Secrets of Inflammation and How It Ages You

  • By Dr. Aron Choi
  • 30 Nov, 2017

Have you noticed that you suddenly look older? Your hair is falling out, or you're suddenly experiencing drier skin? Dr. Aron explains what inflammation is and how it impacts your skin and body. 

Inflammation and How It Ages You

I grew up just outside of San Francisco. We lived in a nice cul-de-sac of newly constructed homes. I remember being in 3rd grade moving away from our smaller, older home in the Sunset district known for its side-by-side houses and fog.

To me, the other families around us seemed to be normal and happy—young families creating lives together.

Two girls who went to the same elementary school as my brothers and I lived a few houses away with their parents. From the outside, their lives seemed perfectly happy. They went to school just like us. Their parents would wave to us as we drove by and would stop by if we were outside and talk with my parents.

Then it all changed. We would hear arguing once in a while. Then the arguing became more frequent and more intense. Eventually, we stopped seeing the father doing normal household chores like taking out the garbage or washing the cars. Word spread that the parents had separated and gotten divorced.

Overnight, their mother looked like she had aged 10 years. What was once jet black hair had gone gray. What was once a youthful glow in her skin became a shade of drab.

How did she age so quickly? How was this possible? This was one of my first memories seeing stress drain the youth out of someone’s appearance.

Now that we got that out of the way, what causes this rapid aging?

Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation sounds like a scary word. Do you imagine a fire wreaking havoc inside your body or a crackling camp fire where you are cooking a meal for your friends and family?

Inflammation can be either of these.

On one hand, inflammation is a natural healing process. It is the immune system’s response to a threat or PERCEIVED threat—infections, toxic chemicals, physical trauma, or emotional stress.

Sprain an ankle and you probably have experienced swelling, redness, pain, heat, and loss of function. This is the way your body attempts to protect and heal your ankle from further damage.

When you catch a cold, a fever, sore throat, cough, and runny nose are signs of inflammation. This is the body’s response to a cold virus.

 Same with skin inflammation. Pimples are an example of local inflammation from a local irritation or internal irritation. Eczema is inflammation of the skin due to a food intolerance or possibly digestive dysfunction like gut hyper-permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut).

If these are protective mechanisms, why are our bodies harming themselves with chronic inflammation? 

Let me share a few secrets about inflammation.

Inflammation Secret #1 - Stress damages your skin and hair

Just as in my story at the beginning of this article, life events like divorces, energy-draining family members, or difficult financial situations are perceived threats.

It feels like our very survival is threatened. When your brain perceives a threat, it responds by activating your fight or flight response. Your adrenal glands start pumping out the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Your heart rate goes up. Your blood sugar goes up. There is less blood flow to the periphery, particularly your skin and scalp. Your immune system is compromised.

In the short term, these are normal responses. In the long term, these can cause collateral damage.

Have you ever noticed that when you are more stressed out and maybe not getting enough sleep, more of your hair falls out and your skin looks drab?

Stress is mobilizing your body’s precious resources to run from a threat, even if there is no actual predator chasing you.

Chronic stress becomes chronic inflammation and your skin and hair will show it.

Inflammation Secret #2 - Not all fats are created equal - Inflammatory vs. Pro-inflammatory Fats

How important are fats? Fatty acids are important components of cell membranes of every cell of your body—including skin. The membrane is where all the functions from communication to transporting molecules, and creating healthy barriers. Additionally, fatty acids are necessary for brain development and function.

There are different types of fatty acids. The ones that are important in regulating inflammation are Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.

There is an important differentiation between Omega 3 fatty acids versus Omega 6 fatty acids. Throughout human evolution, the ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acids was 1:1. Today’s Standard American diet, often abbreviated as SAD, has an Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio of 20:1!

So what is the problem with this?

Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. They can be found in cold-pressed olive oil, grass fed animal products, cold water fish like sardines, and seeds.

Omega-6 fatty acids increase one of the body’s inflammatory biochemical pathways called the arachidonic acid pathway. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in corn products, cereals, most vegetable oils, processed wheat-grain breads, and corn fed animal products.

Many of us are consuming up to 20 times more pro-inflammatory fats than parents and grandparents just a few decades ago.

If your cell membranes have a high concentration of primarily Omega-6 fatty acids, your skin is more easily damaged by sun and will age more quickly. You are more likely to experience eczema and dry skin patches. You may get more pimples.

The best way to avoid pro-inflammatory fats is to limit the amount of food you eat out of packages and start paying attention to the types of oil you cook with at home. If you eat out often, you may be consuming a lot more Omega-6 fatty acids without even knowing it.

Inflammation Secret #3 - Environmental Toxin Accumulation Damages DNA and Cells

There are more exposures to toxic environmental pollutants now more than ever. We live in cities that expose us to air pollution, plastics in everyday products leach toxic chemicals into the beauty products we apply to our skin and water we drink, pesticide residues on the foods we eat, and water that may not be 100% free of toxins.

Each one of these alone is not enough to do a lot of harm today. However, the total body burden of all these exposures puts stress on our detoxification systems and eventually can damage our cells and DNA.

DNA in our cells is the blueprint for new cells, like skin. If the blueprint is damaged, the machine that is built as a result will not turn out quite right. DNA damage is linked to cancer, rapid aging, and many other chronic diseases.

The reality can be sobering, but there is a lot you can do once you know that these are the major causes of rapid aging.

Can I be honest instead of gentle with you for a moment?

If you are reading this looking for a magic pill to solve all the problems and make you look younger, you are bound to be disappointed. Supplements are a great tool for helping you stay and look younger, some even can help reverse some of the damages and turn back your clock. However, they cannot help you keep and stay young if you don't recognize and stop or minimize the source of inflammation. 

In the next few weeks, I will be talking more on what can you can do to help reduce and eliminate inflammation. 

Stay Tuned. You can also reach out to me at aron@aronchoi.com

Dr. Aron Choi - I believe in building health from the ground up. My private practice is in Seattle, WA, and I specialize in working with patients who are dealing with chronic digestive disorders, inflammatory conditions, and immune dysfunction utilizing a combination of botanical medicine and nutrition, lifestyle therapy, and visceral manipulation. After becoming dissatisfied from working in Silicon Valley and after my mom, a retail pharmacist, introduced me to holistic medicine, I decided to pursue a doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University. When not pondering the many wonders of the human body and mind, I train for marathons, read books by people smarter than me, and train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Dr Aron - |   www.aronchoi.com   |   www.medium.com/@aronchoi  

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To me, the other families around us seemed to be normal and happy—young families creating lives together.

Two girls who went to the same elementary school as my brothers and I lived a few houses away with their parents. From the outside, their lives seemed perfectly happy. They went to school just like us. Their parents would wave to us as we drove by and would stop by if we were outside and talk with my parents.

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Overnight, their mother looked like she had aged 10 years. What was once jet black hair had gone gray. What was once a youthful glow in her skin became a shade of drab.

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