What is “inflammaging”?

What is "inflammaging"?

Chronic inflammation is like the body (your “house”) catching fire. We have all dealt with acute inflammation. It comes with injury, such as a sprained ankle. Or infection, such as staph, bronchitis, etc. Inflammation is a sign that the body’s defenses are rushing in. In the normal course of events, healing occurs and the immune system stands down.

With age, our immune system becomes less effective. It overproduces cytokines and other inflammatory cells. If it doesn’t stand down, it can last for weeks, months, or even years. This is called “inflammaging.” Chronic overreaction of the immune system is hard on tissues and organs. In effect, the immune system is misreading cues and behaving as if there’s an ongoing 10-alarm fire. Under this state of siege, organs become unable to do their jobs effectively or to repair themselves well.

The potential for such immune malfunction begins around age fifty and increases sharply at age sixty and above. It may be the reason the occurrence of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and dementia increases significantly after age sixty-five. They are malfunctions of different body systems—the heart, the pancreas, the brain—but inflammaging is what opens the door. In the worst case, the body starts attacking itself—creating what’s called an “autoimmune condition”—or starts growing cancer cells.

Not all inflammation is bad, of course. Constant dosing of antiinflammatory drugs, for instance, is not the answer. We need the inflammatory response to address an acute infection or injury. It’s simply that you want the right amount of inflammation for the appropriate amount of time.

In subsequent articles we will talk about ways to detect chronic inflammation and what can be done to reduce it (in your loved one and for yourself!).