Inflamm-Aging: The Aging Accelerator
Aging, although inevitable, is a highly variable process. A crucial component of how well we age is related to the levels of inflammation in the body. Although inflammation is a natural and healthy response, prolonged elevated levels become disastrous for the body, linked to chronic diseases, and accelerated aging. This interconnected link has given rise to a new term, ‘inflamm-aging’.
What is Inflamm-aging?
Inflamm-aging is defined as chronic low-grade inflammation that accelerates the process of biological aging, leading to age-related symptoms, health complaints, external aging and risk of chronic diseases.[1,2] As such, inflamm-aging is being recognized as a key driving force behind aging and a main risk factor for morbidity and mortality in elderly individuals.
What Causes Inflamm-aging? 
Researchers have been studying both acute and chronic aging for a long time. Low-grade chronic inflammation has been linked to:
- Poor Diet
- Poor Gut Health
- Inadequate Exercise
- Poor Sleep
- Exposure to Toxins
- Smoking and Alcohol Use
The Role of Cytokines in Inflamm-aging
Although research is still elucidating the exact mechanisms of “inflamm-aging”, a common finding involves imbalances in the cytokine network. Cytokines, from the Greek cyto meaning “cell” and kinos meaning “movement”, are tiny protein molecules secreted by cells that communicate with other cells. It might help to think of cytokines as the body’s mobile phone system.
As a main component of cell-to-cell communication, it makes sense that cytokines can be the difference between accelerated or graceful aging. Research has shown that as we age, cytokine dysregulation gets worse, leading to a progressive tendency to a pro-inflammatory state. Key pro-inflammatory cytokines, including IL-6, TNF- α, and IL-1α, contribute to inflamm-aging seen in both healthy elderly people and elderly with age-related diseases.[5,6]
In a 2018 review paper, the authors concluded that “The key to healthy aging must lie in the ability to maintain a balanced response to these immune messengers [i.e. cytokines] and a prompt and integrated return to inflammation resolution and immune homeostasis.”
- Franceschi C, Campisi J. Chronic inflammation (inflammaging) and its potential contribution to age-associated diseases. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci (2014) 69(Suppl 1):S4–9. doi:10.1093/gerona/glu057
- Fulop T, Witkowski JM, Olivieri F, Larbi A. The integration of inflammaging in age-related diseases. Semin Immunol. 2018;40:17-35. doi:10.1016/j.smim.2018.09.003
- Sanada F, Taniyama Y, Muratsu J, et al. Source of Chronic Inflammation in Aging. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2018;5:12. Published 2018 Feb 22. doi:10.3389/fcvm.2018.00012
- Rea IM, Gibson DS, McGilligan V, et al. Age and Age-Related Diseases: Role of Inflammation Triggers and Cytokines. Front Immunol (2018) 9;9:586. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.00586.
- Franceschi C, Bonafè M, Valensin S, Olivieri F, De Luca M, Ottaviani E, et al. Inflamm-aging. An evolutionary perspective on immunosenescence. Ann N Y Acad Sci (2000) 908:244–54. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb06651.x
- Harris TB, Ferrucci L, Tracy RP, Corti MR, Wacholder S, Ettinger WH Jr, et al. Associations of elevated interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein levels with mortality in the elderly. Am J Med (1999) 106(5):506–12. doi:10.1016/ S0002-9343(99)00066-2
Rachel Erwin, Nutritionist & Content Writer
Rachel is a Nutritionist with a BSc in Biology and Global Health from the University of Toronto, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Human Nutrition from the University of Ulster. She has counselled and educated clients in Hong Kong, whose health goals ranged from weight loss to detox and hormone balancing. Her love of writing led her to complete ‘Writing in the Sciences’, offered by Stanford University, and since then she has contributed several evidence-based health articles to various publications.