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You’re As Strong As Your Immune System’s Ability to Defend Against Pathogens

The human immune system – our best defense against pathogens – is tasked at birth to meet head on any challenge from infections, or any invader from within or external to our body.

Much like our country’s defense department and its various fighting branches – Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force – the human immune system’s first line of attack against an invading pathogen is innate immunity – composed of physical barriers (skin, GI tract, eyelashes, body hair, and respiratory tract).

Other defensive weapons include mucus, secretions, bile, stomach acid, saliva, tears, and sweat – along with general immune responses like inflammation and cell activation, which release, among many other special forces, macrophages, leukocytes, basophils, and natural killer cells.

If the invader makes it through the first line of defense, then more sophisticated weapon packages are released – T (Thymus gland) and B (bone marrow) cells that are antigen-specific in their kill strategy.

Our immune system begins its training in infancy, while advancing its capabilities to fight though adulthood with, unfortunately, a waning effect – immunosenescence – with old age.

“Immunosenescence is characterized by a particular re-modelling of the immune system, induced by oxidative stress (production of oxygen free radicals),” according to the U.S. Library of Medicine. It’s an imbalance between the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory mechanisms – known as “inflammaging.”

A positive lifestyle – good diet, exercise habits, and stress management – can keep the immune system strong long into old age – affording compressed morbidity – the shortest period of illness pushed much later in life.

From a nutrient standpoint, the correct balance from the essential Omega fatty acids (Omega 6 & 3) can be a great starting point to optimize the ratio from the current level of 20:1 back toward a favorable 2:1 ratio.

That means adding more Omega-3 food sources, like cold water fish, walnuts, and fish oil to the diet, while cutting back on process baked goods, safflower, sunflower, and corn oil – opting for a Mediterranean lifestyle – based on olive or walnut oil.

Other immune modulating nutrients include: vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6, B-12, folic acid, beta carotene, selenium, and zinc – plus probiotics found in fermented products, such as yogurt and kefir.

Published research – Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change Over the Life Course – emphasizes that, “there is a bidirectional interaction among nutrition, infection and immunity: the immune response is compromised when nutrition is poor, predisposing individuals to infections, and a poor nutritional state may be exacerbated by the immune response itself to an infection. It is clear that optimal immunocompetence depends upon nutritional status.”

These researchers from Switzerland and the United Kingdom point out that, “as the body ages, so does the immune system, and most older people over the age of 60–65 years (although not all) experience some immune dysregulation that makes them less able to respond to immune challenges.”

With age, it appears that the normal inflammatory process to a pathogen tends to be protracted, especially with poor nutrition on board. However, older people have an immune memory to prior invading pathogens, which has the immune system say, “I’ve faced those invaders before.”

It has everything to do with the T cells memory and fighting ability. Having that yearly flu vaccination for people over 60 can heighten the immune system in advance of exposure.

The researchers point out that nutrient deficiencies are common in older people – estimated that 35% of those aged 50 years or older in Europe, USA and Canada have a demonstrable deficiency of one or more micronutrients.

“The available clinical data suggest that micronutrient supplementation can reduce the risk and severity of infection and support a faster recovery. However, much more research is required into the effects of micronutrient supplementation on immune functions and on clinical outcomes,” the researchers note.

The best offense is a great defense. Everybody ready for a daily multi-vitamin/mineral?

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