Does getting older mean you are more prone to immune challenges? It depends. Immune health evolves and matures throughout your life. Recent research has delved deeper into age-related immune decline and “immune competence” and has found that there is more to it than just your age. Immune system resiliency and vitality require several nutrients which greatly affects your immune competence to manage challenges at every age.
Whether you are young, middle age, or a senior citizen, your immune resilience requires micronutrients or vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients as well as a healthy lifestyle. Your nutrient status affects vast activities and components related to immune system vitality. Optimal nutrient reserves are required for mucosal membranes, white blood cells, cytokine production, antibody production, natural killer cells, T-cells, B-cells, immune generated inflammation, and every aspect of germ management.
Things that Impair Immune Health
Immune system function and competence is greatly impacted by your diet, environment, and lifestyle choices. Things that burden your immune system and increase the risk of chronic inflammation and poor immune tolerance includes:
• sedentary lifestyle
• hectic lifestyle with inadequate rest
• chronic exhaustive exercise routines
• chronic, unrelenting stress of any type
• processed, packaged food/fast food (calorie rich/nutrient poor foods)
• tobacco use
• alcohol use
• eating disorders
• restrictive diets
• sleep deprivation
• medications like antibiotics and acid blocking meds that change gut health
• gut dysbiosis
Age and Immune Competence
Why is it that you can have two people of the same age, similar backgrounds, perhaps even in the same household, and have one that is healthy and the other has failing health? You likely know someone who is still spry, active, and resilient in their 80’s or older, yet others in their 50’s can’t keep up with that pace and are frequently ill. Many reasons exist for this wide variation of health, but as research has progressed, it demonstrates just how important nutritional reserves are for immune competence and vitality to manage the effects of the above lifestyle habits.
A recent review study proposed that immune markers related with aging and a decline of immune vitality is not fully due to your age. Changes in immune vitality seen with age are rather related to “prolonged exposure to antigen stimulation and to oxidative stress involving the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS).”
In other words, excess free radical stress from the concerns listed above challenges your immune system functions, cell membranes and infrastructure, signaling mechanisms and the overall effectiveness or “competence” of your immune system. Unhealthy lifestyle choices and chronic stress combined with the cumulative effect of age lead to chronic low-grade inflammation or “inflammaging” and diminished immune competence.
Common Nutrient Deficits
The study goes on to demonstrate that management of inflammaging and immunocompetence requires several micronutrients. Unfortunately, billions of people across the globe experience nutritional inadequacies and may not fully grasp how this affects their immune health.
The most common nutritional deficiencies in the world are iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc, and folate. In addition, intake and tissue stores of vitamin D, vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium are often far less than optimal. Here is a short review of commonly found nutrient insufficiencies at different life stages.
Infants depend on their mother’s nutritional status for their growth and development during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and introduction of wholesome foods. If the mother didn’t get the nutrients in her diet or the baby is a picky eater, nutrient deficits often occur. Critical nutrients that are often lacking for the immune system are vitamins A, C, and D, B vitamins, iron and zinc.
Children and Adolescents
Children and adolescents often struggle with inadequate nutrient intake due to food choices, food availability, and eating patterns. Common nutrient deficits seen in these age groups include lack of iron, iodine, vitamins A, C, D, and E, folate, selenium, and zinc.
Adult nutrient status varies with age, digestive health and absorption, medication use, exercise and lifestyle, and cumulative wear-and-tear. Common nutrient deficiencies may include vitamins A, C, D, and E, B vitamins, folate, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and plant-based antioxidants.
Nutrients for Immune Vitality
Nutrients are like keys for all the different locks you have with your home, work, car, etc. Each nutrient provides unique functions and cannot be replaced by another vitamin or mineral or a different key. For example, your car key will not open the front door of your house. You need the right key for each type of door. When one or more keys are missing, it challenges your ability to get through the day.
In a similar manner, when you lack nutrients, it affects the functionality and competence of your immune system. Here is a brief overview of what some of these commonly lacking nutrients do for your immune system.
Vitamin A provides critical support for your mucosal barriers. It is required to maintain the integrity of the mucosal barriers of the sinus and respiratory tract, skin, digestive tract, and urogenital tract. This barrier is critical for immune defense and response.
Immune cells such as natural killer cells, macrophages, and neutrophils require vitamin A for normal function. Vitamin A supports proper function of T and B lymphocytes and is required for the development of antibody responses to antigens. Vitamin A also plays a substantial role in Th1 and Th2 immune cells levels and function as well as antioxidant support and modulation of anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
Vitamin A is found in animal foods. Plants provide carotenes which must be converted into vitamin A, but this process requires several nutrients and is not efficient.
Vitamin C is required to keep collagen strong which in turn supports the underlying structural integrity of mucosal barriers and your skin. You need healthy barriers to stop germs from entering your body.
Vitamin C provides antioxidant support as it quenches free radicals released by the immune system and other organs and tissues in defense and daily wear-and-tear. It also helps to recycle other antioxidants like glutathione, selenium, and others.
Vitamin D is used by every cell in your body. It is a powerful immune modulator that enhances the innate immune system and inhibits the adaptive immune response. This helps your immune system manage adverse inflammatory responses, germs, gene signals, and cell responses.
Adequate vitamin D helps your immune system better tolerate foreign antigens. Vitamin D also regulates various antimicrobial proteins which provide lethal protection against invading germs.
Vitamin E provides antioxidant protection to cell membranes. It supports the production and activity of immune compounds and cells like beneficial interleukins, natural killer cells, T cell-mediated function, and immune modulation.
