The spread of the covid-19 pandemic has been a continuous reminder that the elderly population is more prone to the adverse outcomes of infections. This is typically because of the presence of multiple diseases in old age and the decreased competence of the immune system. Both the adaptive and innate immune systems are compromised during the aging process. This decrease in immune system efficiency is not only related to a greater incidence of mortality and morbidity but also, unfortunately, effectiveness of the vaccine is also reduced.
WHAT IS IMMUNOSENESCENCE?
The process in which the immune system becomes dysfunctional and less effective as we age is known as immuno-senescence. The downstream effects of this means older adults are at risk of more serious disease such as cancer, diseases of autoimmune system, and more susceptible to infections. An important attribute of immuno-senescence is a decline in the output of T-cells (cells made in the bone marrow that make up part of the immune system involved in helping to fight against infections). Also, there are elevated levels of senescent immune cells as we age that elevate overall inflammation in the body and can set older adults up to an overreaction to the virus.
CORONAVIRUS AND IMMUNOSENESCENCE
Just like any other viral disease, an infection caused by coronavirus engages the same mechanisms of the immune system as other infections like the flu or the common cold. The cells in our adaptive and innate immune systems recognize the virus as foreign material and a process begins to fight the infection and rid the body of the virus.
Unfortunately, exacerbation of the aged immune system can be caused by the Covid-19 infection resulting in further depletion of T-cells. If this happens then eventually it leads to a substantial decrease in the count of CD8 and CD4 T-cells. This lowers overall immunity and is often linked with the increased risk of developing of secondary infections caused by bacteria and, rarely, viral sepsis.
To make things a little worse, for those individuals that have a severely compromised immune system there is the natural tendency to have decreased virus clearance which may lead to the generation of a cytokine storm. A cytokine storm can be described as an over production of inflammatory and immune stimulating molecules that can have serious and significant effects on the body across many tissues simultaneously including the lining of blood vessels, the heart, the gut and the kidneys.
Whilst the above describes a worst case scenario it also explains why older adults with immuno-senescence are at higher risk than younger adults when it comes to Covid19 infections.
AN ANTI-IMMUNOSENESCENCE STRATEGY
To lower the risk of Covid-19 and boost your immunity in general there are a number of strategies that you can employ so that when you do encounter the virus you place your body in the best place possible.
Try to stay as fit as possible, this means making healthy lifestyle choices around diet and exercise. If you smoke or drink then take steps to minimize or stop immediately so that your body has time to recover before it encounters an infection. Get out walking where you can. Start slowly if its not part of your normal routine but build up so that you walk half an hour per day.
Have a discussion with your doctor around your overall health and together, make a plan to for you to become as healthy as possible, this may include looking at what steps you need to take to work towards a healthy weight.
Lastly, there are a range of immune supporting supplements that naturally help your body prepare in advance so, if you are an older adult, when the time comes your body reacts to the virus in a way that is more like a younger adult.
Consider supplements that boost levels of NAD, a key enzyme that gets consumed during infections and that support reducing the levels of senescent cells in your immune system, like the natural flavanols fisetin and quercetin, that turn down the levels of inflammation in your body. Take zinc, selenium, vitamin C and vitamin D – these vitamins and minerals are known to support the immune system.
One of the more exciting new areas of immune support is the isolation of glycoproteins sourced from eggs. These glycoproteins act in the gut to reduce pathogens and in the process increase the bandwidth of your immune system to deal with infections and also the recovery from an infection where tissues are damaged. Research is ongoing in this area and new products are becoming available that harness this new technology.