Inflammation and Stress

Inflammation and stress go hand in hand, reeking havoc on the immune system and leading to premature aging.

Inflammation and Stress:
The Role of Inflammation

Inflammation is a biological process that has received quite a bit of press in recent years and has been the subject of numerous different health trends, most popularly in the fields of diet and weight loss. Inflammation is defined by the National Institute of Health as, "a very complex response to an injury, infection, or other stimulus, in which many different cells types and secreted factors orchestrate protective immunity, tissue repair, and resolution of tissue damage."

There is also a new trend of research and information that inflammation may have a key role in the aging process, with some thought-leaders surmising that inflammation is the primary cause of aging in human beings. That may or may not be true, but we can certainly review the current information available to figure out if inflammation is something we should be aware of to help us age gracefully.

Most research has been done to understand the role of inflammation in the elderly, especially concerning degenerative diseases. While we are still working to understand the overall role of inflammation in the lifespan of the aging process from youth onward, there seems to be a fair amount of consensus that it plays a primary role in the accelerated aging process seen in the elderly.

A recent panel organized by National Institute of Health and National Geroscience Interest Group on aging stated that ìIt is now recognized that a mild pro-inflammatory state is correlated with the major degenerative diseases of the elderly.î

This begs the question of how does inflammation start or how does it originate? 

It is a hard question to articulate and requires a great deal of medical and scientific jargon to properly express, however a summary from a recent study in  Recent Patents on Inflammation & Allergy Drug Discovery expresses a good general outline, inflammatory process induces oxidative stress and reduces cellular antioxidant capacity.

Overproduced free radicals react with cell membrane fatty acids and proteins impairing their function permanently. What exactly does that mean? Inflammation most simply put is the body's response to an abnormal event in the body that it is attempting to repair. The most common or simple version might be a stubbed toe that swells, turns black or blue and eventually over time as healing occurs returns to normal. That process is the body inflaming the hurt area to protect it or heal it.

Chronic inflammation is the case of internal inflammation over time that can lead to aging processes. As the research study stated, it induces stress and reduces certain capacities in the body, many of which are key to the aging process, in order to deal with other stresses within the body.

Being that we have a basic idea of the aging process and inflammations role in it, how do prevent inflammation from occurring? The jury is still out officially, although two different recent studies examined the role of caloric-restriction on the inflammation process.

Both studies, from the Ageing Research Reviews and Antioxidants and Redux Signaling respectively, examined the anti-inflammatory actions of aging-retarding caloric restriction and exercise. It would seem that, while perhaps not a complete surprise, a poor diet, and sedentary lifestyle would increase inflammation and therefore the aging process.

In fact, the study from Antioxidants and Redux signaling found that "major chronic aging-related diseases such as atherosclerosis, arthritis, dementia, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases, are inflammation-related." It is certainly not a coincidence that most of these conditions are also symptoms of a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet choices.

It's fair to conclude that inflammation has a high correlation and may be a direct cause of many aging and degenerative conditions we face later on in life.

We also are safe to surmise that inflammation is a reactive process of our body to attempt to heal events that are not ideal for homeostasis, or events that place stress on the body.

In the case of inflammation and stress, these events are molecular and result from the bad kind of stress, that stress that comes from poor diet choices and lack of exercise, which leads to inflamed cellular responses.

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Inflammation and Stress:
What Chronic Stress Can Do

A new study provides a better understanding of why inflammation and stress go hand in hand.

Researchers found that chronic stress changes gene activity of immune cells before they enter the bloodstream so that they’re ready to fight infection or trauma — even when there is no infection or trauma to fight. This then leads to increased inflammation.

This phenomenon of inflammation and stress was seen in mice, as well as in blood samples from people with poor socioeconomic statuses (a predictor of chronic stress), reported the researchers from Ohio State University, the University of California, Los Angeles, Northwestern University and the University of British Columbia.

“There is a stress-induced alteration in the bone marrow in both our mouse model and in chronically stressed humans that selects for a cell that’s going to be pro-inflammatory,” study researcher John Sheridan, a professor at Ohio State University and associate director of the university’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, said in a statement. “So what this suggests is that if you’re working for a really bad boss over a long period of time, that experience may play out at the level of gene expression in your immune system.”

Inflammation isn’t always bad, particularly acute inflammation in response to an injury or infection. But chronic inflammation, on the other hand, has been linked with a range of conditions such as heart disease, depression and even cancer.

For the mouse part of this study, published in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers induced chronic stress in mice by having a bunch of male mice live together for a certain period of time. This time was enough for the mice to establish a hierarchy. Then, they introduced an aggressive male mouse to this group for periods of two hours to induce chronic stress in the mice.

After that, researchers looked at the immune cells circulating in the stressed mice’s blood stream, and found that they had four times the frequency of immune cells in their blood and spleen, versus non-stressed mice.

Researchers completed genome-wide analysis of the immune cells taken from the stressed mice’s blood. They found that compared with the non-stressed mice, 3,000 genes in the stressed mice’s immune cells were either expressed at higher or lower levels — and 1,142 of the up-regulated genes played a role in making the immune cells become more inflammatory.

Similar results were found in humans. The University of California, Los Angeles researchers looked at blood samples from both the stressed mice, as well as humans who came from differing socioeconomic statuses. Just like in the mouse part of the experiment, 387 genes were identified that had differences in activity between the people who came from low socioeconomic backgrounds and those who came from high socioeconomic backgrounds. And just like in the mice, the up-regulated genes in those who came from low socioeconomic backgrounds were pro-inflammatory.

In addition, a third of the genes that seemed to be affected by chronic stress were the same in both the humans and mice.

“This study provides a nice mechanism for how psychology impacts biology,” study researcher Nicole Powell, a research scientist in oral biology at Ohio State University, said in a statement. “Other studies have indicated that these cells are more inflammatory; our work shows that these cells are primed at the level of the gene, and it’s directly due to the sympathetic nervous system.”~parts adapted via

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