Effects of Aging on the Immune System Homework Writers
The immune system helps protect the body from foreign and harmful substances such as viruses, toxins, bacteria, cancer cells, and tissues or blood from other people. The immune system is responsible for making antibodies and cells that destroy harmful substances that get into the body.
Changes that occur in the innate and adaptive immune response as a result of aging are known as immunosenescence. Changes in the immune system due to old age may result in autoimmunity, malignancy, impaired wound healing, increased susceptibility to infection, and decreased response to vaccination.
In some cases, changes in the immune system due to aging may cause asthma to persist into late adulthood or cause asthma to develop in people past 50 years. Many old people suffer from asthma. The number of old people with asthma is increasing as the general lifespan increases.
Changes in the innate system that may lead to the development of asthma later in life or make it more severe in older people include changes in the airway neutrophil, eosinophil, mast cell numbers, and function, and impaired mucociliary clearance.
In addition, reduced antibody responses and antigen presentation altered by age may increase the risk of old people developing respiratory infections such as asthma. As [people grow old, the immune system is not able to tackle infections as effectively as it used to.
This also causes old people to be less responsive to vaccinations. The immune system in old people is linked to chronic inflammation which increases the chances of most health conditions associated with old age.
Aging Changes and Their Effect on the Immune System
Regular physical exercising and maintaining a healthy diet can go a long way in helping a person maintain a healthy immunity even into old age. Currently, life expectancy is high. The evolutionary history of human beings has adapted us to various lifestyles although they have changed drastically.
During old age, the immune system does not only weakens but also becomes imbalanced. Old age, therefore, affects both adaptive immunity and innate immunity. Innate immunity is our main defense against infections. In old people, it does not resolve after the passing of the initial threat thereby causing chronic systematic inflammation.
On the other hand, adaptive immunity is the immunity responsible for remembering and attacking specific pathogens. As people age, it loses its ability to defend itself against fungi, viruses, and bacteria.
Health conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and type 2 diabetes are linked to chronic low-grade inflammation. Adaptive immunity plays a role in autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
When old people lose their adaptive immunity, they not only become more susceptible to disease. Loss of adaptive immune may reactivate dormant pathogens that were suppressed before.
Having a weak adaptive immunity means that the bodies of older adults cannot respond strongly to vaccinations as they used to before. In younger people, after an initial injury or infection, their immune system switches to an anti-inflammatory response.
In older people, however, this is not the case due to the accumulation of aged or senescent immune cells.
Aging and Adaptive Immunity
It is through adaptive immunity that the immune system is able to recognize and neutralize pathogens. An important immune cell in adaptive immunity is known as the T cell. When an infection occurs, T cells can recognize the pathogen responsible for the infection.
Some of the T cells then differentiate into cells that fight the same pathogen in future. The amount of T cells in the body remains the same throughout. However, undifferentiated cells reduce and shrink over the years since a large number of them commit to fighting particular infections.
It is for this reason that bodies of older people are not able to fight new infections as effectively as they used to. This is also the reason vaccinations provoke weaker responses in older people. This means that they have less protection against pathogens and infections.
Older people harbor a latent infection of human cytomegalovirus which is a viral infection that is persistent and has few or no symptoms. This infection can deplete the immune resources of older people thereby making them susceptible to viral infections. This reduces the effect of vaccinations such as the influenza vaccine.
How to reduce the effects of aging on the immune system
Nothing can be done to prevent aging. However, certain lifestyle changes can help a person to remain healthy even in old age. Some of these lifestyle changes include:
- Exercising regularly – it is common for people to become less active as they grow old. However, regular exercising can help slow down or reverse the effects of immunosenescence.
Skeletal muscles produce myokines which are proteins that preserve immune function and reduce inflammation. Exercising helps maintain muscle mass to protect the human body against infections and health conditions like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes which are associated with chronic inflammation.
Older people are encouraged to take part in mild physical activities such as aerobic fitness. Being physically fit means less immunosenescence. In addition, older adults who are physically fit and active respond very well to vaccination compared to those who are less active.
Being physically active helps older people to produce antibodies to fight off infections even before they are vaccinated.
- Adopting a healthy diet – research suggests that a person’s diet will determine their risk of developing sarcopenia which is a condition that leads to loss of muscle strength, mass, and functionality.
There is a relationship between the immune system and the skeletal muscle. On one hand, skeletal muscles are known to produce myokines that are anti-inflammatory. On the other hand, chronic inflammation speeds up the loss of muscles in sarcopenia.
Older people can take Vitamin D supplements and polyunsaturated fatty acids supplements to reduce the risk of sarcopenia.
A diet that is recommended is the Mediterranean diet that comprises of:
- low amounts of red meat and added sugar
- large amounts of leafy vegetables, fruit, and olive oil
- moderate amounts of poultry, dairy, and fish
The Mediterranean diet is linked to a low risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Research suggests that people who follow the Mediterranean diet are less likely to become frail compared to those who do not.
- Maintaining a healthy weight – muscles play an important role in reducing inflammation. Fats on the other hand have a different effect. As people grow into adulthood, they tend to gain weight due to the accumulation of adipose tissue under the skin and around organs.
Accumulation of adipose tissue may significantly contribute to inflammation. Older adults who are overweight or obese may suffer from serious chronic inflammation. Additionally, the immune system of older people who are overweight produces fewer antibodies in response to vaccination.
Effects of aging can be solved by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. This could be because both exercising and having a healthy diet help in maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight is known to increase inflammation in old age.
Older people who maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly are known to have less senescent T cells as well as reduced levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in their blood.
Changes that occur in the Immune System as a result of aging
As a person grows old, their immune system does not work as it used to before. Changes that occur in the immune system include;
- the ability of the immune system to detect and correct cell defects reduces and can result in an increased risk of cancer.
- the immune system tends to respond slowly thereby increasing the chances of a person getting sick. In addition, Vaccines such as flu shots may not work as well as they should nor can they protect a person for as long as they should.
- the body may heal slowly since there are few immune cells to heal the body
- as a person ages, they are likely to develop an autoimmune disorder which is a disease that mistakenly attacks, destroys, and damages body tissues.
Prevention of Risks of Aging Immune System
To reduce risks associated with the aging immune system, it is important to:
- avoid or stop smoking since it weakens the immune system
- exercise a lot since exercising helps boost the immune system
- limit alcohol intake
- eat healthy foods since good nutrition keeps the immune system strong
- consider safety measures that can help prevent falls and injuries because a weak immune system causes slow healing
- get vaccines to prevent pneumococcal infections, shingles and flu, and any other vaccine that may be recommended by healthcare providers.
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