Life Extension Magazine January 2002
As We See It
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 protocols 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
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%.
Other cytokine-lowering supplements are DHEA,[34-40] vitamin K,[41, 42] GLA (gamma linolenic acid)[43-46] and nettle leaf extract. Antioxidants (such as vitamin E and n-acetyl-cysteine) may also lower pro-inflammatory cytokines[48, 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.
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.
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.