Inflammation and the Diseases of Aging
Breakthroughs in the Study of Inflammation and Aging
Inflammation has been associated with an incredible array of diseases. Not the intense inflammation you experience from a passing illness or injury, but rather low-grade inflammation that lasts for years.
Low-grade inflammation has been linked to Alzheimer's, Parkinsons, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), cancer, Crohn's disease, arthritis and more. Now there's a clinical trial, with an anti-inflammatory drug, that appears to have lowered the risk of disease for some of these conditions.
The trial enrolled 10,061 patients that had experienced a heart attack, from 39 countries with an average age of 61. The researchers wanted to see if they could lower the risk of another heart attack, by giving participants an anti-inflammatory drug called canakinumab.
Over the course of the 4-year trial, rates of heart disease for people taking the drug dropped. In fact, patients taking the drug experienced a 15% reduction in cardiovascular events versus people taking the placebo.
The surprise in the findings was, how many other medical issues were reduced. Reports of gout and arthritis fell, while lung cancer mortality dropped a stunning 77 percent. What these results seem to prove, for the first time in a large clinical trial, is that long-term, low-grade inflammation really is a factor in many common diseases associated with aging.
All that was left was for the FDA to approve the drug and for doctors to start prescribing it. But there's more to the story. Researchers also found that people who took the drug, experienced more fatal infections or sepsis. In fact, despite the reduction in heart attacks and lung cancer, there were no significant differences in the overall death rate between the drug-taking and the placebo group.
There's also the issue of cost. Novartis, the company researching this drug, sells it for $200,000 per year. That's an incredibly high price for a drug that doesn't seem to extend life much more than a placebo.
Fortunately, you can benefit from what researchers learned, without taking a $200,000 a year drug. There are two steps. First you need to understand the role inflammation plays in everyday health. Then you need to understand what choices you should make, to reduce the effects of the damaging form of inflammation.
When you get sick with something like the flu, you get a fever. Your body temperature increases to fight the virus. That's inflammation. When you pull a muscle, you can also see inflammation as your body rushes to deal with the problem. Both of those are known as acute inflammation. It's a short-term bodily response to illness or injury.
It works like this. Damaged tissue releases chemicals called cytokines. These are 911 calls to your body's hormones, immune cells and nutrients. Your blood flow increases and white blood cells flood the injured area to help healing. That's what causes the swelling or familiar red coloring around injured areas. As cells are healed and viruses killed, the inflammation gradually goes away.
When the infection or cell damage is significant, your body calls in stronger cells called neutrophils. These act like small bombs, destroying everything in the affected areas. Neutrophils don't last long, but if you're dealing with chronic inflammation, they continue to destroy healthy tissue long after the original threat is over.
Chronic inflammation is your body's immune system constantly in fight mode. Over time, that inflammation can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, arthritis or diseases like Crohns.
The causes of chronic inflammation read like a menu of modern life. Weight gain, poor nutrition, psychological stressors, poor quality sleep and exposure to pollutants and harmful chemicals are all to blame. Even if you lead an exceptionally healthy life, you're going to deal with some of these issues. The key is finding ways to deal with the problems, that can minimize or even reverse the damage.
In the second part of this article, I'll share several actions you can take, (plus something you want to avoid), to deal with the inflammation problem.
Part 1 2
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