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What can we do to ensure we have strong immune system as we age?

  • The immune system is an intricate network of cells, proteins, glands, tissue, and organs working together to protect us from infection. 

  • Vitamin D3 keeps immune system cells healthy and functional, thus boosting the body’s natural resistance to illness. 

  • Healthy dietary and lifestyle choices can strengthen the immune system as we age.

 

Maintaining a strong immune system is crucial to living a long and healthy life. A healthy immune system is a natural defense against viruses, bacteria, and other harmful substances that can make us sick. Thus it is essential to keep our immune system in top shape.

Sadly, our immune system weakens with age. Still, you can adopt healthy lifestyle choices to improve your immune system. Keep reading to understand the immune system more and find what you can do to ensure you have a strong immune system as you age. 

 

 

 

 

 

Biology of the human immune system

 

The human immune system is a vast and intricate network consisting of not just individual cells and proteins but also many different tissues, glands, and organs. They work harmoniously to help you stay healthy and avoid infection.

When functioning correctly, the immune system stops pathogens from entering the body and eliminates them or severely reduces their harmful effects if they gain entry. It can also tell the difference between healthy tissue and foreign molecules.

An antigen is any substance that enters your body and risks your health. These include allergens, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other harmful substances. Your body’s lymphocytes, or disease-fighting white blood cells, respond to foreign antigens by producing a protein called an antibody to destroy them. This reaction is known as an immune response. 

After an antibody has been created, a copy is stored in the body. If the same antigen were to reappear, the body would already have an antibody ready to work against it. Many types of antibodies can be found in different body parts, each protecting against a specific antigen. Antibodies are an essential part of your body’s defense system against pathogens.

 

Types of immunity

 

Basically, two types of immune systems work together to keep us alive and healthy. 

 

Innate immunity

 

The natural defenses you were born with are called “innate” or “nonspecific” immunity. It’s an effective defense against any antigens. The skin and the mucous membranes of the throat and the gut are examples of barriers that aid in innate immunity by preventing potentially dangerous substances from entering the body. 

These barriers are the first line of protection. If an antigen breaches these defenses, other immune system components will launch and eliminate an attack.

 

Acquired immunity 

 

Acquired immunity, also known as adaptive immunity, is the type of immunity that forms due to repeated exposure to different antigens over time. Antibodies created in response to disease exposure or vaccines help strengthen the immune system. 

For example, if you have had chickenpox or have been vaccinated against it, you are generally protected from ever contracting the disease again.

 

Components of the immune system

 

White blood cells

 

The immune system relies heavily on white blood cells, also called leukocytes. White blood cells are like an army that hunts down and destroys harmful bacteria and viruses to keep you healthy. Several types of white blood cells (primarily phagocytes and lymphocytes) make up your immune system.

Depending on its function, a white blood cell can either be in the bloodstream or found in a specific tissue waiting to be activated. There is a specialized role for each different kind of white blood cell in your body’s immune system. They all respond to threats uniquely, sharing information with other defense cells.

 

Lymph nodes

 

These bean-shaped glands can be found all over the body, although they are most prominent in the neck, underarms, groin, and abdomen. They are connected by lymphatic vessels. Lymph nodes are where the immune system’s cells congregate to fight against invaders. Painful, swollen lymph nodes indicate that your immune system is responding to an infection.

 

Spleen

 

The spleen is in the upper left of the abdomen, which houses and functions as a hub for the body’s immune system. The spleen stores white blood cells, eliminating unhealthy or old red blood cells. 

 

Tonsils and adenoids

 

Tonsils and adenoids are one of the first lines of defense against invading bacteria and viruses because of their position in the back of the throat and the nasal cavity. They have immune cells that secrete antibodies, which can fend against the germs that cause sore throats and coughs.

 

Thymus

 

This tiny organ, situated in the upper chest just below the breast bone, aids in developing a specific type of white blood cell (T lymphocytes). These T cells are programmed to identify and recall invaders to launch an immediate attack the next time they are met.

 

Bone marrow

 

The marrow is the spongy tissue at the heart of the bones that contains the stem cells that generate new blood cells. Producing several types of white blood cells from bone marrow is critical to maintaining a robust immune system.

 

Skin

 

The skin is a barrier between the outside world and the inside of the body. It houses many immune cell types vital in the body’s innate and adaptive immunological responses.  

 

Mucous membranes 

 

A mucous membrane is a protective lining found on the inside of many bodily cavities and organs. A sticky mucus containing immune cells and natural antibiotics is secreted from these membranes. Mucus acts as a protective layer, trapping and flushing out invading pathogens.

 

Diseases of the immune system 

 

Sometimes the immune system can’t fight off infections because of a medical condition or taking medicine that interferes with the immune system. Some examples of these conditions are:

 

Allergies

 

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system inappropriately reacts to an ordinarily safe material (such as food, pollen, or hairy animal dander). In response to allergens, your body releases histamines that cause allergic symptoms. Allergic reactions can cause anything from subtle symptoms like sneezing or a runny nose to life-threatening ones like difficulty breathing or even death. 

