The Ups And Down In Our Immunity With Age

  • 4 mins read
  • Health Conditions
  • Immunity
  • Dr. Pramod Mane

Our body has its army. It’s called the immune system, fighting off infections and keeping the bad guys away, a.k.a. germs. That’s what it does.

As a lifelong friend, it has been there with us ever since we were babies. Over time, it experiences various changes.  Let’s have a look at how our immune system evolves from birth to old age.

Babies are softies

We all know that babies are as sensitive as they are cute. Even their natural immune system is relatively mute at birth. This means that they can catch infections easily as compared to adults.  As they grow older, their immune system matures, and they get stronger. They accumulate memories of infections and how to fight them off.

This highlights two concepts – innate and acquired immunity.

We are all born with something called innate immunity, which is fast-acting and non-specific. As we grow older and encounter infections, we acquire the ability to fight them by developing antibodies and retain this memory, called acquired immunity.

We also inherit antibodies from our dearest mothers. This is transferred from the maternal blood to us before we are born.  During a natural birth, a baby gets covered with microbes that can build its immunity. Breastfeeding can also stimulate the baby’s immune system development.

The glow up

From eating home food prepared carefully or from roadside stalls, our immune systems sure do glow up! How is that possible, ever wondered?

Our gut has countless bacteria called the gut microbiome, helping in various functions of the body. One of them is maintaining and supporting the immune system.

When we’re born, we hardly have a few of these microbes in our gut, but as we grow up, meet people, travel to different places, eat different food, this number grows. The gut microbiome becomes more extensive and diverse as we grow up. This translates to a stronger immune system.

Aging gracefully

A well-developed immune system is vital as it accumulates immune memory and maintains the individual’s health during the critical years of life, including childbearing. It not only protects us from harmful infections but also controls different persisting infections, some of which have the potential to cause cancer.

The main role of the immune system is to protect your body against infections. As we grow older, immunity goes down, with a major impact on health and survival.

We can maintain our immunity by eating a healthy diet and by exercising regularly. We must also stay away from activities that can harm our immune system, like smoking, eating junk food, being stressed, no sleep, etc.

Sans teeth, eyes, taste – everything

This quote from Shakespeare’s work aptly describes old age! As we grow old, most of our bodily functions begin to decline – this includes decreased immunity and is called immunosenescence, which puts our elderly at higher risk of infections.

Studies show that elderly patients are nearly 3 times more likely to die from bacterial or viral infections as compared to the younger ones.

This warrants better care for their immune health. To keep your immunity top-notch even at old age – don’t forget to stay active, get vaccinations, and keep up with your medications and supplements (Vitamins C & D and Zinc) to live a stress-free life. Isn’t that the best part about retirement?

Survival of the fittest

Often we take our immune system for granted because it does such a good job at keeping us free from infections around the clock! If you’ve got a healthy immune system, look after it, and it will reciprocate.

References:

  1. Holland & Barrett. Health hub. Immune system.
  2. Simon AK, et al. Evolution of the immune system in humans from infancy to old age. Proc Biol Sci. 2015;282(1821):20143085.
  3. Hanson LA, et al. The transfer of immunity from mother to child. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003;987:199-206.
  4. Tanaka M, et al. Development of the gut microbiota in infancy and its impact on health in later life. Allergol Int. 2017;66(4):515-522.
  5. Mutic AD, et al. The postpartum maternal and newborn microbiomes. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 2017;42(6):326-331.

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