Choose Healthy Aging and Avoid ‘Hideous Winter’
Like many enduring catchphrases, the term “Golden Years” is derived from a marketing campaign. A developer by the name of Del Webb coined the term in 1959 to entice retirees to buy into America’s first large-scale retirement community in Arizona. The use of the term, however, has fallen on hard times as many believe it to be offensive to the sensitivities of people over the age of 65.
Other terms that might be irritating include ‘elderly’ and ‘senior citizen’. Apparently it’s also important to avoid the term ‘silver tsunami’ when describing the growing numbers of older people in society. If you find these terms offensive in describing older people, you’ll definitely not like the commentary that some of our most cherished poets have offered.
In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet V, the poet laments the passing of time and its effects on a young man’s health and appearance when he writes, “never-resting time leads summer on to hideous winter”.
Likewise, the ancient Greek poet Homer doesn’t hold back his distaste for the effects of passing time when he calls old age “loathsome” and describes the destruction of man “in old age with hideous sickness…”
Everybody gets old and ever since Hippocrates rejected the view that illness is caused by superstitions and evil spirits, humans have endeavored to understand the science behind aging. Recent technological breakthroughs in the area of systems biology has allowed new insights into the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying old age. Now, armed with new insight, experts are beginning to fill-in some of the missing pieces. As a result, it is possible to identify the mechanisms that lead to age-related illness in order to promote healthy life spans and to reduce the duration and severity of morbidity that precedes death.
While human aging is a complex and random process, scientists are finding that the core elements of aging involve a surprisingly small list of basic molecular processes; and at the very top of this list is the process of chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is an underlying mechanism of aging
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines inflammation as “…a local response to cellular injury that is marked by capillary dilatation, leukocytic infiltration, redness, heat, and pain and that serves as a mechanism initiating the elimination of noxious agents and of damaged tissue”. We’re all familiar with the redness and swelling associated with an insect bite; that’s inflammation at work. But inflammation, which is a normal and essential component of a healthy immune system, can also act in a systemic way to affect the entire body. Scientists believe that a chronic (i.e., life-long), systemic and low-grade inflammatory process is a key component in aging. Unlike acute inflammation which can be painful and discomforting, the chronic inflammation involved in aging is painless and subclinical (i.e., you cannot detect it or feel it). Claudio Franceschi from the University of Bologna in Italy, a leading figure in the study of aging, has cleverly combined the terms ‘inflammation’ and ‘aging’ to come up with the name ‘inflammaging’ to describe the process.
Scientists describe inflammaging as a complicated progression of steps wherein our bodies respond to internal and external stimuli to produce increased circulatory levels of pro-inflammatory signals, such as cytokines. The release of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) is also common in inflammaging and these substances cause oxidative damage to cells and tissues, releasing debris that further elicits inflammation. Over a long period of time, the constant, low-level inflammation caused by pro-inflammatory signals and ROS circulating though the body results in the accumulation of asymptomatic tissue damage that causes deterioration of normal function.
To underscore the significance of chronic inflammation scientists have identified it as an underlying process in all age-related diseases including type-2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, arthritis and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Altzheimer’s). It is even recognized as an important factor in frailty, which is an indicator of declining health in old age and a good predictor of adverse health events such as hospitalization and dependency.
So, what causes the chronic inflammation that leads to age-related disease and frailty? And what, if anything, can we do to reduce the damaging effects of inflammaging on our bodies? Indeed, a worthwhile goal for everyone interested in healthy aging is to understand the basic processes leading to chronic inflammation and to implement lifestyle strategies that reduce it and thereby avoid the effects of frailty.
The gut microbiota plays a role in chronic inflammation and frailty
The gut microbiota is the collection of trillions of microorganisms residing in our intestines. It plays a central role in metabolism, physiology and nutrition and it’s estimated that the human gut contains anywhere between 500 and 1,000 different species of microorganisms. An impressive and growing list of scientific publications has shown that obesity and other chronic disease is associated with a lack of microbial diversity within the gut. In other words, if someone has a low number of microbial species in their intestines compare to others, then it’s likely that they may be at risk for adverse chronic, age-related disease and obesity.
