Aging Immune System is A Major Cause of Cancer
November 8th, 2015 by Holly Cornish
Here are New Tips to Keep It Young
As a general rule, the older you get the more likely you are to suffer cancer.
It’s long been thought (especially among alternative doctors) that the decline in the immune system is a major culprit.
It’s not that young people don’t develop cancer cells, it’s that their vigorous immune systems can destroy those cells. As the years go by, we start to generate cancer cells faster than our immune systems can get rid of them.
Now, mainstream studies focused on how the immune system protects the body from tumors have begun to provide a more detailed picture of how age can degrade that system — and make it harder for the body to stop cancer before it becomes life-threatening.
Their investigations have shed new light on how you might slow down this loss of immune system capability. . .keep reading for some key discoveries. . .
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Research at the University London took a look at what happens to cancer-fighting cells called T lymphocytes as they get older and lose their capabilities.1
What the research indicates is that T cell behavior is heavily influenced by molecules that the body releases (one in particular, called by the name p38 MAPK). Another important influence is the condition of the mitochondria in T cells. The mitochondria are the tiny structures in each lymphocyte – and in all our cells — that, under normal circumstances, provide the energy needed to power their activities.
The studies show that as people grow older, the mitochondria in their T lymphocytes begin to falter as their shapes become physically distorted. As a result, these cells are hampered in their efforts to multiply, and the cells have to find other, less efficient ways to generate energy.
This fits in with a growing body of evidence that malfunctioning mitochondria are at the very center of cancer.
The scientists point out that when mitochondria are functioning normally, they supply energy by oxidizing glucose. When this system breaks down, the main source of energy becomes glycolysis, an anaerobic process that still breaks down glucose but which doesn’t use oxygen.
While glycolysis is a good stop-gap measure for providing cellular energy, it’s a terrible long term solution. It’s extremely inefficient compared to the normal energy-generating process, and hampers the T lymphocytes in their ability to go after cancer cells. The T cells are literally too tired to do their job.
Lifestyle Choices Make a Difference
While the British researchers note that scientists may be able to come up with drugs to help aging T cells stay more potent as people age, they think that relying more on diet and lifestyle may prove to be more effective.
Changing your lifestyle will certainly have fewer side effects than pharmaceuticals that are designed to interfere with the immune system’s basic chemistry.
Luckily, research into how to help these immune cells stay viable has already produced important clues about what you can do to support your cancer defenses.
An important way to help T cells is to exercise.
A study of cancer survivors that was coordinated between the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute shows that exercise can boost your supply of active T cells and revitalize them from aging, stumbling, ineffective old timers into younger-acting, more lively anti-cancer warriors.2
In this study, the researchers took 16 people who had been treated with chemotherapy for a variety of cancers and put them on a three-month exercise program.
As part of the investigation, the scientists analyzed the cancer survivors’ T cells before and after the three-month program. They found that while the participants’ T cells before the exercise regimen were mostly “senescent” – frail and puny – after working out for 12 weeks, more of their immune cells were “naive” – healthier and better able to attack cancer.
Conventional Treatment Damages the Immune System
Alert readers of this newsletter already know that one of the worst things about conventional chemotherapy is that it wipes out the immune system – the very function you most need to beat cancer.
One of the common side effects of chemotherapy is the damage it does to T cells. It makes them less able to carry out their anti-cancer functions. Consequently, researcher Laura Bilek says that everyone who endures chemotherapy should embark on an exercise program. (If you’re healthy, she advocates exercise as a preventive measure to lower your cancer risk.)
The exercise programs selected by the researchers were individualized for each person in the study. They included aerobic workouts like walking, swimming or jogging as well as weight lifting and calisthenics. They also included a variety of activities (like yoga and stretching) that improve flexibility, posture and balance.
Professor Bilek believes that exercise may help weed out ineffective T cells with malfunctioning mitochondria while encouraging production of stronger cells: “What we’re suggesting is that with exercise, you might be getting rid of T cells that aren’t helpful and making room for T cells that might be helpful.”
In any case, getting more exercise is a can’t-lose strategy: All of the positive benefits created by consistent exercise make it an essential element for anyone who is trying to improve their health.
“There’s a litany of positive benefits from exercise,” Prof. Bilek adds. “If exercise indeed strengthens the immune system and potentially improves cancer surveillance (the immune system’s lookout system that goes into high alert if a tumor starts), it’s one more thing we should educate patients about as a reason they should schedule regular activity throughout their day and make it a priority in their lives.”
A Vitamin for Your Mitochondria
Another potential way to improve the mitochondria in T lymphocytes is to feed them a crucial nutrient that improves their health – a form of vitamin B3 called nicotinamide riboside. This vitamin has been shown to help offset the breakdown of mitochondria as we get older and alleviate the effects of certain diseases that involve mitochondrial malfunctions.
In lab tests, researchers at the University of Helsinki have found that nicotinamide riboside may reverse mitochondrial deterioration and halt decreases in mitochondria size.3
Another interesting aspect of nicotinamide riboside: This nutrient has been shown to protect you from cancer:
- A laboratory study at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center shows that nicotinamide riboside supplements may prevent certain types of liver cancer and help shrink tumors if they develop.4
- A study at the University of Sydney in Australia showed that in people with previous skin cancer, taking 500 mg of nicotinamide riboside a day reduces the risk of cancer recurrences by 23 percent.5
- Population studies show that people who don’t consume very much tryptophan (a nutrient the body makes into nicotinamide riboside) are at greater risk for cancer of the esophagus.6 Foods rich in tryptophan include seeds and nuts, roasted soybeans, cheese, meat and eggs.
Probiotics Help Your T Cells
Research into probiotics, the friendly bacteria that inhabit the digestive tract and other areas of the body, shows they are also important for helping T lymphocytes maintain their functions and fight cancer.7
Much of your immune system originates in the intestines, so it’s not surprising that taking probiotics that encourage intestinal flora can help improve the function of T cells in the skin and other organs.8
Plus, a French study shows that the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug, cyclophosphamide, one of the most commonly used chemotherapeutic agents, relies on the action of probiotic bacteria to enter the lymph nodes from the intestines and stimulate the action of immune cells to go and attack tumors. Without adequate probiotics, the drug can’t do much.9
Your T cells also depend on vitamin A and vitamin D to function properly:
- Vitamin A has been shown to help support the production of T cells that protect the integrity of the intestinal tract and pancreas.10 Vitamin A is also necessary for T cells to function properly in the lymph tissues that are an integral part of the intestines.
- A wide range of research shows that vitamin D is pivotal for helping T cells stay active and reproduce themselves11. And there’s no question that vitamin D helps the body fight cancer in a myriad of other ways along with nourishing T cells.12
However, there’s one intriguing, still unanswered, question raised by all this research into how T cells age: How healthy can you keep these immune cells – and thereby keep cancer at bay – if you keep on exercising and eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables as you grow older? How deep into old age can you prolong the anti-cancer effectiveness of your immune system?
I guess it’s up to each one of us to find out.
Another tip that might help your immune system is a “cancer-fighting cocktail” developed by researchers at Louisiana State University. If you missed this news in our last issue, you can read it now just below.