 

Autoimmune disorders

 

Autoimmunity manifests when the immune system attacks normal body tissue. Examples include lupus, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Primary immune deficiency disorders (PIDD) 

 

Rare genetic abnormalities that affect the immune system are called primary immune deficiency diseases (PIDDs). Those with PIDDs are susceptible to recurring infections that can be crippling and increase the chance of getting cancer because they lack a healthy immune response. Some PIDDs are deadly.

 

Infections

 

Certain infections impair the immune system and cause significant sickness. For example, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus responsible for AIDS, targets white blood cells. Infections that generally wouldn’t be a problem for the human immune system turn deadly for those with HIV/AIDS.

 

Medications

 

Some medications can suppress the immune system. Immune suppressors such as Corticosteroids are essential for preventing organ transplant failure. Unfortunately, these medications raise your vulnerability to illness and infection.

 

Sepsis

 

Sepsis occurs when the body’s immune system reacts too strongly to an infection. This produces systemic inflammation, which creates a chain reaction that may result in organ failure or even death.

 

Cancer

 

Cancers that attack the white blood cells, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, directly impact the immune system. As the immune system’s cells multiply uncontrollably, cancer develops.

 

The role of vitamin D3 in the immune system 

 

Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, helps keep immune system cells healthy and functional, thus boosting the body’s natural resistance to illness. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the type of vitamin D humans can produce independently. 

Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels can help the immune system do its job and stave off disease. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of infections and autoimmune illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Vitamin D3 can come from three primary sources: exposure to the sun, dietary sources, and supplements. Vitamin D3 is synthesized naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Yet, the quantity of  D3 vitamin your skin produces is diminished by insufficient sun exposure, sunscreen, and dark skin.

Vitamin D3 occurs naturally in a few foods but can be found in fortified foods like milk, cereal, and juice. Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and tuna), egg yolks, cheese, and liver are all good food sources of vitamin D3.

Taking a vitamin D3 supplement is the best strategy to increase your blood level of vitamin D if you aren’t already getting enough of the vitamin through your diet.

 

 

Infographic addressing the immune system and the benefits of D3 vitamin

 

 

Ways to improve your immune system 

 

Regardless of age, there are some adjustments you can make to your food and lifestyle that may help your body’s natural defenses become more effective against disease-causing germs.

 

Be physically active 

 

Being active is a great way to maintain your health and strengthen your immune system. In addition, regular moderate exercise may help reduce inflammation and promote the normal regeneration of immune cells. A 30-minute daily walk, jog, swim, bike, or small hike are all examples of moderate exercise. 

 

Maintain a healthy weight

 

Excess weight can impair your body’s performance. In addition to enhancing your health in general, studies show that reducing excess body fat helps strengthen your immune system.

Habits that support a healthy weight are also the ones that foster a robust immune system. Reducing stress, Healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and regular exercise are all practical and safe approaches to help you maintain a healthy weight. 

 

Get adequate sleep

 

The immune system benefits from restful sleep. Sleep deprivation has been shown to impair several immune system functions. Thus, maintaining a healthy sleep routine will provide your immune system with the best possible defense against illness and infection. Adults generally need at least 7 hours of sleep per night, adolescents require 8-10 hours, and minor children and newborns may require as much as 14 hours. 

 

Avoid smoking 

 

Because nicotine is an immune suppressor, smoking can reduce the body’s ability to fight off illness. Therefore, get medical assistance if you’re having trouble quitting the habit. Tobacco users have a better chance of stopping when they receive help through counseling and medication. In the same vein, avoid breathing in secondhand smoke.

 

Limit the use of alcohol 

 

Alcohol weakens the body’s natural defenses against illness and inflammation. Consistent and excessive alcohol drinking can diminish antibody-producing immune cells. 

However, the recommended daily alcohol intake for women is one drink, and for men, it’s two. You should consider rehab services if you have difficulty managing your alcohol intake independently.

 

Stay up-to-date on recommended vaccines

 

Vaccines help the immune system to recognize and combat potentially harmful pathogens. Vaccination is a lot more secure way to build immunity than contracting these diseases.

 

Consider using supplements

 

If you’re suffering from a deficiency of immune-boosting vitamins, taking a supplement may be helpful and necessary. Vitamin D3 deficiency is quite prevalent. However, recent research suggests vitamin D3 facilitates an essential immune response to bacterial and viral illnesses. 

 

Manage stress

 

Stress, especially when it persists over time, weakens the immune system. Constant exposure to stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) weakens the immune system, so avoiding stress is essential. Reducing stress levels also results in improved sleep, which in turn boosts immunity.

To keep stress at bay, you should engage in activities such as regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and using mindfulness and breathwork techniques. Therapy can also be beneficial.

 

Eat a balanced diet

 

A diet low in protein or essential micronutrients like vitamins C and D, zinc, selenium, and iron can also weaken your immune system. Eat healthy foods, including lean meats, whole grains, legumes, and fruits and vegetables, instead of processed foods. 

 

 

Strengthen your immune system

 

 

Conclusion: Can We Have A Strong Immune System As We Age?

 

If you care for yourself, your immune system will be in better shape to protect you. Improving your immune system and maintaining good health is possible through some dietary and lifestyle adjustments.

A healthy diet, stress management, regular exercise, and a healthy weight are beneficial habits that strengthen the immune system. In addition, supplementing with vitamin D3 might be an excellent way to achieve a strong immune system.

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