Getting older is inevitable, but inflammation represents a key component to the aging process and is shared by all age-related diseases. As we age, there is an imbalance in our inflammatory pathways leading to chronic low-grade activation of our immune system that contributes to accelerated aging and age-related diseases. This is known as inflammaging—the melding of the words and concepts of inflammation and aging within our innate immune system. While there is no cure for “aging,” we can affect change in how we age by addressing inflammation within our bodies.
Our cells are programmed to perform their respective biological functions. Eventually, over time and use, damage, and inflammation, they become less proficient. While octogenarians may have the best genes, genetics are not everything in the aging process. Environmental and lifestyle factors have a significant influence in inflammation and aging. Inflammation may be triggered by both internal and external factors such as infection, trauma, stress and anxiety, nutrition, toxins, pollution, and UV exposure. In fact, even an imbalance in the bacteria that live in our gut (the microbiome) may play a key role in inflammation within our bodies. Chronic inflammation as elicited from stress, nutrition, and the environment are the worst culprits.
Our skin is not only the biggest organ in our body, but it’s one of our first defense mechanisms. It serves as a mirror not only of the aging process, but a reflection of our overall health. Furthermore, when inflammation thwarts skin cell function, we may be even more vulnerable to these stimuli. As the cycle of inflammation becomes chronic, our cells produce inflammatory mediators secreted into the skin that cause destructive changes in the dermal structure. Externally in our skin, we may see changes such as fine lines, thinning of skin, pigmentation issues, and laxity.
It seems counterintuitive to think that acute inflammation as a defense mechanism is actually good for us. However, you may be surprised to learn that it is. In immediate danger, it serves our body as a natural protective force against intruders, injury, and infection among other things. But we do not want to call the forces to battle incessantly or indefinitely. When the inflammatory processes occur on repeat, oxidative stress causes damage to our cells and organs.
Inflammation has repercussions over time that can even trigger our immune system to attack healthy tissue and organs in our body, increasing disease risk. Inflammation makes those with autoimmune conditions most vulnerable. Inflammation also antagonizes other functions like insulin and hormones that affect weight and sugar levels and accelerate the visual signs of the skin-aging process.
Often, even extreme lethargy or feeling aches and pains can be related to chronic inflammation. Weight gain or sleep disruption are also possible symptoms. Visually we see changes with inflammaging that equate to premature signs of aging. With damage to skin cells, we disrupt our skin barrier, degrade the collagen and elastin, and deplete our naturally occurring moisture levels of hyaluronic acid. It can contribute to thinning of skin, fine lines and wrinkles, age spots, laxity, and loss of fat and hollows.
So where does this leave you? If chronic inflammation leads to degradation, dysfunction and pathogenesis, and visual aging, then mitigating damage or the conditions that interfere with repair can in effect slow the process and help to prevent these conditions. The goal is to preempt or block activation of inflammatory events that cause damage. This can be achieved to a large extent with some simple changes.
Knowing the triggers and causation of inflammation provides a road map. We do have the ability to take actions to reverse inflammation, which can support our health, change the trajectory of how we age as well as how we feel and how we look. We can improve the functions of our microbiota, metabolism, and reinforce cellular repair from changes (damage) in environmental exposure, stress, as well as boost antioxidant nutrition and self-care. We have the power to help push back the dropping point, fight off deep lines and wrinkles, dehydration, and dullness, or lack of luster to literally look and feel our best as we age.
We always recommend that our patients treat the cause of inflammation rather than just the symptoms. In the case of inflammation, simple modifications and mindfulness in our decisions can make a significant change in our life and wellbeing in addition to our looks. Here are some suggestions:
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
- Focus on plant-rich diets, as they are high in phytonutrients and antioxidants
- Limit or eliminate all dairy, sugar, sugar substitutes, and consumption of lectins.
- Increase your intake of healthy fats including fatty fish and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Engage in yoga and meditation to manage stress
- Practice breathwork and steps for evening relaxation
- Try a hot bath or a humidifier to ensure better quality sleep
- Make exercise a daily priority
- Take time for rituals for face and body care with antioxidant ingredients
- Protect yourself from blue-light screen damage
- Wear sunscreen 365 days a year regardless of season or weather
As far as our skin is concerned, it’s smart. It has memory, and it can adapt. The dermis is dynamic. Our skin will respond to what it is exposed to internally and externally. With change, we can improve our skin’s condition while improving our health. Because our skin is the mirror for health, take a look and see how well you are managing the inflammatory responses; make changes accordingly.