Elder Immunity Guide
Due to a number of cellular changes in our bodies, our immune systems have a less robust response to harmful pathogens as we age. Our bodies naturally begin to produce less lymphocytes (infection fighting cells) and the function of the existing lymphocytes can decline significantly. This reduction in the vigor of the immune system not only makes elderly individuals more susceptible to viruses and infections, but also increases the severity and duration of these illnesses.
Fresh air, sunshine and daily movement are some of nature's best medicines! Finding a healthy balanced lifestyle can aid in boosting the immune system naturally and promoting not only longevity, but true health!
Causes of Immune Decline
“Inflammaging” The process of aging in itself is characterized by a gradual increase in inflammatory markers, indicating a biochemical environment of chronic, low-grade inflammation. This phenomenon is called inflammaging. In an inflammatory environment, the cellular integrity of immune cells deteriorate and the immune system, in general, becomes less robust.
Toxic load it’s important to become conscious of the chemical burdens you are exposed to on a daily basis. There are hundreds of toxins in the air we breathe and the products we use; they are inflammatory and damaging to the endocrine system and brain. They also wreak havoc on hormones and affect reproductive health.
Eliminating our exposure completely is unavoidable, however, we can be mindful of a few things. When you take steps to decrease your toxic load, immunity increases and the liver restores its ability to detox the body effectively. You can reduce your risk of chronic illness by limiting exposure especially to the water you drink (and what you're drinking it out of), the food you eat and the personal care products you choose to use every day.
Malnutrition As we age, our digestive system also begins to slow down. We produce less stomach acid which can cause acid reflux, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea. The rate of metabolism also begins to decline, slowing the process of digestion and assimilation of foods. This can result in a decrease in appetite as well as limitations on which foods feel best for the body. Older individuals often eat a small variety of foods in small portions.
Social factors such as depression, bereavement, solitary living, and improper long-term care can also inhibit an older individual’s access to proper nutrition. This inadequate intake, over time, can create multiple nutrient deficiencies which are also risk factors for a weakened immune system. The immune system needs a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and proteins to function at its optimum level. Malnutrition further pronounces the deterioration of the aging immune system.
Sedentary lifestyle A sedentary lifestyle accelerates aging and immune decline. We can very effectively preserve our health and immunity through regular movement and exercise. Sedentary lifestyles are particularly damaging because they encourage oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. They also lead to stagnation in the lymphatic system - a crucial player in immune defense. All of these factors increase the risk for chronic infection, degenerative disease, and early mortality.
Consequences of Immune Decline
Slow detection: The immune system’s ability to detect pathogens and cell abnormalities reduces, increasing the risk for recurrent infections and cancers.
Slow response: When the immune system detects a virus or infection, it is slower to respond. This delays recovery time and increases the probability of getting sick. A slow responding immune system also reduces the effectiveness of flu shots and other vaccines.
Autoimmune: A person with a weakened immune system is more likely to develop an autoimmune condition, which is when the immune system destroys healthy body tissues.
Slow injury healing: Because there is less inflammation modulating immune cells in circulation, it may take much longer for wounds and other injuries to recover.
Nourishment to Increase Immunity
Fighting malnutrition and muscle and bone wasting is paramount as we age. This can be achieved by consuming nutrient-dense and enzyme-rich foods on a daily basis.
Things to try:
Small meals: eating several small meals throughout the day and choosing nutrient-dense foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, avocados and wild fish.
Smoothies: are essentially pre-digested food. Try having a smoothie for one of your meals to give your digestive system a break.
Raw vegetables: have raw vegetables with every meal. Raw vegetables may be extremely helpful because they contain digestive enzymes. Our bodies naturally produce less digestive enzymes as we age. A small salad is a perfect option!
Fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir. Fermented foods are foods which have been digested by beneficial bacteria which significantly increases the content of certain nutrients such as B vitamins. When consumed, these bacteria may colonize the intestinal tract and promote a healthy gut flora which is extremely important for a healthy immune system.
