While we tend to focus on anti-inflammatory treatments, like biologics or ibuprofen, exploring the mechanisms of inflammation is the bigger picture of treatment possibilities in every part of medicine and personal recovery.......
Before You Start: Terms to Understand
Inflammation: The immune system’s local, short-term response to cellular damage by increasing blood flow and other repair-focused compounds.
Low-grade chronic inflammation: A “slow drip” response to widespread cell damage caused by aging, with the byproduct of impairing the function of cells and organs.
Inflammasome: A multiprotein intra-cellular complex that regulates inflammatory responses. Metabolism: The sum of every chemical reaction that happens in the body. It breaks down (catabolism) food for energy and also rebuilds (anabolism) those basic molecules into cells. Macrophage: Immune cells that reside in every organ in the body and are critical to maintaining organ function.
Our discoveries have to do with the specific pathways between inflammation and disease. The question has always been, if inflammation causes all of these age-related diseases, well, there are lots of anti-inflammatory drugs on the shelf of your local pharmacy. We ought to be able to take those and not get old, and not get diseases, which isn’t the case.
The problem is inflammation is a very broad term. Within the phenomena, we’re finding very specific pathways, and within those we’ve found that there is not only an association but a causal link between specific inflammatory pathways and diseases of aging.
For instance, this complex called the NLRP3 inflammasome. It’s found in every macrophage in all human organs. If we lower the activity of this inflammation-producing mechanism, at least in mice, we find they are protected from many aging disorders like bone loss and diabetes. In the elderly, we’ve found that lowering the activity of this pathway improves metabolism.
These are the kind of new findings that are linking the very disparate fields of metabolism and the immune system and even the nervous system, since we recently discovered very special macrophages that hug the nerves in the periphery of the brain. Activity in those macrophages can actually impair the functioning of the nervous system.