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Immune System Health and Aging: What Happens When You Get Older?

Immune System Health and Aging: What Happens When You Get Older?

It's a given in life that at some point, your body starts to age. It gets older, losing some of its former resilience. You've heard that this can begin earlier than you'd expected, even in your twenties. You're also aware that the aging process affects you inside and out and in multiple ways. That includes how aging affects your immune system.


Immune system vitality varies from one person to the next and from year to year. That's another reason why you're interested in learning more about how to take care of your immune system, so it doesn't age quickly. 


This article shares information to help you fully appreciate the importance of your immune system and how it changes as you age. The information presented here includes steps to take now to keep you strong as you age. There are even some you can begin working on this week! 


How Does the Immune System Protect Your Health?


Perhaps you've heard something about the importance of your immune system health from the news, a friend, or your doctor. Knowing that means a lot, yet what is it that the immune system does? After all, some people have an autoimmune disease, yet others never get sick or quickly bounce back from a cold. Sure, there are individual variations in our immune systems. Some are related to genetics while others are associated with choices you make each week. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your immune system health. The first is learning more about immunity. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it's positive.


Why is Your Immune System Important?


Your immune system protects your body from external and internal threats, many of which are microscopic. An example is that skin, your body's largest organ, helps to repel pathogens and environmental harms. Think about the last time you had an abrasion. Your skin may have looked inflamed and then healed due to immune system actions. 


Internally, your immune system responds by attacking viruses or harmful by-products. One way is that healthy microbes living in your intestines help with food processing. They assure that nutrients are readily available for digestion.


What is Your Immune System Made Of?


Your immune system is a complex network of organs, cells, compounds, and processes that protect you from many harms. 


  • The organs that are your first line of defense are your skin and mucous membranes, like those in your mouth and gut.
  • The next are the lymphatic system that's made of lymphoid organs, such as:
    • The primary ones being your thymus and bone marrow that produce lymphocytes, including neutrophils. These are a special type of white blood cell that kills harmful agents.
    • The secondary lymphoid organs are your tonsils, lymph nodes, and tissues in your intestines. Each of these defends you by fighting off invading harms.


The immune system jumps into action when it recognizes something foreign that's not part of your body's makeup. Think of what it's like when you feel a cold coming on. The sneezing, runny eyes and nose, and fatigue are due to your immune system responding to a viral invasion. Mucus traps the germs, helping you to rid yourself of them. Any that make it to your stomach are destroyed by the acids that also eliminate food microbes.


How Do You Gain Immunity?

Your immune system functions because of:

  • Innate immunity that includes what you were born with, such as your genetic makeup, plus general human adaptability.
  • Acquired immunity that results when you're exposed to microbes or get vaccinated.
  • Passive immunity that you get from your mother prior to birth or right after from her milk.
  • Immunizations that expose you to minute portions of antigens (foreign bodies like weakened pathogens) prompting your body to create antibodies. These fight off future exposure to disease such as the measles.


What Happens to Your Immune System As You Age? 


You're reading this because you're concerned with how to care for your aging immune system. The degree to which change occurs varies. The good news is that you have some control over the degree of change as the years go by. 


Before guiding you with what you can do now, it helps to know what happens to your immunity as you age. Immunosenescence is a lofty-sounding word for your immune system's decline over time. 


This can happen:

  • Before you turn thirty, and earlier if you smoke or don't exercise. 
  • When you have ongoing stress or illness.
  • If you're exposed to certain environmental hazards such as air pollutants. 


How Aging Affects Your Immune System


The short explanation of how aging affects your immune system is that it:


  • Alters your body's response to infectious agents, including a slower response time.
  • Acts differently when there's inflammation, that can cause overreaction. 


Why Does Your Immune System Decline With Age?


Health and medical scientists are still seeking answers to this question. They know that:


  • The immune system is complicated, being second-most in complexity to your brain.
  • A person who's not yet 60 with good health and habits has an immune system that's able to offer protection from many infections.
  • A measure of immune age is being developed and will be able to figure your immune system's 'age' in relation to your actual years.
  • There are steps you can take to improve your immune age.


What Happens Inside Your Body?


One response to this question is that some cells age-out and malfunction. This is the case with neutrophils that:

  • Still function even as each one ages.
  • Can go haywire as they go after invaders, by:
    • Slowing in their response, thus weakening protection you receive.
    • Blundering as they track microbes, prompting inflammation as they charge off, potentially harming healthy tissue.


