Researchers at UC San Francisco announced this week that age-damaged skin in older adultsmay be contributing to a wide range of chronic, age-related conditions that include heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Here’s what the dermatological researchers said they learned from their work with the San Francisco Veterans Administration Health System: As aging skin begins to break down, the immune system releases small proteins known as cytokines to signal that there’s inflammation in damaged areas of the skin. These tiny inflammatory cytokines can leak into the body’s circulation system, and if there are enough of them, they trigger body-wide inflammation. That triggers so called “inflamm-aging” among older adults.
“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,” Dr. Mao-Qiang Man, the study’s senior author. “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.”
Scientists have long questioned why there were so many inflammatory cytokines in the circulation system of older adults. Young people do not typically have as many. There are theories that they come from the lungs or from digestive system, Man said, but UCSF dermatologists felt certain that the culprit was the skin.