It’s common knowledge that older folks are more susceptible to most illnesses from colds to cancers, and tend to take far longer to recover. However, the reason why isn’t often addressed.
Most of us just attribute this change to old age, where your body slows down and doesn’t bounce back as easily. That’s partly true, but what’s really going on is within your immune system.
As you age your immune system grows progressively weaker in a dangerous process called immunosenescence—a process that too many oncologists ignore.
Doctors all agree that your immune system is the most important protective physiological system in your body. To date, multiple studies have shown that immune system dysfunction as you get older can promote tumor growth as well as hamper your body’s ability to respond to existing tumors.1
What happens in immunosenescence?
Scientists coined the term immunosenescence in 1964. What happens during immunosenescence is a remodeling of the lymphatic system, the system responsible for producing most of the body’s immune cells. These changes lead to a decline in immune cell production and a weakening of the overall immune system.
A recent review published in the Journal of Hematology & Oncology found that this weakening is closely related to “the development of infections, autoimmune diseases, and malignant tumors.”
If that’s not bad enough, the researchers also report that immunosenescence results in the production of free radicals and harmful inflammatory chemicals, all of which have been scientifically linked to many diseases of aging, including cancer.
Immunosenescence is so prevalent in the body as you age that these researchers describe the “senescence of immune cells”, such as T cells, macrophages and natural killer cells, and how this process reduces each cell’s ability to play its role in cancer growth.
“Reviving” weakened immune cells
In recent years, there have been new immunotherapy drugs that have tried to counteract immunosenescence and rejuvenate deteriorating immune cells. In other words, the early research shows that even though an elderly person may have malfunctioning T cells, those cells can be “reactivated”. Other immunotherapy drugs are focusing on reactivating the entire immune system. Most importantly, these treatments can be tailored to individuals.
I believe this approach of supporting a patient’s immune system will be far more effective at killing cancer than chemotherapy and radiation, which damage the immune system and the body to achieve their goal.
However, much of the research into tailored immunotherapy is still in the early stages, so these treatments are not yet available on a wide scale. Not only that, but the early research suggests that these pharmaceutical treatments will be extremely expensive.
But don’t be discouraged. I want to point out another important revelation from the review published in the Journal of Hematology & Oncology that should fill you with hope for a stronger immune system as you get older.
You can reduce immunosenescence naturally
The researchers point to a variety of factors that can influence immunosenescence, including diet and lifestyle. They say these factors can “dramatically influence” immunosenescence, and report that, “It could therefore be possible to target the immune system of the elderly aiming to restore its competence.”
Other researchers agree.
Exercise, exercise, exercise
In cross-sectional studies of the elderly reported in the journal Nutrients, women who underwent physical training showed better T-cell function than those who were inactive. Similar results were found in a study of elderly runners who had better functioning T-cells and a stronger adaptive immune system.
Perhaps most exciting, a study of healthy adults aged 55 to 79 years of age who engaged in high levels of physical activity during most of their adult life had few signs of immunosenescence.2
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
When it comes to nutrition, a study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that eating an anti-inflammatory diet, which is a diet low in animal proteins (especially red and cured meat) and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil, can delay immunosenescence. The researchers believe an anti-inflammatory diet prevents immunosenescence by reducing inflammatory compounds and improving gut health.3
Speaking of the gut, the same study points to probiotics as another way to reduce inflammation and improve the health of the immune system.
Many studies over the years have pointed to fasting as an effective way to boost immune health. Additional research into fasting reveals that intermittent fasting, followed by a return to normal, healthy eating patterns, is the best way to use fasting to maximize your immune health.
Warding off cancer isn’t just a matter of age or genetics. How you care for yourself is of equal, if not greater importance. And, the best ways to care for your body and support your aging immune system are the same as they were when you were young:
- Eat a well-balanced, anti-inflammatory diet of primarily whole foods.
- Stay away from sugar and reduce all other “white foods” – potatoes, rice, and white flour products – to pretty much the lowest levels you can tolerate.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get plenty of good, high-quality sleep.
- Relieve stress as much as possible through meditation, yoga or physical activity.
There are also numerous immune-boosting supplements that can help in your battle to prevent or even fight cancer, from vitamins C and D to Chinese mushroom supplements. There are far too many to list here.
We’ve written extensively about cancer-fighting supplements in past newsletters. You can search our newsletter archives for “immune supplements” when you visit our website, cancerdefeated.com.