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Immune System Strengthening

Age, stress, and poor nutrition can sap our immune system of its effectiveness. Influenza provides one example; during young adulthood, when the body can mount a robust immune response to this common virus, influenza is rarely fatal. Among the elderly, however, the virus is associated with significant rates of death and hospitalization (Nichol 2005).

The impact of aging on the immune system is profound. As people age, a number of critical immune system components including cellular response, antibody production, and response to vaccines are reduced or slowed. At the same time, susceptibility to infection and cancer is increased. Some of this increased susceptibility to disease is linked to chronic inflammation, which is associated with many disorders of aging (Ershler 2000; Hamerman 1999; Taaffe 2000).

Age, however, is not the sole culprit in reduced immune function. There is no question that exercise, stress, and nutritional status play an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Consider the following research findings:

  • Dietary deficiencies and malabsorption alter metabolism and exacerbate chronic disorders (Kaput 2004). An imbalance in the intake of dietary fat, carbohydrate, and protein can contribute to the development of disease(s) (Kaput 2004). On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence of the benefits of a good diet on reducing the risk of many chronic diseases (Ames 2001; Kaput 2004).
  • Malnutrition causes a decline in immune function and increases susceptibility to infection (Brussow 1995; Lotfy 1998; delaFuente 1998). Likewise, a vitamin or mineral deficiency can suppress immune system function (delaFuente 1998). Correct choices of supplements, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, probiotics, and botanicals have been shown to boost immunity and may also reduce the risk of disease(s) in healthy Individuals (Kaminogawa 2004).
  • Psychological health influences the immune system and the course of many diseases (Kiecolt-Glaser 2000). Depression, stress, and anxiety increase the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the blood, which in turn can compromise, depress, or suppress the immune system (Appels 2000; Dentino 1999; Maes 1997; Maes 1998; Maes 1999; Boscarino 1999; Lutgendorf 1999; Zhou 1993; Papanicolaou 1998).
  • High levels of anxiety are associated with decreased immune function (Ironson 1990; Koh 1998; Boscarino 1999; Kiecolt-Glaser 2000).
  • Chronic stress can provoke long-term increases in pro-inflammatory chemicals. For example, caregiving for a relative with a serious medical condition results in long-term immune suppression among women (Lutgendorf 1999).
  • Chronic stress from persistent marital problems, burnout at work (Lerman 1999), and lengthy unemployment (Arnetz 1991) can lead to immune alterations that persist for years (Boscarino 1999; Kiecolt-Glaser 1987; Kiecolt-Glaser 1997; Kiecolt-Glaser 1988; Kiecolt-Glaser 1993).

Life Extension believes that all aging people should take action to bolster their immune systems. This includes reducing negative psychological stress; following a physician-approved, moderate, long-term exercise program; and following a diet as well as consuming nutrients that have been shown to enhance immune response and promote health.