Recently Jackson et. al. performed experiments to determine whether or not microbial diversity in the gut has an impact on whether or not a person becomes frail during old age. By measuring the gut microbiota in 728 female twins with varying degrees of frailty they discovered that people with a high Frailty Index (i.e., a measurement of frailty) possess gut microbiota with significantly lower diversity than those with low Frailty Index scores. In addition, they identified certain bacterial species that associate with frailty and others that associate healthy aging.
The researchers caution that additional research is needed to determine whether reduced gut microbiota diversity causes frailty or whether it is a consequence of frailty. Nevertheless, since chronic inflammation is a driving factor in age-related disease and frailty, and since the gut microbiota is interconnected with our body’s immune system and can either dial up inflammation or tamp it down, it makes sense that a healthy and diverse gut microbiota contributes to healthy and vital aging.
So, how can we promote microbial diversity within our intestines?
Like all complicated ecosystems inhabited by many competing species, the nutrients available in the gut determine which species and strains of microbes thrive. When we eat processed foods with high sugar content and unhealthy fats (i.e., junk foods) we are creating an environment that promotes the survival and propagation of bad microorganisms. In other words, we are destroying diversity within our gut flora by providing a competitive advantage to microorganisms that lead to inflammation and obesity. And even worse, since the microbes in our gut sends signals to our brain to make us crave certain foods, once bad microbes have gained the upper-hand on the beneficial microbes, our craving for unhealthy foods increases and we are caught in a vicious cycle of poor diet choices.
The best way to promote a diverse gut microbiota and to gain the upper-hand on the bad microbes in our body is to eat a diverse diet containing plenty of vegetables and fruits with prebiotic fiber. You should also consume probiotic-containing foods such as yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables. A daily-use probiotic is also recommended. I recommend Hero Probiotics (link to Hero Probiotics Product on Amazon) because of the fact that it contains a diverse set of good bacteria with a high organism count per capsule. Hero Probiotics has been shown to crowd out bad-acting microorganisms and is known to have excellent performance in supporting healthy immune function.
It’s never too late or early to start
We don’t have to experience aging as ‘loathsome’ or a ‘hideous winter’ as the poets of old describe it. It’s possible to make lifestyle choices today that reduces the devastating effects of frailty (i.e., dependency and hospitalization) and promotes healthy and productive lifespans.
It’s never too early to start. Inflammaging is a lifelong process; young people, middle aged people as well as the elderly can benefit from efforts to reduce chronic inflammation. If you’re already suffering from the effects of inflammaging (i.e., chronic disease), it’s never too late to start making good diet choices since some research suggests that inflammaging can be reversed.
Food is the best medicine and while science may eventually invent therapeutic agents that counteract and diminish the effects of frailty during aging, it’s likely that nothing will ever come close to the powerful effects of healthy food choices. So why wait for the pharmaceutical industry when the answer is already available? By introducing healthy and varied foods into your everyday diet you can already promote diversity within your gut microbiota that will have long-lasting effects that last a lifetime.
Jackson M.A., Signatures of early frailty in the gut microbiota. Genome Medicine (2016) 8:8
About the author:
Douglas Toal, PhD is a Microbiologist with extensive knowledge and expertise in medical and environmental microbiology with additional training in metabolism and anti-aging medicine. He is founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Liberty Bion, Inc.
At Liberty Bion, Inc. our mission is to deliver quality natural supplements, healthy living strategies, and innovative educational tools that promotes good health and adds value to the lives of our customers. Our Hero Probiotics™ brand is formulated to support your effort to create a diverse microbiota by delivering 30 billion CFUs of 10 diverse and beneficial probiotic strains per serving.
Douglas Toal, PhD is a medical microbiologist with extensive knowledge and expertise in clinical and environmental microbiology with additional training in biochemistry, metabolism and anti-aging medicine. He is board-certified in Medical & Public Health Microbiology and has performed extensive research in the cell-to-cell signaling strategies that bacteria use to communicate. His current interests include validating innovative diagnostic methods for the identification of clinical disease. He frequently blogs about the application of probiotics in human health, recent discoveries in gut microbiota function and trends in anti-aging medicine and wellness.