Alzheimer’s and other similar forms of dementia do not yet have a cure; nor are there any long-term treatments or sure-fire prevention methods for the disease. However, research teams are constantly making new efforts to improve the quality of life of seniors who have the disease as well as those hoping to prevent it.
Dermatological researchers at UC San Francisco have been studying the effects of skin aging on the brain and the rest of the body, and they’ve come up with some interesting conclusions, including evidence that skin aging may contribute to chronic conditions that are generally age-related, such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
The team asked a group of seniors to use a specified amount of skin lotion twice daily for a month, while another group of seniors and a group of young people were instructed not to use any lotion. Cytokine levels were measured in all participants at the beginning and end of the study.
According to the study, skin begins to break down as it ages, triggering the immune system to recognize damage and release small proteins called cytokines to signal inflammation. The cytokines then leak into the circulatory system and, in large quantities, can cause inflammation throughout the body. The researchers have coined the term “inflamm-aging” to describe this phenomenon, wherein older adults are prone to inflammation because of the age of and damage to their skin.
At the end of the study, the seniors who had used lotion twice a day saw dramatic drops in levels of interleukin-1 beta, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor, three cytokines that have been previously linked to age-related chronic diseases. Participants, who ranged in age from 58 to 95, lowered their cytokines nearly to the level of people in their 30s. They also lowered their skin’s acidity and improved its hydration and impermeability.
Typically, excessive levels of cytokines are seen among older adults but not often among younger people. Scientists have long wondered why this might be; some believe they come from the aging lungs or digestive system, while others, like this research team, believe the skin is to blame as the largest of the body’s organs.
“The inflammation must come from an organ big enough that very minor inflammation can affect the whole body. Skin is a good candidate for this because of its size,” said senior author Dr. Mao-Qiang Man. “Once we get old, we have dermatological symptoms like itchiness, dryness, and changes in acidity. It could be that the skin has very minor inflammation, and because it’s such a large organ, it elevates circulating cytokine levels.”
The team is now hoping to replicate their results in a larger study. But for now, the results are certainly promising enough to make it worth your while to spend a few extra minutes a day moisturizing your skin. It may truly change your life for the better!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?