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Two pet theories about inflammation

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

It’s pet theory time! I usually try stick to what existing evidence can directly support, but occasionally I cannot resist venturing into the Land of Interesting Guesses. Lately I have spent quite a bit of time there.

The phenomenon of “inflammaging” is the foundation for both of my ideas.

Inflammaging itself is not a hypothesis: the inexorable increase in systemic inflammation as we age is a well-described phenomenon, but not a very well understood one. We know it is closely linked to many of the health problems we associate with aging, from arthritis to heart disease and diabetes. We also know it’s linked to chronic stress. That’s where anything like certainty ends, but the other possibilities are fascinating.

My first pet theory is about one of those possibilities. My second is about using inflammaging to explain some cases of fibromyalgia. Here are quick summaries:

Inflammaging as collateral damage from immune system activity

Inflammation is synoymous with immune system activity, which may increase erratically and permanently over the years, as we encounter more microorganisms. The antibodies we develop to fight those infections sometimes also match our own tissues, which is basically a modern theory of autoimmune disease. That is, we make antibodies that aren’t a perfect match exclusively for pathogens — some of them also partially match proteins in our own tissues.

If so, then inflammaging may basically be mild autoimmune disease, inevitably but erratically progressive, depending on which micro-critters we are exposed to over the years.

Read more about this in my inflammation article (links directly to section).

Fibromyalgia as premature aging

My second pet theory today is that some fibromyalgia may be caused by excessively early and severe inflammaging. This began with the (personal) observation that unexplained chronic widespread pain (“fibromyalgia”) often feels a lot like premature aging. As a chronic pain patient myself — yes, still, alas — that is definitely how I feel: not so much “sick” as just too old, too soon.

Indeed, our symptoms are often dismissed because of their similarity to the symptoms of aging: “Oh, you’re just getting old!” It’s hard to explain that we are not just “sore,” but way too sore for our age. Especially when there’s no way for anyone to know how many aches and pains we “should” have at any given age.

So what if some cases of fibromyalgia aren’t just “like” premature aging, but literally are premature aging? Insofar as inflammaging is what makes aging feel like aging? •mind blown•

It’s an interesting idea, and you can read more about it in my fibromyalgia article (links directly to section).

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