Aging and the Immune System Do Not Have To Be Connected 

Aging and the immune system is something that all of us will have to accept. Or do we?

Every part of our bodies change as we are fortunate to experience this aging process, and our immune system is no different.

However, there is some good news. There is no set age when your immune system starts to weaken, and because of this, it is compared to greying in your hair.

In some people it occurs much earlier than others. Understanding aging and your immune system is the first step in protecting it and there are two key factors that can affect it; sleep and stress.

How Aging Affects the Immune System Different Parts

In the process of trying to help aging and the immune system, it is helpful to understand the different parts of this system and what functions they perform.

Here are the different parts:

  • The tonsils and thymus gland
  • Your lymphatic system
  • Bone marrow
  • The Spleen
  • White blood cells

Your tonsils and the thymus gland help to make antibodies and are critical to its overall health.

We have all heard of our tonsils, and most of us have had them taken out, but we may not be familiar the thymus gland.

The thymus gland is an important part of this system and is located in your upper chest beneath the breastbone.

Your lymphatic system is made up of your lymph nodes and their vessels, and their major function is to carry nutrients, waste material, as well as lymph fluids between your body tissues and bloodstream.

It is also critical as it is these fluids that trap bacteria, any type of virus, and any other type of foreign invasion. Once they have been trapped, they are destroyed by your white blood cells, which are called lymphocytes.

Your bone marrow is a soft tissue in your long bones that include your vertebrae, your pelvic bones, as well as your arms and legs. It is made up of both red marrow and yellow marrow.

The red marrow in your system makes both red as well as white blood cells, and your yellow marrow also produces some white blood cells.

However, the yellow marrow is a bit different, as it contains connective tissues as well as fat.

Your spleen helps to destroy bacteria and other invading substances by removing old as well as damaged blood cells and smaller parts called platelets.

Your white blood cells are considered the power player as they are the first line of attack against infections of all kinds.

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We Are Still Challenged by Aging and the Immune System

Again the good news about aging and the immune system is that if you treat it right, it holds up fairly good as we get older.

However, it still can be compromised and we will be challenged by different attacks in this aging process. They include some of the following:

  • Not responding to vaccinations
  • Getting sick more frequently
  • Slower reactions to injuries and infections

Although this system holds up better than others, as we age we are still more prone to not responding to certain vaccinations. The reason for this is simple: our T-cells.

T-cells are also part of aging and your immune system process as they are different for one major reason; they remember invaders.

If some bacterium or viruses attacks you for a second time, they immediately recognize and destroy them. However, as we get older, our body is not making as many of them as they used to.

But there is one exception we can be very happy about; the shingles virus. For reasons still not fully understood, your existing T-cells will attack this virus time after time and protect you.

We are also more likely to get sick easier then we used to as our immune cells will not communicate as quickly, and our injuries will not heal as quickly.

The reason for this is that as we begin this aging process, our bodies do not produce as many white blood cells as they used to.

There are several things we can do to help aging and the immune system such as eating as healthy as we can, moderate exercises, and quitting smoking.

However, the two most important things we can do are avoiding stress and get plenty of sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Sleep, or the lack of it, can have dramatic impacts on this system. The association with sleep and aging and the immune system is with the production of “cytokines.

Cytokines are released into our systems as we sleep, and a lack of enough sleep slows this process.

However, infection fighting anti-bodies are also released as we sleep, and episodes of lack of sleep, especially over long periods of time, effective both of these key agents by slowing their release.

What Stress Does to Our Body

Stress in hard on our bodies at any age, but as we get older, it can dramatically affect aging and the immune system.

When we become stressed or threatened for whatever reason, our brain is prompted to send nerve and hormonal signals to several glands to release adrenaline and cortisol.

This in turn alerts our immune system of an impending attack of some kind.

This process is very powerful, but it is also self-limiting. If you are under consent stress, this system will continue to react at full strength, which is not good.

Your body’s exposure to too much cortisol and other stress hormones affects other immune related functions at sets you up for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Digestive problems and Headaches
  • Sleep disorders and Memory Issues

Aging and the immune system can be challenging, but getting enough sleep and avoiding stress can go along ways in helping.

References

 http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/immune-system-lack-of-sleep#1

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