First, it is important to distinguish acute versus chronic inflammation!
Inflammation is a vital part of the body’s immune response. It is the body’s attempt to heal itself after an injury; defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria; and repair damaged tissue. Without inflammation, wounds would fester, and infections could become deadly. So in many ways, acute inflammation is “good” and helps the body heal itself when injured. It is the body’s natural response to a problem, and can makes us aware of issues that we might not otherwise acknowledge without the inflammation as a warning sign.
If inflammation does not subside, however, it can also be problematic. More and more research indicates that chronic inflammation does indeed increase our risk of many chronic diseases, and also negatively affects our cognitive and physical function as we age. For this reason, there is great interest in the types of treatments that can help reduce the rise in chronic inflammation that seems to occur with aging.
Before examining the interventions that could be helpful, it’s important to first recognize what’s causing the problem. Some of the exogenous or external factors that can promote chronic inflammation or at least acute inflammation are smoking, air pollution, excessive alcohol intake, and of course diet plays a significant role. And then there are endogenous or internal factors that have an important role. These include, adiposity, sub-clinical disease can also contribute to chronic inflammation, how active or inactive the immune system is.
The good news is that there are several potential strategies to reduce chronic inflammation which have been supported in recent research. Of course, a person’s lifestyle, in terms of diet, exercise, and sleep patterns, plays a huge role, but that is the subject of another article.
For today, I want to highlight a few dietary supplements and medications that science has found to be effective in reducing chronic inflammation. Below are a few prescription drugs and natural dietary compounds that have been shown to help reduce chronic, low-grade inflammation.
Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs)
Angiotensin II is a very potent chemical formed in the blood that causes muscles surrounding blood vessels to contract, thereby narrowing the vessels. This narrowing increases the pressure within the vessels and can cause high blood pressure (hypertension). Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) are medications that block the action of angiotensin II by preventing angiotensin II from binding to angiotensin II receptors on the muscles surrounding blood vessels. As a result, blood vessels enlarge (dilate) and blood pressure is reduced. Reduced blood pressure makes it easier for the heart to pump blood and can improve heart failure. In addition, the progression of kidney disease caused by the high blood pressure or diabetes is slowed. By using Angiotensin II, the blood vessels are less susceptible to the inflammation and it helps to slow the swelling.
Metformin is a commonly prescribed drug used to treat high blood sugar levels that are caused by type 2 diabetes. With this type of diabetes, insulin produced by the pancreas is not able to get sugar into the cells of the body where it can work properly. Using metformin alone, with a type of oral antidiabetic medicine called a sulfonylurea, or with insulin, will help to lower blood sugar when it is too high and help restore the way you use food to make energy.
Since elevations in glucose levels can increase inflammation in the body, metformin may work to reduce inflammation by lowering glucose levels. To work properly, the amount of metformin you take must be balanced against the amount and type of food you eat and the amount of exercise you do. If you change your diet or exercise, you will want to test your blood sugar to find out if it is too low. Your doctor will teach you what to do if this happens.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which we primarily get through eating fatty fish, have long been thought to be good for our health. Many dietary studies indicate that high intake is associated with a reduced risk of various chronic disease conditions.
Clinical trials have also shown beneficial anti-inflammatory effects in patients taking omega-3 supplements. Recent research supports previous discoveries, and has also found new, useful effects of omega-3 supplements and how these lipids dampen harmful inflammatory reactions in the body.
In several studies, probiotics have been shown to reduce chronic low-grade inflammation, specifically the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. Now, what else is very interesting is that it wasn’t necessarily one probiotic. The probiotic used in each study wasn’t the same. So, it seems as a general class, probiotics tend to have an ability to reduce inflammation.
The plant extract resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes, appears to suppress inflammation and may fight aging in humans, according to a new study. The most common food sources of resveratrol include grapes, wine, peanuts, blueberries, and cranberries. These foods have a natural extract that allows for more control over the inflammation.
Vitamin D has long been known to contribute to bone health by promoting the absorption of calcium. In recent years, much attention has been paid to its possible immune and inflammatory benefits. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with several diseases including asthma, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.
The findings of our review provide support for the potential of angiotensin receptor blockers, metformin, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics (but not resveratrol or Vitamin D), to significantly reduce inflammation in middle-age and older adults. Practical nutritional and pharmacological interventions targeting inflammation that are safe, affordable, and acceptable could represent new therapeutic opportunities toward reducing chronic inflammation and the promotion of successful aging.
Chung, H.Y., Cesari, M., Anton, S.D., Marzetti, E., Giovannini, S., Seo, A.Y., Carter, C., Yu, B.P., & Leeuwenburgh, C. (2009). Molecular Inflammation: Underpinnings of Aging and Age-related Diseases. Aging Research Reviews, 8(1), 18-30.
Custodero C, Mankowski RT, Lee SA,… Anton SD. (2018) Evidence-based nutritional and pharmacological interventions targeting chronic low-grade inflammation in middle-age and older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ageing Res Rev 46: 42–59.