Immunity from Aging. Is it possible? Can you boost your immune system to slow, halt or reverse aging?
Is this the right way to think about aging? It turns out that your immune system itself ages over time and becomes less effective.
Some people have over-active (hyper) immune systems which can be harmful over time. Some people have weakened (hypo) immune systems. Your immune system levels continuously vary depending on disease intrusions. Instead of thinking about boosting your immune system, should you instead think about modulating it to the right level to protect your health? Or can you do both? Can you boost it by teaching it how to handle new diseases and providing it with the right nutrients to ward them off and also modulate it by making sure it doesn’t over-react or under-react to threats. Here’s what you should know:
Your Immune System
Your immune system consists of cells and molecules that protect you from diseases. It detects and responds to a wide variety of pathogens and parasites, as well as cancer cells and objects such as wooden splinters, distinguishing them from your healthy tissue. You have two major subsystems. Your innate immune system provides a preconfigured response to broad groups of situations and stimuli. Your adaptive immune system provides a tailored response to each stimulus from learning to recognize molecules it has previously encountered.
Your Innate Immune System
Your innate immune system detects molecular structures used by pathogens (PAMPs) and components released by damaged and dying cells in your body (DAMPs). White blood cells (leukocytes) identify and eliminate these pathogens, either through lethal contact or by engulfing and then killing microorganisms. Leukocytes include:
- Neutrophils: Protect you from infections by killing bacteria, fungi and foreign debris.
- Eosinophils: Identify and destroy parasites, cancer cells and assist basophils in allergic response.
- Basophils: Produce an allergic response like coughing, sneezing or a runny nose.
- Monocytes (dendritic cells and macrophages): Defend against infection by cleaning up damaged cells.
- Innate lymphoid cells and natural killer cells in your lymph system: Protect against viral infections and produce antibodies to help you fight infection.
In addition to the leukocytes, epithelial cells reside on the surfaces of your body, such as your skin, blood vessels, urinary tract, or organs. They provide a barrier between the inside and outside of your body, and protect it from viruses.
The number of leukocytes in the blood is often an indicator of disease. When you are healthy, your white blood cells make up approximately 1% (4,000 to 11,000 cells per microliter) of the total blood volume. An increase in the number of leukocytes over the upper limits is called leukocytosis. It is normal when it is part of healthy immune responses, which happen frequently. A decrease below the lower limit is called leukopenia. This indicates a weakened immune system. Your white blood cell levels should be checked as part of your annual physical.
Your Adaptive Immune System
In addition to the innate natural killer lymphocytes, your body has evolved to produce adaptive lymphocytes. These are B cells (for humoral, antibody-driven adaptive immunity) and T cells (for cell-mediated, cytotoxic adaptive immunity).
In humans, B cells (Bursa cells) develop from hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) that originate from bone marrow. They remain in the bone marrow to mature then migrate to your spleen and lymph nodes to guard against antigens. In birds, where they were first discovered, B cells migrate to the bursa of Fabricius, a lymphoid organ. This is why B cells are called bursa cells and not bone marrow cells.
B cells are adaptive in that they detect new antigens from their shape and then remember how to generate the proper defensive antibodies to return you to good health. They pass this memory on to successive generations of B cells through B cell receptors.
T cells (Thymus cells) are also generated by hematopoietic stem cells in your bone marrow. Developing T cells then migrate to the thymus gland to mature. T cells detect and kill cells infected with viruses or cancer. Detection comes from spotting peptide fragments on infected cell surfaces. T cells also remember infections so they can respond more rapidly and effectively against future invasions.
Unfortunately, the aging immune system gradually loses its ability to prevent diseases. Bone marrow space occupied by hematopoietic tissue declines from 40–60% in young adults to 20–40% in older people. This impacts production of both B and T cells. Even worse, you are likely to lose 90% of your functional thymus by age 50, further impairing the development of your T-cells and adaptive immunity, making you more vulnerable to infection and disease.
