

  • Stop smoking: Smoking is horrible and ravages the body. The injurious mediators associated with smoking promote free radicals and irritants, causing inflammation and other forms of serious damage.
  • Consider an anti-inflammatory diet: What you eat can determine the overall level of inflammation in your body.  Dietary adjustments can reduce inflammation, including the following: increasing consumption of fruits and vegetable to nine servings a day, lowering the consumption of saturated and trans fats, and increasing the intake of omega-3 fats (fish, fish oil, flaxseed oil).  Try to eat more fiber and try to reduce the consumption of animal protein.  If possible, try to obtain protein from sources like fish, soy, beans and nuts.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise improves low-grade chronic inflammation.
  • Weight Reduction. Obesity increases inflammation in the body, while lowering your weight reduces it.
  • Improved dental hygiene: Inflammation is not disease specific.  Periodontal disease is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
  • Sleep Better: Even a modest loss of sleep can increase inflammation. Lack of sleep or sleeping at odd hours increases inflammation and the risk of major illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity—all of which are inflammation related.