Strengthening the immune system in old age

The immune system ages along with us and becomes weaker and more susceptible to pathogens as we age. From the age of 60 at the latest, the efficiency of the immune system decreases significantly. How can the immune system be strengthened in old age?

With increasing age, the immune system degrades. Researchers refer to this process as immune senescence, meaning a slow deterioration of the immune system in older people. Various changes take place in the immune system that make us more susceptible to pathogens.

How does the immune system develop after birth?

Our immune system is a well-behaved pupil that learns throughout its life. The first lesson is given to the defence system in the womb: the defence mechanism, which is not yet fully developed, learns about the mother's antibodies, which are supposed to protect the unborn child and later the infant from attacks in the first weeks and months of its life. It absorbs these immune substances via the placenta. However, from the 6th month of life at the latest, the immune system must be able to defend itself against viruses. It must learn to fight off various pathogens and form the appropriate defence substances. This is the so-called innate or non-specific immune system.

Like humans, the immune system continues to grow: the phase of basic training in the first years of life is followed by specialisation: the development of acquired or specific immunity. Nutrition, exercise and other factors are of enormous importance in this process. They contribute significantly to keeping the immune system strong and resilient in old age.

Immune system ageing often begins in the thymus

The specific immune system consists mainly of T lymphocytes, which recognise and attack cells foreign to the body, and B lymphocytes, which produce antibodies. The precursors of the T cells form in the bone marrow and migrate from there to the thymus. In the organ located behind the breastbone, the T-cells are sorted out that are not able to distinguish between cells that are foreign to the body and their own.

The thymus is thus a kind of factory for our immune cells and, along with the mucous membranes, the spleen and the tonsils, represents an important part of our immune system. Unfortunately, the functional life of this factory does not correspond to the life span of our organism.

Why and how does the immune system age?

By the time we reach puberty, the thymus has already stopped functioning. The function of the organ decreases considerably and has only one tenth of the T-cells. Between the ages of 40 and 50, the number drops again until, at an advanced age, we have significantly fewer defence soldiers available to protect us against pathogens. From the age of 60 at the latest, the efficiency of the immune defence decreases. No more new T-lymphocytes are produced, which makes older people susceptible to viruses and infections. Many infectious diseases are more severe and last longer than in younger years. Pneumonia, shingles or influenza are widespread among the elderly and often end in hospitalisation or even death.

Besides the regressing thymus, the communication between the T-cells is a problem. They are slower and react more weakly to certain messenger substances. In addition, fewer antibodies are produced against new pathogens that are still unknown to the immune system than in younger years.

The biological age is decisive

Nevertheless, it is possible to stay healthy into old age. Because it is not our years of life that are decisive for our immune system, but rather our biological age. This is made up of calendar age and physical and mental influences. We all know enough examples of this: An acquaintance looks older than he really is. "Life has left an impression on him", we think to ourselves. But it also works the other way round: "You've kept up well," we say to another well-known person who looks younger than he or she is.

Our lifestyle is primarily decisive for our biological age: smoking, alcohol, too little exercise, too much stress, one-sided and too fatty food cause our immune system to age faster. With balanced measures, however, we are able to turn the biological clock and thus strengthen our immune system.

Strengthening the immune system in old age

The immune system in old age can also be strengthened with a healthy diet.

Mit ganz einfachen Methoden und Empfehlungen kann das Immunsystem bis ins hohe Alter unterstützt werden. Viel Schlaf, Bewegung, vor allem an der frischen Luft und eine ausgewogene Ernährung sind das A und O für eine starke gesunde Abwehr. Darüber hinaus sollte man Stress weitgehend vermeiden.

Je älter man wird, desto mehr ist man auf die Zufuhr von wichtigen Mikronährstoffen von außen angewiesen. So brauchen vor allem ältere Menschen viel Vitamin D, weil ihr Körper diesen Stoff nicht mehr so schnell bilden kann, wie in jungen Jahren. Vitamin D wird am besten durch Magnesium aktiviert, dessen Zufuhr im Alter ebenfalls enorm wichtig ist. Aber auch andere Vitamine wie C, B und H sowie Spurenelemente wie Zink und Selen sind von entscheidender Bedeutung.

Diese einfachen Ratschläge sollten jedoch bereits in jungen Jahren beherzigt und umgesetzt werden. Solange unser Immunsystem noch aktiv ist, lässt es sich an ihr „schrauben“ und somit die Geschwindigkeit der biologischen Uhr verlangsamen. Unterstützen Sie also Ihre Abwehrkräfte durch den richtigen Lebensstil und die richtigen Nähstoffe – sie werden es Ihnen danken!

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