Another response is that your thymus shrinks as you age. The benefit of this small organ that's under your breastbone, is that it's where T cells mature. 

  • This shrinkage is caused by inactivity as well as age.
  • T cells are specialized lymphocytes that destroy specific antigens.
  • When you're older, T cells help vaccines to be more effective.
  • When you're active, your thymus supports your immune system.


Diminished immunity can also increase inflammation, which can lead to becoming immunocompromised. This affects body systems, resulting in:

  • Various forms of arthritis,
  • Cardiovascular disease,
  • Autoimmune disorders, and
  • More serious illness when exposed to infectious agents.


Fortunately, there are steps you can take right now to nurture your aging immune system, thereby boosting your body's ability to fight infection.


How Can You Preserve Your Immune System Function As You Age?


In all likelihood, you already know that behaviors and choices affect your health. This information is just as important for your immune system as it is for your heart, circulation, or bones and muscles. Thus, as you make changes in how aging affects your immune system you benefit in multiple ways. This includes your overall wellness as you gain energy, reduce aches and pains, and thrive with increased resilience.


Protect your aging immune system with activity, nutrients, sleep, and by managing exposure to stressors and infections. You can then put thoughts of Immunosenescence behind you.


Physical Activity and How It Affects Your Aging Immune System 


Physical activity simply means moving your body. It may be for a set length of time, or as you're able, like during your work break. The action results in increases in circulation and deepened breathing, both of which nurture your immune system. Even on the busiest of days:


  • Set aside time for yoga and/or stretching,
  • Head for a workout on the stairs,
  • Grab a friend for a walk, or
  • Play catch and romp around with your child or pet.


Remember that lots of household and work chores involve moving. Give yourself credit for these too! 


Using Diet for Immune System Health


You're well aware of the value of nutrition for health. Now is a good time to consider the ways diet can proactively slow how aging affects your immune system.


  • Whole, fresh foods and fiber help immunity to thrive.
  • Some diets, such as the Mediterranean, or personalized intermittent fasting approaches, have been shown to be anti-inflammatory.
  • Vitamins E, D, and A, as well as iron, folic acid, and zinc support immune wellbeing.
  • Probiotics promote gut health, providing another avenue for maintaining immunity.  
  • Look into the role of nutraceuticals, including carotenoids and polyphenols, and how they protect an aging immune system. 
  • For a comprehensive Immune Health supplement, use Healthycell's Immune Super Boost and AM/PM Healthspan by Healthycell.


Sleep Your Way to Immune System Wellness


Quality sleep protects your immune system. That means getting at least seven hours of refreshing sleep. This may mean making a few adjustments to assure that your internal and external environments are prepared to sleep as soundly as possible. 


  • Turn off electronic devices 30-60 minutes prior to turning in.
  • Use white noise to minimize outside sounds.
  • Adjust darkness or lighting for what meets your sleep preferences.
  • Use abdominal breathing to aid with falling asleep.
  • If you need help falling asleep, staying asleep and sleeping deeper consider REM Sleep by Healthycell.


Steer Clear of Immune System Stressors


That's right! Whatever feels like a stressor to your mind and emotions is cause for concern. There are steps you can take to boost your immunity by managing stress and limiting exposure to toxins may accelerate how aging affects your immune system. Here are some tips, including those you may already be doing!


  • Identify your physical and emotional response to stress triggers and take steps to address them.
  • Practice breathwork and mindfulness to reduce tension.
  • Identify and eliminate toxins from your home and work environments as much as possible.
  • Be gentle with yourself as that too benefits an aging immune system.


Key Takeaways & Conclusion


  • Your immune system is unique to you.
  • Immunity to illnesses is acquired by being exposed to infectious agents and being immunized, among others.
  • Human immune systems can begin to age by twenty.
  • The immune system is a complex network of organs and cells.
  • Your health choices have a positive or negative effect on how aging affects your immune system.
  • There are steps you can take to boost your immune system's health. 
About The Author

Dr. Giampapa is a world-renowned medical doctor, inventor, and surgeon specializing in anti-aging medicine. He recently received a nomination for the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking stem cell research, as well as the Edison Award for the Healthycell nutritional supplement for cell health. He was also awarded the A4M Science & Technology award for his development of the BioMarker Matrix Profile – the first computer program to measure aging. Learn more about Dr. Vincent Giampapa.

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