When our immune system is triggered, it creates an inflammatory response to protect the body from further damage or from an invader. This inflammatory response ends up damaging our own cells in the process. Many of the foods, additives and chemicals in our daily environment are substances that turn on our body’s defenses. Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to breakdown of collagen, destruction of the joints, blood vessels, digestive system, brain and nerve tissue and other organ systems, premature aging, disease and ultimately, death.
“Inflammatory factors predict virtually all bad outcomes in humans. It predicts heart attacks, heart failure, diabetes, becoming fragile in old age, cognitive function decline, and even cancer...”
-Russell Tracy, Professor of Pathology and Biochemistry
The good news is that aging doesn't have be accompanied by inflammation, meaning that many of us can live a long and happy life without chronic disease. Reducing inflammation, before it ages you faster and causes disease, is key and can be largely controlled with the right diet.
Fats and Inflammation
The proper balance of omega 6 fats to omega 3 fats is about 1:1. Unfortunately, most diets (heavy in grains, vegetable oils and grain-fed meat) are out of balance with regard to omega 6 and omega 3 fats. A typical standard diet often has a ratio of about 15:1, (omega 6’s to omega 3’s), and a diet this heavy in omega 6 fats increases inflammation in the body.
Unnatural fats and hydrogenated fats, like trans fats, create free radicals that damage healthy cells and trigger inflammation. Trans fats are made by processing oils to extreme high heat and pressure --to a point where there is a change in its chemical structure making the oil more oxidized and more inflammatory. Then extra hydrogen atoms are added to make it more stable for food preservation. If that’s not enough, industrial solvents such as hexane are used to extract the last amounts of oil from the soybean or cottonseed, which adds to the inflammatory characteristics of the oil.
These unhealthy trans fats compete with omega-3 fats in our cell membrane (which is made up of fatty acids). When the cell membrane is made up primarily of omega 6 fats and trans fats, the membrane actually becomes less resilient and brittle, and reduces its ability to function properly and absorb nutrients. It eventually weakens and dies.
Both trans fats and excess omega-6 fats encourage the storage of body fat, especially in the abdomen. Excess belly fat, which can be measured as a waist size of 35 inches or more for a woman and 40 inches or more for a man, means higher levels of inflammation, since abdominal fat produces inflammatory chemicals in the body. A diet heavy in omega 6 fatty acids actually increases wrinkling and aging of the skin as well leading to more cancerous changes from exposure to the sun.
The study showed that those that had the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids also had the slowest rates of telomere shortening over five years. And the patients with the lowest levels of omega 3’s had fastest rate of telomere shortening. What’s more, taking omega 3 supplements actually lengthened the telomeres in the participants’ DNA.
In other words, those with the highest levels of omega 3 fats aged much more slowly. Supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids also was also found to reduce the oxidative stress from free radicals—which is another reason for accelerated aging. And omega 3 fatty acids also lowered inflammation in this same study group.
How to Reduce Inflammation and Slow Down the Aging Process
As you already know, inflammation and oxidation are key to the beginnings of many chronic health conditions and is thought to be one of the reasons for advanced aging. Obviously anything that reduces inflammation has anti-aging benefits as well. Omega 3 fatty acids have a very long list of health benefits including: preventing heart disease, protecting the immune system, helping weight loss, keeping skin smooth and preventing wrinkles, improving mental health, preventing cancer, and fighting overall inflammation.