Your immune system requires B vitamins for their direct role in immuno-mitochondrial functions as well as cellular immunity. In particular, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate are involved with natural killer cell activities and are needed for the formation of antibodies against antigens. They support immuno-modulatory actions that affect development and maturation of various types of white blood cells and immune compounds Th1, cytokines, and antibodies.
Magnesium affects the development, function, and abundance of certain types of white blood cells, macrophages, enzymes, cytokines, mast cells, and histamine that manage acute stressors. It is also required for the day-to-day cellular operations and germ management within the immune system.
A deficit of magnesium causes increased oxidative stress, decreased glutathione levels and other antioxidants. Depleted magnesium also disrupts your intestinal mucosal barrier, is associated with lower levels of beneficial bifidobacteria in your gut microbiome and leads to higher levels of pro-inflammatory compounds.
Zinc is used by both your innate and adaptive parts of your immune system. A lack of zinc interferes with how various white blood cells and other immune compounds can attach to, attack, and kill germs. Zinc is required for natural killer cell production and activity, T-cell and B-cell maturation and activity.
When zinc stores are insufficient in your tissues, the function and numbers of immune soldier cells are significantly handicapped. Inadequate zinc decreases your immune system’s ability to make antibodies against germs. Increased tissue inflammation, higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and NF-kappa B and few antibodies occur.
Nearly 20 percent of the population across the globe is deficient in zinc and an even greater percentage of the population likely lacks optimal tissue stores of zinc. Once you are deficient with this mineral, it can up to 12-24 months to replenish tissue levels.
Excess chronic zinc intake may also impair immune function. Zinc needs to be balanced with the trace mineral copper.
Copper also enhances your innate and adaptive parts of your immune system. It is involved with the function of natural killer cells, macrophages, T-helper cells and B cells which attack and kill invading microbes, especially viruses. Copper is also required for the process of producing specific antibodies against germs.
Insufficient copper intake leads to lower numbers of T-cells and other white blood cells, a small thymus and affects your spleen. High intake of zinc, such as 40 mg or more at one time competes against copper absorption in the intestinal tract.
Iron is required for B-cell production, T-lymphocyte function, and immune competence. A healthy level of iron helps your innate immune cells, macrophages, microglia, and some white blood cells fight against bacteria. It can generate reactive oxygen species which is toxic to pathogens.
Insufficient iron intake is the most common nutrient deficiency across the globe with 25 percent or more individuals affected by iron deficiency. Current estimates show that nearly 30-47 percent of children and pregnant women lack iron.
Iron is very carefully controlled and regulated in your body as both insufficiency and excess affect immune function. Iron supplementation, when it is not needed or with iron excess storage disorders like hemochromatosis, can adversely impact immune function.
Excess iron can be used by invading pathogens to reproduce and thrive as they use the iron for their survival. Do not use iron indiscriminately if you are ill. Work with your health care professional to periodically evaluate your iron and serum ferritin levels in your blood.
The trace mineral selenium is also highly important for immune system function and homeostasis. Selenium attaches to proteins to form selenoproteins which initiate and regulate immune responses. Selenoproteins are directly involved with “immunoregulation.”
The presence of selenium naturally influences immune cell activities, receptor site signaling, natural killer cells, oxidative stress management, and provides protection against cytokines and other inflammatory compounds.
Selenium is also a powerful antioxidant. It directly supports glutathione, your master antioxidant and its enzymes that affect all tissues, especially your immune system, digestive tract, respiratory tract, liver, cell membranes, and thyroid gland.
Each nutrient is essential for your body’s vast, complex, intertwined immune needs for all stages of your life. You cannot substitute one nutrient for another like you can substitute a similar ingredient for another in a recipe. Each and every single nutrient provides unique contributions to your physiology. Your immune system needs a master key chain of nutrients for immunocompetence and resilience at every age but is affected by diet, lifestyle, and environmental challenges. How are you doing with your “nutritional keys”?
Fundamental nutritional support for immune vitality includes:
• Daily Protector Eye & Immune (antioxidant formula, zinc, copper)
• Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin, Daily Prenatal Multiple Vitamin, or Super Mini Multi (Multivitamins with coenzyme B vitamins and folate. Latter two contain iron)
• Vitamin D
Additional support may include:
• Activator Plus (trace minerals, amino acids, glutathione precursors)
• Blood Booster (iron bisglycinate and folate)
• Daily Super E (tocotrienol vitamin E)
• Iosol Iodine (water-soluble iodine)
• Muscle Mag or RelaxaMag (magnesium)
• Strengthener Plus (zinc/ copper formula)
Additional information may be found below:
Vitamin A – An Essential Nutrient for Immune, Respiratory, and Gut Health
B Vitamin Deficiency: Are You at Risk?
Vitamin B12 Essential for Energy, Mood, and Overall Health
Vitamin C for Stress, Collage, Immunity
New Discoveries Highlight the Importance of Vitamin D
Remarkable Tocotrienols for Cardiovascular, Brain, Immune Health and More
Are You Taking Folate or Folic Acid? Read This First
Glutathione and Vitamin D: A Powerful Essential Connection
Taking Zinc? Balance It With Copper!
Important Things to Know About Iron Deficiency
Insufficient Magnesium – Public Health Crisis Declared
The Immune System Requires Healthy Mitochondria
Healthy Mucosal Barriers Makes for a Healthier You
Zinc Essential for Immunity, Sense of Smell, and More