Updated: Mar 19
Chronic inflammation is the major cause of skin ageing.
The ageing process incorporates intrinsic and extrinsic components. This is obvious in skin, where the intrinsic ageing that shows in sun-protected areas presents very differently to the combined intrinsic and extrinsic ageing that affects areas exposed to sunlight. Intrinsically aged skin is smooth, thin and transparent; extrinsically aged skin is typically rough and wrinkled. Intrinsic ageing is exacerbated today by the extrinsic ageing factors, particularly chronic inflammation.
The dual ageing process is less obvious in other tissues, but they experience intrinsic and extrinsic ageing too.
When intrinsic rates of cartilage formation slow in older age the progressive loss of cartilage mass and function affects all the joints in the body, but is generally noticed first in hips and knees where the extrinsic factor of increased body weight causes additional and repetitive reperfusion injury (1-4). When bone moves through time towards osteopenia and then osteoporosis the entire skeleton is intrinsically affected. All bones – including the skull – become more fragile, but the femoral neck, vertebrae and wrists are most likely to fracture.
The progressive losses of tissues such as cartilage or bone are classified as chronic non-communicable degenerative diseases, along with cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and many other health conditions.
Fraying to death might sound like a Chuck Jones scenario, but this is an optimistic view of ageing because the two most important factors that determine ECM economics are extrinsic, and highly malleable. The breakdown of ECM is predominantly driven by chronic inflammation and the rate of ECM regeneration largely depends on the availability of a range of vitamins, trace elements and other co-factors. The modern diet, which causes chronic inflammation and Type B malnutrition, is therefore a major cause of accelerated ageing. The extrinsic part of ageing can, therefore, be rectified.
The ageing of skin falls exactly into this category. The same ECM that provides form, function and compressive strength to cartilage and bone provides structure, thickness, elasticity and hydration capacity to skin. The development of lines and wrinkles, the thinning and the loss of tensile strength, elasticity and hydration are all largely attributable to the loss of extracellular matrix in the dermis and epidermis. As the age-related losses of ECM in cartilage and bone are considered to be degenerative diseases, we should logically classify ageing of the skin as a degenerative disease also.
The extra-cellular matrix of our skin is made up of different fiber types to hold all the cells together. The health of this matrix determines the skin’s elasticity, smoothness and ability to retain moisture. In other words, the quality of the matrix determines skin ageing. The matrix is constantly being broken down and replaced. When this process is in balance, the visual age of the skin does not change. But when breakdown starts to accelerate as occurs with chronic inflammation, there is a slow erosion of the matrix over time resulting in skin thinning, loss of elasticity and skin dryness. In short, the skin ages more rapidly than it should.
There is a possibility of slowing and even turning back the clock by reducing extrinsic ageing with pharmaconutritional tools.
There are more negative dietary factors in our diet also; a high fat intake plus alcohol increases inflammatory stress and reduces ECM regeneration, and is pro-ageing.
A diet with a low Omega 6:3 ratio and high levels of polyphenols reduces inflammation and therefore reduce skin ageing. In a study conducted with the correct balance of Omega 6:3 and polyphenols, participants demonstrated a 28% increase in skin elasticity in 60 days.