5 Key Factors Which Harm Your Immune System
According to the Center for Disease Control, primary lifestyle-related factors which cause a weakened immune system include:
- Poor sleep habits
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet and obesity
- Excessive alcohol intake
Surprisingly, exposure to cold does not increase your risk of becoming sick, although dry air combined with high intensity exercise does increase your odds of getting an upper respiratory illness.
For those wondering if rapamycin (sirolimus) could help, the answer may be the opposite. At high doses, rapamycin is an immunosuppressant, lowering the effectiveness of your adaptive immune system. It also has serious side effects for over 30% of people who take it. That said, there is a low dose clinical trial with results coming in December, 2023. The goal is to modulate harmful over-active immune systems. See our article on rapamycin for more details.
How to Boost Your Immune System
In February 2021, Harvard Health reported, “There are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.”
That said, they believe that healthy-living strategies make sense because they likely help modulate immune function and provide other proven health benefits. So, with that in mind, here’s what seems promising for boosting your immune system:
- Lead a healthy lifestyle using these 24 key health factors for 2024, including staying up-to-date with your vaccinations, getting proper sleep, exercising and reducing stress.
- Practice good hygiene and keep a healthy microbiome to reduce infections.
- Keep your bone marrow healthy by following Cleveland Clinic recommendations to eat a healthy diet rich in protein (lean meats, fish, beans, nuts, milk, eggs).
- Maintain healthy levels of iron and vitamins B9 and B12. Deficiency leads to leukopenia, a low white blood cell count.
- When sick, bone broth soups have healthy nutrients which help you to fight inflammation, promote hydration and get mucus flowing. They are good to enjoy in your regular diet as well.
- Nutrients like vitamin C in fresh fruits and vegetables help your body fight off diseases, reducing the duration.
Although vitamins, herbs and nutritional supplements can alter components of immune function, there is no evidence that they bolster immunity against infection and disease. Do not take extra large doses of specific vitamins, as they are not helpful.
Emerging Immune System Health Companies
These companies seek to create therapies which train your immune system to fight diseases and overcome age-acquired immune deficiency:
- Alchemab – led by new CEO Young Kwan, hired in May, 2022.
- Seek to find protective antibodies in ‘resilient’ people.
- Preclinical targets for various cancers, COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s.
- HCW Biologics – led by Hing Wong
- Immunotherapy pipeline for age-related solid tumor cancer pathologies.
- Provide improved immune cell activation and TGF-Beta family neutralization.
- Immunis – led by Hans Keirstead
- targeting age-acquired immune deficiency.
- Growing human stem cells to become populations of cells which secrete natural factors to benefit immune system development, modulation, and health.
- In clinical trials for a muscle atrophy disease. IMM01-STEM is a novel secretome product composed of natural immunomodulators with efficacious cytoskeletal remodeling properties.
- Intervene Immune – led by Greg Fahy
- Seek to reverse the loss of thymus cells and train the immune system to eliminate senescent cells.
- Had some success in a 9 person TRIIM trial using personalized doses of recombinant human growth hormone (somatropin), DHEA and Metformin.
- Results from the subsequent 18-month TRIIM-X trial in 26 volunteers (20 men, 6 women) ages 55-80 are expected in early 2023.
- Early results indicate primary side-effects of carpal tunnel-like syndrome and arthralgias such as finger stiffness and pain in 25% of subjects.
- 1/8th of subjects had difficulty with taking metformin.
- 1/3 of male subjects experienced prostate-specific antigen spikes.
- However, most volunteers were subjectively very happy with their results so far, feeling younger, stronger and more energetic.
- LyGenesis — completed a proof-of-concept to regrow the thymus in lymph tissue, although as of 2022, are mostly focusing on liver regrowth in a Phase 2A trial.
Additionally, these Microbiome Health Therapeutic Companies are creating treatments to improve your immunity through enhancing beneficial gut-bacteria.
Conclusion of Immunity Against Aging
Thanks for reading about immunity against aging. As your reward for focusing on your health, go make one of these 20 delicious bone broth soups.