Have you noticed that you suddenly look older? Your hair is thinning and falling out, or you're suddenly experiencing drier older skin?
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?
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?
What causes Inflammation and let me share a few about secrets about them.
Inflammation Cause #1 - Stress
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.
What can you do about this?
We are all different individual that faces all kinds of challenges everyday and therefore there is no one cookie cutter solution that I can offer you. However, from a health perspective, there are many things you can do to help reduce the stress that causes you to experience early signs of aging.
One of the proven method is to stimulate your body to produce happy hormones and neurochemicals naturally, that can effectively counteract the destructive stress hormones "cortisol".
1. Relax and Meditation
2. Love yourself therapy
4. Get at least 8 hours of sleep
5. Better time management and take control
lastly, engage in activities that can relax you and help you get your happy hormones going. If you can, try to avoid or minimize the elements that cause you more stress!
Inflammation Cause #2 - The wrong fat vs the healthy fat
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 are inflammatory stimulant. It 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.
Eat more Omega 3 fatty acids food and pay attention to the healthy ratio of Omega-3 fatty acids vs Omega-6 fatty acids. So start eating more fish, oil and nuts that contains high ratio of omega 3 and cut down on processed food.
Inflammation Cause #3 - Environmental Toxins and Free Radicals
There are more exposures to toxic environmental pollutants now more than ever.
We live in cities that expose us to air pollution, harmful UV rays and plastics in everyday products. The plastic 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, known commonly as free radical damage.
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. Prevention is the better than cure.
What can you do to minimize exposure to environmental toxins and free radical damages?
1. Minimize plastic usage and instead switch to paper or glass. Watch out for water bottles that are made with plastic that contains harmful chemicals.
2. Protect your skin from the harmful UV rays, with sunscreen and antioxidants
3. Protect your lungs from air pollution
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.
Start minimizing the source of inflammation today. Prevention is the key to a youthful and healthy skin and body!