There’s no doubt that looking into the mirror as we age is an obvious way to view our maturation progress. But there are also silent but harmful agers as well. Enter “inflammaging.” While there’s no stopping it, there are ways to reduce it. Here’s everything you need to know about it and why calcium may be the key.
Disclosure: This post, in no way, is to body shame our appearance as we age. And whether we choose to age gracefully to look for methods to keep our youthful appearance, I’m all for it. You know your body best, and I adore you just the way you are. If you have questions or concerns about inflammaging, please talk to your physician.
First, What’s Chronic Inflammation Exactly?
So you’re not shaking your head when we get into inflammaging, let’s do a quick rundown of precisely what chronic inflammation is. Straight from the National Institutes of Health, chronic inflammation is “slow, long-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years. Generally, the extent and effects of chronic inflammation vary with the cause of the injury and the ability of the body to repair and overcome the damage.”
Over time, inflammation does some pretty vicious damage to your body if it is not nipped in the bud. And while it’s not something we dream about having, it’s a necessary response from our bodies to keep bacteria and viruses in check. It’s also a natural part of our body’s healing process when it does its job and then disappears.
Inflammaging is a continuous, low-grade inflammation associated with aging. As opposed to inflammation that you might get from a scratch or bug bite that lasts a few days and leaves, this constant inflammatory response can build up with time and gradually cause tissue damage. Additionally, the age-related increase in pro-inflammatory markers in blood and tissues becomes a significant risk factor for frequent causes of disability from multiple diseases in older, mature adults.
To delve into why this happens, I’ve got to get scientific on you. In our bodies, we have a mechanism called an inflammasome. When it gets over-activated, it causes inflammaging. A complex comprising multi-proteins, it also has a sensor, an effector, and an adapter. When it’s activated, it gives an inflammatory signal to the body.
Keeping our hearts strong is one of the top reasons for staying healthy, so it’s worth noting that inflammaging is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Why Do We Need Calcium?
The most abundant mineral in the body is calcium. And while it gets that title, most of it is stored in our teeth and bones, so they stay strong and have structure. We also need calcium for the nerves to carry messages to our brains and to make our muscles move.
Additionally, calcium is needed to make our blood clot, keep our hearts beating regularly, and help our blood vessels constrict and relax. If we don’t get enough calcium in our diets, it’s bad news. To compensate for the lack of the mineral, our body will take calcium from our bones to use for these essential functions.
Called bone mass loss, it can be detrimental to aging women as it makes our bones brittle from the inside out. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s a major contributor to osteoporosis. On average, women over 50 need 1,200 mg of calcium each day. While it is optimum to get calcium from our daily diet (dairy products and green, leafy vegetables are big sources), supplements are always a good idea if you can’t.
On the other side of the coin, too much calcium can also be harmful. Called hypercalcemia, it can cause your bones to weaken, cause improper brain and heart functioning, and painful kidney stones.
Calcium and Inflammaging
Again, here is another quick anatomy lesson so you don’t get a brain cramp: in our bodies, we have countless cells. Those cells have different parts. One of them is a mitochondrion. If it’s all coming back to you, mitochondria have always been known as the powerhouse of cells. Additionally, they are reliant on a process called calcium signaling.
As we age, the mitochondria lose their ability to calcium uptake, particularly in immune cells called macrophages. And it’s this disability that leads to inflammaging. Macrophages live in every body organ, so when they cannot do their job correctly, it leads to harmful effects down the road.
So, it makes sense that increasing the calcium uptake in these immunity cells could prevent it from happening. Researchers from the Univerity of Virginia School of Medicine are positive that doing something as simple as taking a calcium supplement won’t offer protection, so they’re working on ways to stimulate the mitochondria’s calcium uptake instead.
Notably, the UVA researchers feel that by knowing there’s an issue with macrophages as we age, inflammatory strategies could be implemented to stave off cardiometabolic and neurodegenerative diseases caused by inflammaging.