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Chronic Inflammation

The Epidemic Disease of Aging

January 2002

By William Faloon

William Faloon
William Faloon

Why do aging people suffer from so many seemingly unrelated disorders? Mainstream medicine attributes these multiple diseases to old age and fails to adequately address them. The sad fact is that people are needlessly suffering and dying from a common problem that is easily correctable.

In what will soon become a medical breakthrough, Life Extension has identified a reversible culprit (systemic inflammation) that is involved in the development of age-related diseases.

This role of inflammation has been overlooked by the medical establishment, yet persuasive scientific evidence exists that correcting a chronic inflammatory disorder will enable many of the infirmities of aging to be prevented or reversed.

Conventional doctors often tell their patients to accept the fact that they are not young anymore. Now that we know that systemic inflammation is a prime reason for the development of degenerative disease,1-8 safe steps can be taken to suppress the inflammatory cascade that destroys cells throughout the aging body.

Aging and inflammation

Chronic inflammation inflicts devastating effects, especially as humans grow older. The pathological consequences of inflammation are fully documented in the medical literature.9-21 Regrettably, the dangers of systemic inflammation continue to be ignored, even though proven ways exist to reverse this process.

Many people join The Life Extension Foundation (LEF) because they suffer from various degenerative diseases. A common culprit we find in these frail individuals is systemic inflammation.

The good news for healthy members is that our disease prevention protocols22 significantly reduce the inflammatory cascade. Not all members follow our complete recommendations and their blood tests sometimes reveal elevated inflammatory markers (such as C-reactive protein). New members who come to us with multiple age-related diseases tend to present with very high inflammatory blood levels. LEF strives to identify the molecular reasons to explain why our aging population suffers from so many degenerative diseases. We use the fruits of our research to design therapeutic approaches to circumvent these disorders. In the case of chronic inflammation, LEF now has enough drugs, hormones and nutrients in its arsenal to help those suffering from chronic inflammation...the epidemic disease of aging!

What Causes Age-Related Inflammation?

Aging results in an increase of inflammatory cytokines (destructive cell-signaling chemicals) that contribute to many degenerative diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis is a classic autoimmune disorder where excess levels of cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha(TNF-á), interleukin-6(IL-6), interleukin 1(b)(IL-1b), and/or leukotriene B4(LTB4) are known to cause or contribute to the inflammatory syndrome.

Chronic inflammation is also involved in diseases as diverse as atherosclerosis, cancer, heart valve dysfunction, diabetes, congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s. In aged people with multiple degenerative diseases, C-reactive protein is often sharply elevated, indicating the presence of an underlying inflammatory disorder. When a cytokine blood profile is conducted in these feeble people, we usually find excess levels of one or more of the inflammatory cytokines (TNF-á, IL-6, IL-1 (b), LTB(4)).

Scientists have identified dietary supplements and prescription drugs that can reduce levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines. The docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) fraction of fish oil is the best documented supplement to suppress TNF-á, IL-6, IL-1(b) and LTB(4).21-33 Studies on healthy humans and those with rheumatoid disease show that fish oil suppresses these dangerous cytokines by up to 90%.31

Other cytokine-lowering supplements are DHEA,34-40 vitamin K,41, 42 GLA (gamma linolenic acid)43-46 and nettle leaf extract.47 Antioxidants (such as vitamin E and n-acetyl-cysteine) may also lower pro-inflammatory cytokines48, 49 and protect against their toxic effects.50-55

Prescription drugs like Enbrel ($10,000.00/year) directly bind to TNF-á and block its interaction with TNF cell surface receptors. Enbrel has demonstrated significant clinical improvement in rheumatoid arthritis patients, as have high-dose fish oil supplements.32

pro-inflammatory cytokines

The following acronyms represent the most dangerous pro-inflammatory cytokines. Health conscious people should become familiar with these terms since these excess levels of these cytokines cause or contribute to many diseases states:

  • TNF-a = Tumor necrosis factor alpha
  • IL-6 = Interleukin-6
  • IL-1(b) = Interleukin-1 beta
  • LTB(4) = Leukotriene B(4)

When Conventional Drugs Are Not Enough

A problem recently identified by LEF is that high levels of TNF-á may persist even in people receiving Enbrel drug therapy. Even if Enbrel brings TNF-á down to a safe range, other inflammatory cytokines (such as IL-6, IL-1b) may continue to wreak havoc throughout the body. High levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF-á) are destructive to many vital tissues such as joint cartilage (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis) and heart muscle (e.g. congestive heart failure).

Excess IL-6 and other inflammatory cytokines attack bone and promote the formation of fibrinogen that can induce a heart attack or stroke.56 In order to prevent and treat the multiple diseases of aging, it is critical to keep these destructive immune chemicals (cytokines) in safe ranges. The chart on the next page relates the currently determined safe ranges of inflammatory cytokines as measured by blood levels.

Supplements used by Life Extension members (such as DHA fish oil, nettle leaf extract, vitamin K and DHEA) have been shown to suppress the dangerous cytokines, TNF-a, IL-6, IL1(b), LTB(4). For those whose blood tests reveal persistently high inflammatory cytokine levels despite taking these supplements, we have identified a low cost prescription drug that may be of enormous benefit.

The generic name of this drug is pentoxifylline (PTX); the brand name is Trental®. It was first used in Europe in 1972 and long ago came off patent (meaning it is not cost-prohibitive). PTX is prescribed to improve the flow properties of blood by decreasing its viscosity. It works by improving red blood cell flexibility, decreasing platelet aggregation and reducing fibrinogen levels.56-60 It has fallen out of favor because no drug company has the economic incentive to market it to physicians. PTX is primarily prescribed to patients with peripheral artery disease, though we believe it has potential efficacy in treating a wide range of diseases relating to chronic inflammation.

Inflammatory Cytokine Blood Reference Ranges

There are at least three different methods of testing blood levels of the pro-inflammatoray cytokines. We have listed below, the standard reference ranges for each different type of test. To protect against diseases associated with chronic inflammation, people should be within or below these reference cytokine ranges.

Pro-Inflammtory Cytokine

Where You Want To Be

Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-a) <8.1 pg/mL 10-50 pg/mL 0-8.1 pg/mL
Interleukin-6 (IL-6) <12.0 pg/mL 2-29 ng/mL 0-9.7 pg/mL
Interleukin 1 beta (IL-1(b) <15.0 pg/mL 0-150pg/mL 0-5 pg/mL
Leukotriene B(4) (LTB(4) NA 300-750 pg/mL NA

(Other blood testing lab methods may have different reference ranges)

The cost of these cytokine tests is outrageously expensive. Life Extension is in the process of negotiating an affordable Cytokine Profile blood test for Foundation members. You can find out about when these tests will be available by calling 1-800-208-3444. In the meantime, if you have health insurance, you may ask your doctor to prescribe and perform these tests and hope your medical insurance will pay for them.

Please note that an inexpensive C-reactive protein (high-sensitivity) blood test (CRP-hs) can help reveal if you suffer from systemic inflammation. If your
C-reactive protein level is over 1.3 (mg/L), this is an indication that you have an inflammatory event occurring in your body. Those with elevated CRP-hs levels (and who suffer from a disease associated with chronic inflammation) should consider using a supplement protocol and/or prescription drugs known to suppress elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines. Using the Cytokine Profile blood test can help monitor their progress.

A high-sensitivity C-reactive protein blood test can be ordered by calling 1-800-208-3444. The cost to Foundation members is $43.00.