Inflammaging, Skin Cancer, and You

We all know that aging is a major risk factor for many diseases—including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, dementia, cataracts, osteoporosis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

However, inflammation—particularly chronic, low-level inflammationis now recognized as perhaps the primary factor in many of the same diseases. In fact, researchers are now putting the two conditions together and concluding that it’s not simply the process of getting older that increases the risk factor for degenerative diseases; it’s the cumulative result of chronic, low-level inflammation over time. They’ve even coined a term for it: “inflammaging,” which refers to the combination of inflammation and age that gradually erodes the body’s repair and defense mechanisms.

Researchers now say that up to 90% of all cancers—including skin cancer—are linked to inflammaging, which means that 90% of all cancers are linked to stress—particularly Cultural Stress, the stress of modern living. Chronic Cultural Stress leads to chronic inflammation, which affects all cancer stages, triggering the initial genetic mutation or epigenetic mechanism, promoting cancer initiation, progression and metastatic diffusion.

Other skin-specific symptoms of chronic inflammation include acne, rashes, and eczema, rosacea, uneven skin tone and age spots, and even wrinkles and crow’s feet. Sun damage is a key factor because UV radiation impairs the skin’s ability to heal itself and likely triggers genetic mutations resulting in malignancy. However, other factors include environmental toxins like pollution and cigarette smoke, unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and failure to adequately manage cultural stress.

Although inflammaging is associated with age—the time to do something about it is now! By doing so—whatever your current age—you can simultaneously protect yourself against not just skin cancer, but the whole range of inflammaging diseases!

Step #1 is to wear (and eat) sunscreen. The goal is not only to protect against sunburn, but also to protect your skin against the UV radiation that will trigger an inflammatory response that can lead to skin cancer. (And remember, certain foods, such as pomegranates, increase the effectiveness of topical sunscreen.)

Step #2 is to restore your skin’s ability to repair itself. Topical products can help restore what the sun and other lifestyle factors have taken away. In addition to moisturizers, which your skin needs to retain water, beneficial products can include retinoids—which have anti-inflammatory properties—and other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents. The goals is to support the skin’s natural healing mechanisms and thicken and tighten the skin—which, after all, is your body’s first line of defense against further damage.

Step #3 is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, fortifying your skin from the inside-out. The so-called Mediterranean Diet is a good example: daily consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats (olive oil and Omega-3 fatty acids); weekly consumption of fish (a good source of Omega-3s), poultry, beans, and eggs; moderate amounts of dairy; and limited consumption of red meat and sugar. You can even enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner and dark chocolate for dessert! And don’t forget to eat your water!

Step #4 is to manage stress. Cultural Stress is the constant inflammatory irritant that triggers your body’s immune response—with nowhere to direct it. That’s why stress management is not trivial or self-indulgent; it is essential! Strategies can include daily journaling, a gratitude practice, time spent outdoors in nature, vigorous physical exercise, yoga, meditation, satisfying creative pursuits, or something as simple and soothing as a few minutes of deep breathing. Set a timer for yourself, or ask Siri to remind you every hour to stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Slow, deep breathing flips your body’s switch from the “fight, flight, or freeze” sympathetic nervous system to the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system.

Do these four steps sound familiar? They’re based on the Four Pillars of Modern Wellness that form the foundation of a beautiful lifestyle!

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