The thing that's causing your achy joints and swollen feet on the outside, is also wreaking havoc on your insides. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine have singled out inflammation as the common factor in a number of age-related diseases including Alzheimer's, gout, arthritis and diabetes.
"This is the first study to show that inflammation is causally linked to functional decline in aging," researcher Vishwa Deep Dixit said in a release. "There are multiple triggers of inflammation... but we've pinpointed Nlrp3 as the specific sensor that activates inflammation with age."
As we get older, our immune system starts producing small levels of inflammation in the body. But Nlrp3 does more than just cause painful swelling and tenderness -- it's downright bad for your body, even when it's not causing an outright disease. It lowers bone density, reduces cognitive function, and creates insulin-resistance.
Researchers studied the aging process of healthy mice and found that -- even in mice -- Nlrp3 was activated with age. They reduced levels of the sensor in the mice and the outcome was reduced inflammation and protection from age-related disease. The mice also were stronger and had more endurance than the animals who had regular, age-activated levels of Nlrp3.
Just last month, European researchers found a similar inflammation marker, interleukin-6, was linked to poor aging and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, The Huffington Post reported.
As the post-50 population grows, doctors are seeing a jump in the incidence of age-related diseases, but researchers say we've been going about treating the individual diseases all wrong. Now that inflammation has been identified as the universal cause, we can be much more effective by tackling just that.
Dixit says we need to see if it's possible to "switch off" Nlrp3 to slow the onset of age-related disease. "This could lead to the possibility of prolonging healthspan, potentially leading to an old age relatively free of disease or disability," Dixit said.
More studies need to be conducted to determine if the sensor can be manipulated without any adverse effects. The current crop of anti-inflamatory drugs have failed to expand the healthspan.
But there are still ways to help reduce inflammation on a daily basis through your diet. Sip on green tea, eat some antioxidant-rich berries, and make sure to get plenty of Omega-3s in your everyday diet.