How quickly or slowly we age “on the whole” and visibly from the outside has a lot to do with tiny and very small-scale processes in our cells and tissues: The linchpin of this cell aging is chronic, “silent” inflammatory processes, which often last for a long time go unnoticed. They can massively accelerate aging and are considered the main cause of many typical age-related diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart disease or arthrosis. Because an unfavorable lifestyle with fast food, obesity, constant sitting and a lot of cigarettes not only damages our body cells directly through nicotine, trans fats and other toxic substances. It also triggers our immune system in an ominous way.

Excessive fatty tissue on the abdomen sets in motion pro-inflammatory, i.e. pro-inflammatory processes: The fat cells located there and immune cells that have migrated into the fat produce plenty of inflammatory substances such as interleukins and protein-decomposing enzymes, which enter the body via the bloodstream and cause aging and disease in many tissues fuel. Inflammatory substances attack the inside of the blood vessels, making them less elastic and more susceptible to high blood pressure, plaque and clots – which in turn promotes heart attacks and strokes. Inflammatory enzymes are involved in the destruction of dermal collagen, or cartilage padding, in the knee or hip, causing wrinkles and osteoarthritis.

The good news is that an active lifestyle can put chronic inflammation back in its place. Those who live an active life and do not smoke usually have far fewer pro-inflammatory substances in their blood and thus protect their organs and tissues.

In addition, our bodies are fortunately equipped with various maintenance and repair programs that make it possible to slow down aging while not preventing it – and which we also influence through our lifestyle.

For example, we can help our cells to clean things out thoroughly on a regular basis: as long as we feed our body plenty and especially overfeed with sugar, animal protein or fast food, our cells notice this with special sensors and switch to prosperity or party mode. They keep growing and dividing no matter what – you got it…

Unfortunately, the second important task of a healthy cell is neglected, namely that of regularly breaking down all harmful degradation products of cell life. A bit like a party that got out of control, where the partying keeps going, even though there are mountains of rubbish on the dance floor and the toilets are overflowing. From a cellular perspective, this metabolic waste also triggers chronic inflammation and promotes age-related diseases such as diabetes.

The solution to this lies in a little frugality: Eating less or avoiding certain foods calms the wild party so that our cells can switch back to everyday life and tidying up. Which is why fasting is also said to have a rejuvenating effect. A kind of detox cure from the inside, only without expensive miracle cures. You don’t even have to undergo a radical starvation diet. According to studies, it seems to be enough to limit oneself a bit with proteins – especially animal ones: Researchers from the Universities of Los Angeles and Harvard were able to prove that replacing meat and sausages with plant proteins in the form of lentils, beans or nuts apparently has a life-prolonging effect has. Especially if the test persons had already managed to change their diet in middle age and not only when they reached retirement age.

Our body takes particular care in protecting its vital hereditary substance, DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid. It is packed in our body cells in the form of mostly x-shaped chromosomes and has to be duplicated (as error-free as possible) with each cell division so that the daughter cells receive all the information they need to function. However, errors keep occurring during these duplications over time, so that the ends of the chromosomes erode over the years and become shorter and shorter. As a result, our body cells cannot divide endlessly, but grow old and die after a certain number of doublings.

In order to delay this as long as possible, there are protective caps on the tips of the genetic material, which are known as telomeres and which our body can even regenerate. In addition, it has the telomere-lengthening enzyme telomerase, which is highly active in our stem cells – the virtually eternally young cells in the bone marrow and parts of the immune system that are supposed to supply the supplies for aging and dying cells.

The enzyme telomerase is able to lengthen the protective caps of the stem cells that have already worn down – and thus forms a kind of buffer against aging. A pioneer in this field of research is the Australian-American molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, who received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2009. In studies on humans, she and other researchers were able to show that telomerase can be activated even more with a healthy lifestyle: Men who were prescribed a lot of plant-based food, walks and exercises to reduce stress had a particularly large amount of telomerase in their cells – and after some years even longer telomeres than comparison persons who had lived rather unhealthily.

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