Age is just a number, says a popular saying. However, scientists in the US believe that we are focusing on the wrong number.
They claim that instead of measuring our health by age in calendar years, we should measure our inflammatory age.
Scientists at Stanford University and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have now developed a blood test to measure inflammatory age (or iAge), a measure of chronic inflammation – and say regular checking could provide an early warning of inflammation. Comorbidities from heart disease to dementia.
This would give us the time to take steps to improve our health, from changing our lifestyle to taking medication.
As Dr. Nazish Sayed, assistant professor of vascular surgery at Stanford, said, “We’re all going to age and we’re all going to die – the only difference is how well we age,” he says.
“The goal is a healthier age – to prevent some of the health problems associated with aging and to make aging more graceful.”
US scientists have now developed a blood test to measure inflammatory age, or iAge, and say the check could be an early warning of inflammation-related diseases (stock image)
His research, reported in the journal Nature Aging, is based on an understanding that chronic inflammation plays a key role in disease.
We are all familiar with acute inflammation – fever, swelling and pain – all of which play an important role in wound healing and the defense against infections that normally only last a few days.
In contrast, chronic inflammation is persistent, mild inflammation that can damage our cells and organs over time and is linked to many diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cancer.
The extent of inflammation increases with age, likely due to aging cells that release molecules that promote inflammation. It can also be made worse by factors such as smoking, obesity, pollution, and stress.
The damage caused is often so insidious that we don’t even notice it for years until we develop symptoms like high blood pressure.
To develop the test to measure this “hidden” inflammation, the researchers analyzed blood samples from more than 1,000 people for levels of 50 cytokines, proteins of the immune system known to be involved in inflammation.
Combining the results of the blood test with information on the age and health status of the participant produced a cytokine “signature” associated with a disease.
The researchers used this to calculate a person’s iAge – their biological age based on their level of inflammation.
For example, if someone is 65 at age 45, their body is 20 years older than it should be because of the harmful effects of inflammation.
Another experiment supported the claim that our inflammatory age is a better health indicator than our chronological age.
Using blood samples, they calculated the age of 37 people from a region of Italy.
Half of the participants were between 50 and 79 years old and in normal health for their age, while the other half were healthy enough to be 100 or more years old.
The level of inflammation increases with age and can also be made worse by factors such as smoking, obesity, pollution, and stress (stock image)
The centenarians had an average age 40 years below their actual age. In contrast, most of the younger group had an iAge that was higher than their chronological age.
Some of the individual results were even more noticeable.
“We have an outlier, a super healthy 105-year-old man who has an immune system that is 25 years old,” says one of the researchers, immunologist Dr. David Furman.
The scientists also showed that a person’s iAge can be used to predict who is most at risk of becoming frail and therefore may need help with washing, dressing, and other everyday tasks.
Additionally, they were able to select those who are likely to develop a heart condition called left ventricular hypertrophy, which increases the risk of heart failure (where the heart has trouble pumping blood around the body).
Arne Akbar, a professor of immunology at University College London and President of the British Society for Immunology, told Good Health that iAge is a “sophisticated way” to measure the rate at which inflammation increases with age.
However, he adds, “There are other ways to measure increased inflammation as we age, such as measuring C-reactive protein.” [a compound that is a marker of inflammation and can be measured with a simple blood test].
“This begs the question of how sophisticated measuring inflammation should be to predict health – and which is the easiest and cheapest.”
The new test is a few years away from widespread use, but Dr. Sayed envisions doing it annually along with other regular health checkups like cholesterol tests.
Those with a high iAge could then try to lower their inflammation levels. This can be done through more exercise or a change in diet – both of which can reduce chronic inflammation. Or new iAge-lowering drugs are developed.
Research showed that a cytokine called CXCL9 is particularly strongly linked to iAge, suggesting a new drug that lowers this could help keep the body healthy longer.
Dr. However, Alan Cohen, a biologist researching biological aging at Sherbrooke University in Canada, warns that the way the immune system works is so complex that a drug tinkering with part of it could have unintended consequences.
He adds: “Aging is multidimensional; There isn’t a single thing that can ever tell you exactly what your biological age is. ‘