Diseases that normally come with aging such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s, all have something in common — low grade, chronic inflammation.
Even in healthy people, inflammation in the body tends to rise as they get older.
The mechanisms that produce this inflammation have not been well understood up to now. But a recent study from immunology researchers at Stanford University has come up with a new finding that will be welcome news to most of us. . .
Inflammation Genes – High in Some, Low in Others
The scientists, led by consultant associate professor David Furman, gathered data from a project that was started a decade ago. It included 114 participants aged from 20 to 89. Each year blood samples were drawn and medical histories updated.
In particular, the researchers looked at two clusters of genes which stimulate the production of interleukin-1-beta (IL-1β), a protein that’s a powerful cause of inflammation.
As expected, older people had more activity in these genes than younger people.
They also found some older members of the group were either high or low activators of the genes. Comparing the high activators to the low ones the scientists found:
Higher levels of harmful nucleic acid (DNA/RNA) breakdown products
Elevated concentrations of IL-1β in the high activators
Increased activity of free radicals and breakdown products caused by them
Three out of four had high blood pressure compared to less than one in ten of the low activators
The high activators were much more likely to have stiff arteries
Those high activators older than 85 in 2008 were substantially more likely to have died by 2016
They were only about one-tenth as likely as the low activators to have at least one close family member who had lived past 90
They drank much less coffee and ingested lower levels of caffeine from other sources
It became quite clear that high activators generated much more inflammation, which in turn increased the risk of disease and death.
To test the effect of the harmful nucleic acid metabolites that were so prominent in the high activators, the researchers incubated them into a type of immune cell in a Petri dish. This resulted in boosted activity of one of the gene clusters and consequently of inflammatory IL-1β.
To confirm the negative findings in a living creature, they next injected the metabolites into mice. This caused massive whole body inflammation, high blood pressure and kidney damage.
Caffeine Substantially Reduced Inflammation
Noting that the low gene activators drank much more coffee and caffeine products, they repeated the same experiment they carried out in the Petri dish. This time however, they added caffeine and a caffeine-related product called theophylline, which is also found in tea, and theobromine, which is abundant in chocolate.
The result was that inflammation was substantially inhibited.
Commenting on the study professor Furman said, “More than 90% of all non-communicable diseases of aging are associated with chronic inflammation. It’s also well known that caffeine intake is associated with longevity. Many studies have shown this association. We’ve found a possible reason for why this is so.
“There’s some suggestion in this study that moderate caffeine might be enough to quell some of this inflammation.
“The more caffeine people consumed, the more protected they were…”
In fact, the study showed people who drank more than five cups a day displayed very low levels of activity in these inflammation-causing genes. It seems that caffeine has the ability to substantially turn down this inflammatory pathway.
Another member of the Stanford team, Mark Davis, professor of microbiology and immunology added, “That something many people drink – and actually like to drink – might have a direct benefit came as a surprise to us. What we’ve shown is a correlation between caffeine consumption and longevity. And we’ve shown more rigorously in laboratory tests, a very plausible mechanism for why this might be so.”