Aging brings a general stiffening of tissues, loss of bone mass and density, shrinkage of the brain, joint cartilage and some organs’ size, and a slowing of energy production in all body cells. Part of this is because our immune system, an army of immune cell types that defend us from invaders, turns on our own tissues and leads to self-inflicted damage. The resulting chronic, degenerative, inflammatory-based diseases produce pain, debilitation and early death; diseases such as atherosclerosis, arthritis, diabetes or a bevy of other ‘itises’, cancer or Alzheimer’s. These are the diseases we want to avoid for life.

The Nature of Inflammation and its Connection to the Chronic Diseases of Aging
The underlying cause for these conditions are proving to be age-related systemic inflammation, largely caused by either chronic over-eating or eating what is not real food. In animal studies and in human experience we consistently see that being under-fed results in almost complete elimination of these inflammation-based diseases. Over eating leads to accumulation of body fat, along with hormonal changes that lead to even better fat storage capability. The fat we hold around our midsection is proving to be a primary source of inflammation. Recent studies show that excess abdominal fat attracts and harbors large populations of immune cells (macrophages) that spew out inflammatory cytokines such as interleukins (IL-6, IL-8), and TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor-alpha). These chemical messengers cause inflammation in remote tissues throughout the body. In other words, they tell the immune system to come over here (wherever) and kill something.

The bullets used by immune cells to combat invaders are essentially free radicals of various kinds. Normally, they go about their protective work by targeting invading bacteria and viruses, shooting out these charged molecules to damage their structure, and then calling in others to eat them and digest and eliminate their materials. With aging, there is a general, systemic increase of inflammation that results in the immune system attacking our own cells in a similar manner. Over time this damage manifests itself as those outward signs of aging, as well as the leading killers heart disease, cancer and dementia, along with diabetes.

The master controller of inflammation is a chemical known as Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NFkB). Found in the interior portion (cytoplasm) of every cell, NFkB is normally bound to inhibitory proteins that keep it in an inactive state. When cells are exposed to infectious invaders or stressors such as free radicals or environmental toxins (like cigarette smoke), NFkB is activated. NFkB then travels to the cells’ command center, the nucleus, where it binds with DNA to turn certain genes on or off. By interacting with more than 400 different genes, NFkB activates the body’s blueprints for inflammation. These gene products are used to coordinate further inflammatory immune responses in the body. When our cells become damaged by free radicals or by glycation as in diabetes, NFkB is likewise called into action. Cellular damage is cumulative throughout life, and is a large factor in the rise of inflammation with age. That’s why we want to eat anti-inflammatory foods and avoid those that promote cellular damage. That’s why we use antioxidant supplements and keep our blood sugar under control. Beyond that, the next strategy to moderate age-related inflammation is to use supplements that directly control and suppress NFkB.

Nutrients and Supplements That Inhibit NFkB
At the top of this list is vitamin D, a powerful hormone that moderates inflammation in all tissues by controlling NFkB activity. We need blood levels of vitamin D to be 70-100 ng/ml for optimum immune function, so get tested (25-OH-vitaminD test) and supplement or get enough sun to get them in that range; there is no better bang for the buck.
More on Vitamins D, K and Iodine

Antioxidants are known to reduce inflammation as well as cancer risk. NFkB is the common link to both processes. Vitamins E (in all 8 forms) and C have been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokine production that is a consequence of NFkB activation.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe) exert anti-inflammatory effects by reducing NFkB activation. The potent antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) binds to and inhibits NFkB in the cell’s nucleus. Zinc may also exert its antioxidant effect by reducing NFkB activation.

Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. It is now clear that these effects occur due to inhibition of NFkB activity by eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and other essential fatty acids in this class found in fish oil.

Flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables are well-established modulators of the immune system’s inflammatory responses. Some of these, the isoflavones, inhibit NFkB and thereby reduce the invasiveness of breast cancers and increase programmed cell death in various human cancer cell lines. Evidence also indicates that isoflavones act by the same mechanism to inhibit bone loss in osteoporosis Curcumin has well-established antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The extent to which curcumin exerts these effects by inhibiting NFkB is becoming increasingly clear. Curcumin acts directly within the cell’s nucleus and also acts on substances that activate NFkB. For example, it binds iron and copper in brain tissue, reducing the activation of NFkB that is associated with the production of amyloid beta proteins in Alzheimer’s disease.

Licorice root extracts are among the oldest remedies in Chinese medicine, and have long been used for their anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-ulcer, and cancer-preventive properties. A major component of licorice inhibits NFkB. Ginger extracts exert anti-inflammatory activity and stimulate cancer cell death by inhibiting NFkB. Clove extract (eugenol) inhibits NFkB-mediated expression of other inflammatory cytokines. Basil and rosemary extracts, which contain ursolic acid, reduce cancer cell proliferation and tumor progression through NFkB inhibition. Garlic has now been shown to exert its anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects by inhibiting NFkB.

The amazing Pomegranate fruit, and its extracts, protect cells against the effects of ultraviolet B radiation by inhibiting ultraviolet light-stimulated NFkB activation (so you can tan and make vitamin D, but not promote skin cancer). Pomegranate fruit extract also prevents chemically induced skin cancers in mice, reduces arterial inflammation, cleans out plaque and shows promise in reversing osteoarthritis damage by blocking the activation of NFkB in these tissues. Pomegranate extract is the second greatest universal health bargain; supplement with 500 mg/day – it fixes almost everything.
More about Pomegranate

Damping down the processes of inflammation is critical for healthy aging. Levels of systemic inflammation drop in a few weeks of under-eating while trading the intake of anti-inflammatory foods for those that foster inflammation. The foods to increase are organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, wild-caught fish, grass-fed livestock and free-range poultry and eggs. Those to eliminate are manufactured foods, sodas, refined oils and sugar-based junk foods. Fight inflammation and rapid aging – eat real foods – forget those that come in a bag or a box, most that come in cans, and those things called desserts. Then, you must move your body – exercise is critical for lowering fat content and building muscle, all of which is critical for minimizing inflammation, to grant us decades of healthy, pain-free senior years.

In my next article we look at what to do about Senescence – the end stage of our cell’s lifetime.

Good Living - Frank

Author's Bio: 

Frank Wilhelmi of chronicles strategies for staying healthy and fit into advanced age. He is an electronic engineer by trade, but his passion is teaching others to lead healthy, vibrant, pain-free, activity-filled lives.