Why the fountain of youth isn’t actually full of water
When Ponce de León set out on his quest to discover the Fountain of Youth, he wanted to reverse aging and cure illness. Perhaps his plan was to use the magical water to douse the flames of inflammation. After all, we now know that chronic internal inflammation is a leading cause of accelerated aging, as well as many common serious illnesses.
When we think of inflammation, we still typically think of the acute kind, like a red-hot infected wound—the body’s first line of defense against external invaders. But as we age inflammation loses its discrimination and turns on the self, explains biologist Josh Mittledorf PhD, in Cracking the Aging Code. Arthritis is not caused by cartilage gradually wearing away, nor is atherosclerosis caused by a gradual buildup of cholesterol, nor is Alzheimer’s caused by a buildup of plaque. Instead, these diseases are caused by inflammation. Inflammation attacks joints (arthritis), arteries (atherosclerosis), and neurons (Alzheimer’s) and is statistically associated with many types of cancer.
“Inflammation is among the root causes of many diseases including heart disease, stroke, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, and autoimmune conditions,” concurs leading integrative health expert Ronald Hoffman MD.
“Probably the biggest contributors to chronic internal inflammation are stress and nutrition,” explains Heather Zwickey PhD, a professor of immunology at the National University of Natural Medicine and the Director of the Helfgott Research Institute. Zwickey says that nutrition can affect inflammation in a variety of ways, including eating foods such as trans fats that directly turn on inflammatory genes. She also says, “Obesity can lead to chronic inflammation because macrophages in fat make inflammatory cytokines. As a result, it’s well documented that weight loss can help reduce inflammation.”
In addition to looking at diet as a means of maintaining normal body weight, we should be aware that the foods we eat actually contain powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. This is good news because it means we can reduce risk and even reverse chronic internal inflammation with food.
Hoffman says the best way to reduce the risk of inflammatory illnesses is to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that contain a spectrum of colors, because it’s the vibrant color that indicates it has health-promoting and anti-inflammatory benefits. Hoffman emphasizes that the compounds found in these colorful fruits and vegetables can also help protect cells from inflammatory damage.
The search for the Fountain of Youth may be over, but when you are mindful about your food choices, you’ll find it right in front of you—on your plate.
My Top 5 Anti-Inflammatory Foods
This is a surprisingly tough choice because there are so very many powerful anti- inflammatory compounds found in fresh, unprocessed foods. This is akin to asking a parent which child is the favorite! But here goes…
- Blueberries: These dark-colored berries contain quercetin and other flavonoids that have been shown to fight inflammation.
- Turmeric: This spice is a great source of curcumin, which has been widely studied for its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Nuts: Walnuts in particular have been shown to reduce risk of heart disease and other illnesses because they contain omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation.
- Salmon: This is another potent source of omega-3 anti-inflammatory oils.
- Broccoli: In addition to many anti-inflammatory flavonoids like sulforaphane and carotenoids, broccoli also contains vitamins K, C, and E and other valuable nutrients.
Keep in mind that if you are not eating these and other anti-inflammatory foods on a consistent basis, you may want to consider supplementing the diet with some of these anti-inflammatory compounds. A daily aspirin or ibuprofen—both powerfully anti-inflammatory—has been estimated to add as much as three years to one’s lifespan.