Immunologists have considered the impact of stress and anxiety on the immune system for a long time. Finally, a recent study draws the associations between stress and immunophenotypes in older US adults. This study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) also supports the idea that as we grow old, our immune system weakens, a condition called immunosenescence. It further explains why vaccines get less beneficial and old people are more susceptible to infections and viral threats. The decline of immune protection accelerates in people who suffer from stress.
After correlating the data of several studies, including data sets from the Health and Retirement Study by the University of Michigan, researchers found a direct link between stress and ageing of the immune system.
To understand the risk level, we should first understand how the immune system protects our body from harmful infections and diseases. T cells, a vital component of immunity, develop in the thymus gland that is situated right above and in front of the human heart. These T cells are naive and wait for a call to action in case of any infection. They hold onto the virus or infection trying to infiltrate our body and mature into ‘memory T cells’, proactively prepared to fight such viruses again.
Upon ageing, these terminally differentiated T cells have an almost negative impact on other cells. This study proved that while we start having more differentiated cells than naive ones as we grow older, stress accelerates the transition. Research in this direction now continues to gauge the exact rate of damage to the immune system due to stress.
What is stress?
We often use the word stress in our day-to-day lives to explain burnout and mental fatigue. But stress is a psychological term, and experts categorise it into two parts: physical and psychological.
Physical stress is related to our eating habits, weight, activity rate throughout the day, sickness and physical illnesses.
Psychological stress refers to mental and emotional challenges triggered by life challenges, discrimination, gender bias and other harmful social notions.
Researchers say that short-term stress does not harm the body like long-term stress. But prolonged stress of any kind surely takes a toll on your immune system and accelerates its ageing and damage.
Our body starts responding to threats and dangers differently when the immune system starts getting weak. Some of the common ways that reflect an ageing immune system are:
- The immune system starts losing its capacity to differentiate between harmful, foreign threats and the body’s own cells. Sometimes, it can even consider its own cells harmful and trigger an inflammatory response.
- There is a decrease in the number of leukocytes and the remaining leukocytes are also feeble in their response to infections.
- The macrophages that are tasked to isolate infection sites also take longer to destroy bacteria and cancerous cells.
- The antibodies also lose their efficiency and their functionality decreases.
If your diagnosis shows any of these signs, chances are that your immune system has started giving in to its age. It might be a good time to consult your medical expert on suggestions for natural immunity boosters. Natural immunity enhancers support your immune system to provide all-encompassing protection from harmful bacteria and infections.
An aged immune system is associated with various health threats and diseases like:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- High-risk level for pneumonia
- Organ ageing
- Lesser impact of vaccines
The changes to the immune system with age impact its overall efficiency. Older people are more prone to infections and contract severe diseases like pneumonia and cancer. The body is also susceptible to autoimmune diseases, and a weak immune system is one of its major catalysts.
As we get older, our bodies take time to heal due to decreased efficiency of the healing cells. It is mostly a vicious cycle of contracting infection, slowly recovering and falling sick again. With active and long-term stress, this ageing of the immune system accelerates and you can face the consequences even at a comparatively younger age.
Two other important factors that can weaken the immune system are innate immunity and adaptive immunity.
Innate immunity is our body’s first response to any kind of infection. Adaptive immunity grows over time as the body starts remembering particular pathogens and the attack mechanism. When the immune system starts ageing, adaptive immunity decreases and inactive pathogens can retrigger. Common diseases that resurface are tuberculosis and herpes zoster.
Tips to combat immune system ageing
With growing age, the immune system is bound to get weaker. Stress can further accelerate the damage. Although, there are some tips that can delay this impending crisis.
Exercising has a significant impact on immune system health. Scientifically, the muscle tissues produce proteins called myocines when we exercise. This protein can reduce inflammation and help restore immune system functionality. Exercising also relieves us from stress by raising serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin levels.
There is no direct correlation of a healthy diet with the ageing of the immune system, but good food can help keep you from falling sick frequently. Try to include lots of fruits and vegetables in your meal. Use olive oil and go for poultry over red meat. Decrease your sugar and flour intake to keep diseases like diabetes at bay. With a balanced diet, you can also maintain a healthy weight and avoid exerting excess pressure on your immune system.
Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and drugs can seem to be old advice, but it is vital for maintaining good health. On the other hand, abstaining from such indulgences keeps you sane and avoids negative emotions.
In addition to these, take proper rest and sleep to let your body relax. Don’t wait for old age to start caring for your immune system. Rather, start eating well and stop engaging in indulgences from now on. Add natural immunity boosters to your daily routine. In the longer run, you can reap great value from these simple habits.