When we age, it is important to know how we can maintain a strong immune system. Both the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system weaken as we age. A 2018 publication pointed out that with aging inflammation and cytokines show increased activity. This leads to the suppression of the immune system. In other words, while the immune response weakens with aging, the body starts chronic inflammation at the same time. The combination of regular exercise and a balanced healthy diet keeps the immune system going and controls inflammation.
There are several factors that come together, which age our immune system. The term for this is “immunosenescence“. There are genetic differences and differences due to the sex hormones. Estrogens increase the response of the immune system. In contrast, progesterone and androgens (including testosterone) decrease the immune response. This may be the reason why women tend to live longer than men.
As we age there are more and more memory T cells (both cytotoxic T cells and T helper cells). This weakens the formation of the natural killer cells (NK cells) of the innate immune system. Even the initiation of the adaptive immune system can be slower when we age and also the response to the flu vaccine. In addition, this shift from normal can pave the way to autoimmune diseases.
Anti-inflammatory effect of exercise and Mediterranean diet
Another factor is the shortening of the telomeres of immune cells with aging. This leads to the production of proinflammatory mediators, including interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). But regular physical activity has an anti-inflammatory effect. In a study with 65 to 85 years old men with a moderate (for 17 years) or intense (for 25.9 years) training lifestyle had a better antibody response to a flu injection. The comparison group were men who did not exercise.
Researchers noted also that a Mediterranean diet has anti-inflammatory effects.
Vitamins, minerals and other supplements
In addition to diet and exercise supplementation with key supplements is useful.
The following vitamins and minerals are necessary for the immune system: vitamin A, C, D, E, B6, folate and B12. In terms of minerals zinc, iron, selenium, copper and magnesium are important.
Other factors: polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the body and help to modulate the immune system.
Probiotics benefit both the innate and the adaptive immune system. They strengthen the epithelial gut barrier, which is an important innate immune defence. Probiotics also lower the risk for Clostridium difficile gut infections.
As we age there is an accumulation of memory T cells from previous immune reactions. At the same time cytokines are forming, and chronic inflammation occurs in the body. We can counter both processes of the aging immune system by regular exercise and by changing our diet to a Mediterranean diet. As shown with active aging males who exercised regularly the antibody titer following a flu injection was high while a control of inactive men showed only a shallow antibody response. In addition, supplements with certain vitamins and minerals can also reactivate a sluggish immune system.