Betaine HCL, enzymes, bitters: these are things which help a struggling digestive system in various ways. If the above tips are not helpful enough, you may want to speak to a holistic professional about whether or not these supplements may be right for you + how & when to use.
Exercise - a sedentary lifestyle encourages and accelerates immune decline. Conversely, consistent exercise can help to preserve a healthy immune system into late age. Walking daily is one of the most supportive things you can do for your health.
Try: a daily walk for at least 20-50 minutes, outdoors whenever possible so that you receive benefits of fresh air and a vitamin D boost from the sun!
Rebounding- this is a low impact exercise which is perfect to show your joints a little extra love. It’s a great way to get you moving and clearing the lymphatic system. Our immune system lives in the lymph system, and a stagnant lymphatic systemic can lead to illness.
Water exercise- can be extremely therapeutic. Water exercises are easy on the joints and great for strength building and increasing flexibility.
Meditation - A daily meditation can help to balance emotions, reduce stress and promote overall wellness and happiness. By reducing the body’s stress response, we can lower inflammation and oxidation, helping to further strengthen the immune system.
Try: meditating each day for at least 5 minutes and work your way up to 15-20 minutes at a time. If you are not able or interested in sitting to meditate, try a walking meditation in nature.
Turmeric - Use in cooking with a fat, like coconut oil, for best absorption
Ginger- Add to smoothies, or stir fry.
Cayenne - Add in morning detox drink: 2 cups water, ¼ tsp of cayenne, ¼ lemon and you can add 1 tsp of raw honey
Cinnamon is a great spice to balance blood sugar. Blood sugar imbalance can lead to inflammation throughout the body. Sprinkling some cinnamon on rich carbohydrate foods can help do the trick!
Rosemary, Sage, Cloves: Add to cooking or make a tea!
Try: incorporating these fragrant herbs into dishes or teas. Rosemary, Sage and Clove may also be inhaled as an essential oil through a diffuser or straight from the bottle. Turmeric in particular is a powerful anti-inflammatory which can provide great benefits with daily use. Try 7.5g daily in 3 or 4 divided doses. A fun way to incorporate turmeric into your diet is by making a golden milk latte with turmeric, cinnamon, honey, black pepper and nut milk.
Antioxidants help to maintain the structural integrity of our cells and tissues by fighting against damaging free radicals. Certain micronutrients act as antioxidants and support the immune system in fighting against illness.
Try an antioxidant support blend that combines:
Vitamin A - 5,000-20,000IU daily
Vitamin A helps in the activation of the T cells in when the immune response is triggered. T cells have various roles in the immune system - one is traveling through the lymphatic system looking for viruses and cancerous cells and destroying them.
Vitamin C - at least 1000mg daily/ but separated into multiple doses as the body will excrete any excess
Vitamin C supports immune functions in several ways. Vitamin C will support cell die-off of immune cells that have helped to fight against infections so new cells can take their place. The largest organ we have that helps us fight against pathogens is our skin. Vitamin C helps to reinforce this natural barrier so pathogens cannot enter
Vitamin E - 200-400IU daily Supports lymphatic tissues and white blood cell function
Selenium 50-150 mcg daily Supports the function of the thymus and white blood cells
Zinc 20-30mg daily Supports the function of the thymus and white blood cells
+ antioxidant-rich foods such as: pineapple, dark leafy greens, spirulina, berries, salmon and sardines, seaweed, garlic, eggs, and dark chocolate.
Vitamin D all our immune cells have receptors for Vitamin D which means Vitamin D can modulate immune responses. Lack of Vitamin D is associated with autoimmunity and increased susceptibility to infections.
How to get Vitamin D from the sun: The body produces it just below the skin surface when the skin is exposed to UVB rays from the sun. 20 minutes of direct sunlight daily. The goal is to get enough sun until you get the warming, tingling sensation in your skin. You want to avoid being out too long, where your skin turns pink as this can be the start of a sunburn. Start slow & build up to 20 minutes. Expose as much skin as possible.