The Ageing Process. Free radicals and Inflammaging

Aging is considered as a biological process characterized by a progressive deterioration in physiological functions and metabolic processes that increase the risk of suffering and death. While there are various theories as to why the body ages, they are all, one way or another link with free radicals and inflammation. The Free Radical Theory of Aging was first proposed in 1956 by Denham Harman, and says the process of ageing is due to the damaging consequences of free radical action, i.e. lipid peroxidation, DNA damage and protein oxidation, which accumulate over time. While cellular functions decline due to the damage left by oxidation. In agreement with the free radical theory of aging a number of experimental studies in humans and animals have linked aging to a state of heightened oxidative stress. Specifically, in aging an imbalance in the levels of production of free radicals versus the body’s ability to counteract and repair the oxidative damage occurs. The problem lies when the free radicals levels overwhelm the antioxidant and repair systems contributing to the aging process aiding the development of age related diseases. 

Associated with this free radicals within mitochondria damage the mitochondria, which in turn leads to the production of increased quantities of more free radicals which cause further damage. Once it starts, this cycle leads to further damage and corresponding aging. The oxidation process has also been shown to shorten telomere length which is associated with aging and with the onset of cancer and other age-related diseases.

In both men and women, older age is also associated with higher levels of inflammation. This state of chronic low-grade inflammation associated with ageing has been called “inflammaging” and is associated with a significant rise in serum levels of inflammatory markers, independently of other risk factors. Levels of pro-inflammatory Chemicals (cytokines, such as IL6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)), in the circulation and tissues increase with age, both in humans and mice. Inflammaging is strictly related to the gradual deterioration of the immune system with age and altered immune response, which has been demonstrated in both animals and humans.

Age-associated inflammation is a strong risk factor for overall mortality in older adults. In fact, individuals having higher than age-average levels of inflammatory markers (especially IL-6 and IL-1RA) are more likely to be hospitalized, have higher all-cause mortality rates, be frail, be less independent, and are more likely to have a variety of late-life diseases. Many studies have now shown elevated inflammatory chemicals have been linked to a decline in physical and mental performance and increase in physical and mental disability, frailty and other disabling conditions. In a study of older individuals admitted to hospital for acute illness or chronic disease the amount of inflammation had a greater influence on prognosis than the measured nutritional status. 

There are now hundreds and hundreds of studies on the role of gut health, inflammation and ageing. That is why we are running our next speaking tour in Queensland in August on The Ageing Gut Chronic Illness and the Immune system. Dementia, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis pain and more. So if you have any interested in healthy ageing or the make sure you get along.