Inflammaging: How to Boost Immunity in Your Golden Years
It may be well-known to our older readers that immunity is the only precious gem which gets less valuable with age. As time passes and we enter into our golden years, the immune system becomes less likely to be able to combat external threats, leading to chronic inflammation. And if you’re in the “I’ll just take a vaccine and hope for the best” camp, then you may be sorely disappointed, as vaccinations only become less effective with age. Chronic inflammation with age has been dubbed as “inflammaging” by medical researchers, and is the main force behind fatal illnesses like Type 2 Diabetes, heart diseases, dementia, and cancer. It also has a major role to play in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
So what’s the solution?
Immunity is built by genetics, but maintained by lifestyle choices. So how best do we combat inflammaging? Some are obvious, while some might make you reassess your habits…
This is an obvious one. Physical activity is the best way to boost your heart rate and reverse immunosenescence (or inflammaging). Our skeletal system produces proteins called myokines which can lower inflammation and boost immunity. There are several scientific studies to prove that regular aerobic exercise can positively impact T-cell production and reduce the number of senescent or old T-cells in the body. We understand that getting active can prove more and more difficult as you age, but it also becomes more and more crucial, a true catch-22 situation. Check out our article on how to get active as you age:
*insert hyperlink for “Get Active: Simple Ways to Stay Active as You Age” article*
2. Eat Right:
Seems simple, but the next apparent question is: What do you eat? There are a couple compelling and scientifically viable diets one can test out, such as the Mediterranean Diet and the Blue Zone Diet.
The Mediterranean diet is described more as an eating pattern rather than a rigid diet. Studies show that following the diet of Southern European countries like Greece, Spain, southern France and Italy can lower the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, while increasing longevity due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Key components of this diet include:
- Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Olive oil, particularly as a replacement for other cooking oils
- Moderate amounts of poultry, fish and dairy
- Low added sugar or red meats
You could also try the Blues Zone Diet, a concept formulated by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner. It proposes that there are “Blue Zones” across the globe where people tend to live the longest, suffer in lower numbers from lifestyle diseases, and often cross the age of 100. Some of these Blue Zones include Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; the province of Ogliastra in Sardinia, Italy; the community of Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California; and Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. He says that those who eat like members of these zones can achieve the same remarkable results. Key components of this diet include:
- 90- 100% plant-based diet
- Up to 3oz of fish a week
- Less than 2.5 oz of any other meat a week
- Upto 3 eggs a week
- Up to 7 tsp (28 g) of added sugar a day
- ½ to 1 cup of beans a day
- 2 handfuls of nuts daily
- Mostly water, but upto 3 glasses of red wine is allowed daily
Whale there are a number of different supplements and nutrients one could take to make up for short falls in the diet, the nutrients most relevant to the elderly are antioxidants, vitamins D and B12, and herbs like ginkgo biloba, medicinal mushrooms (maitake, lion’s mane, chaga, reishi, etc), gotu kola, ashwagandha, and many more. There’s also a study to show that Epimedium (or yingyanghuo in Chinese) is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine to combat aging, tonify the kidney, invigorate yang, and strengthen muscles and bones. Epimedium flavonoids (EF) are the major active ingredient taken from the Epimedium leaves and stems. Icariin (ICA) is the main component of EF. Remember to consult your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Inflammaging and immunosenescence sound like daunting medical terminologies, but they are simple biological processes which can be fought with simple lifestyle changes. Remember to move, eat right and supplement your dietary shortfalls, and you’ll be able to age gracefully into your twilight years.