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What is the secret formula to living over a century old? Is it the Mediterranean diet? Drinking green tea? Eating lots of fish? Reducing stress… meditation?? Cultures, diets, and superfoods are all brought under investigation when trying to answer this question. Is there a commonality that is shared by all those aging past 100? A recent study shows that regardless of the approach you choose, the key commonality for centenarians is keeping down chronic inflammation.
Okay, there are plenty of studies showing the links between inflammation in the body and most every disease we fear as a society (1, 2, 3). The research shows us that reactive oxygen and nitrogen species put oxidative (inflammatory) stress on our DNA, which can lead to mutations and eventually cancer. There are links to more plaque in our arteries due to oxidized LDL cholesterol and calcium deposits, stemming back to inflammation. We can associate overexcitation and death of brain neurons to inflammation in the brain.
But here’s the thing... When we get an infection, we need inflammation in order to attack the pathogen and survive. When we exercise, acute inflammation at the muscle sites and the various cascade reactions are what make exercise good for us. So what’s the deal? We need inflammation to be healthy, and yet we can’t have inflammation otherwise we’ll die at an earlier age?? Yeah… kind of.
The key is whether the inflammation is acute (quick and intense) or chronic (persistent and long-lasting). We tend to benefit from inflammation when we are able to use it as a means of a quick repair, but we can develop severe systemic problems in our bodies if the inflammation is constantly present. Think of a prompt tune-up to your squeaking car brakes as opposed to an air filter that’s been clogged for a long time and leads to overheating and all kinds of internal problems to the engine. When we think of this analogy in the context of our bodies and aging, It becomes pretty clear that chronic (rather than acute) inflammation doesn’t mesh well with long-term well-being.
The study at Newcastle University's Institute for Ageing studied markers for chronic inflammation along with other markers for heart-disease, metabolic syndrome, liver function, telomere length (which has been shown to directly indicate chronological age) and several others in people between 50 and 115, and it was shown that low levels of systemic inflammation were the most important marker for longevity.
So the answer is keep your inflammation low, but then, naturally… how do you do that? Well this is where eating a low-inflammatory diet, keeping your stress down, and keeping your acute inflammatory response intact comes in. In short, this means absolutely no processed foods (eat whole foods with one ingredient), exercising (intense effort that stimulates acute oxidative stress), and keeping your stress low (via meditation, playing or prayer). These are just some ideas to help you live longer, but we know you have plenty of ideas as well. What strategies are you going to use to make it to 100?