Getting older is a wild ride: we get excited for new socks, we feel tired all the time, and we’re increasingly aware of our own mortality. And, fun fact, the constant stress of existing in this timeline is probably making us age even faster. The manifestations of aging may be caused by chronic, low-grade inflammation called inflammaging. Macrene Alexiades, MD, PhD, PLLC, who holds three degrees from Harvard and runs Park Avenue and Hamptons private practice clinics in dermatology and laser surgery, shares the must-knows about inflammaging and how to minimize the damage to our skin and bodies.
What is inflammaging?
“In simplistic terms, inflammaging is a theory that the manifestations of aging in the human body are due to chronic inflammation and over-stimulation of the immune system in the course of one’s lifetime,” says Dr. Macrene. Basically, the theory is that chronic inflammation is behind many—if not all—aspects of aging.
“Factors that contribute to chronic inflammation include ‘antigen load,’ namely the overexposure to external substances and microbes over the course of one’s lifetime,” Dr. Macrene explains. “This causes overstimulation of the immune system, the accumulation of activated immune system cells, and the overproduction of immune system factors that cause degeneration to various tissues in the body.” In simpler terms, an overstimulated immune system causes inflammation, which then causes damage to our bodies at a foundational level. Dr. Macrene adds that obesity and issues with the gut microbiome may also contribute to inflammation.
What are common signs of inflammaging?
“From a scientific and medical perspective, there are markers of inflammation that can be detected in the bloodstream,” says Dr. Macrene. “The proponents of this theory report that these markers are associated with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, sarcopenia (wasting away), osteoporosis, functional disability (a vague term for loss of functionality), and high mortality risk (increased risk of death).”
Inflammaging also contributes to faster aging of our skin. It speeds up collagen loss and wrinkles and weakens our skin barrier, which can result in things like dryness, redness, acne, and darker under-eye circles.
How can we slow down inflammaging?
Dr. Macrene’s primary recommendation is to reduce stress, which, as we all know, can be easier said than done—but it’s not impossible. Rest, eating a healthy diet full of antioxidants and herbs, and avoiding excessive exposure to toxins (like cigarette smoke, alcohol, and pollution) can also help.
LOOK FOR SKINCARE PRODUCTS WITH ACTIVE ANTIOXIDANTS AND BARRIER REPAIR
“To prevent and slow down inflammaging specifically on the skin, use products formulated with active antioxidants, barrier repair, anti-inflammatory plant polyphenols, and DNA repair—all of which are among the over 110 actives in Macrene Actives cream and serum,” says Dr. Macrene. Resveratrol, omega fatty acids, plankton and algae, and organic extracts of yerba mate tea and feverfew are among those actives.
Dr. Macrene emphasizes the importance of getting outside for our health. And it doesn’t have to be some big, elaborate event. “Interestingly, a randomized controlled study recently demonstrated that activities such as gardening were effective in reducing inflammatory markers in the bloodstream of the patients,” she elaborates.
For those of us who live in a high UV environment, she recommends spending time outside in the late afternoon and wearing sun-protective clothing to help reduce free radical attack. And it should go without saying, but we’ll say it—everyone should be wearing sunscreen.
TL;DR lifestyle changes can minimize the damage of inflammaging
“This theory of inflammaging is another way of explaining why people in Blue Zones, such as my Greek island, live long—we combine the lifestyle factors that are being proven to reduce inflammaging and promote health,” says Dr. Macrene. “The old adage from wise cultures is that we should minimize stress, and the old-fashioned ways of getting natural exercise by working in the garden and walking in the mountains are the best ways to prevent inflammaging. Get closer to nature and you reduce stress, get lots of antioxidants in your bloodstream, stay fit, and keep healthy.”