Aging allows susceptibility to many diseases. We are normally protected by our immune system. A recent announcement made by the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that asymptomatic (people who have COVID-19 with no symptoms) cannot infect others. The next day the WHO clarified and retracted their statement.
There are two types of asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. One is the group that is truly asymptomatic and remain so during the entire disease cycle – usually around two weeks. There is another group called presymptomatic that has no symptoms for the first several days and then has a mild case of COVID-19.
This presymptomatic group is treated at home by quarantine – again, two weeks. The clarification by the WHO was that the presymptomatic people can infect others. My best guess is that our immune system affects our response to the coronavirus – and, other viruses, diseases, etc.
If our immune system is strong and effective, then we most likely will be asymptomatic – have COVID-19 and never know it. If our immune system is marginal, then we could be in that presymptomatic group. Initially, we have no symptoms and then have a mild case of COVID-19 that does not require hospitalization.
If your immune system is challenged – almost nonfunctional – the COVID-19 virus can enter your body and make your life a living hell. You will be hospitalized, and your risk of death increases significantly.
What happens to our immune system when we age? In my book, Longevity Secrets for Healthy Aging, I wrote about the two major factors that cause us to age. One is the natural decline in our body’s ability to make human growth hormone (HGH). The other is the loss of telomeres as a cell replicates.
HGH is the prime controller for our bodies as we grow from infants to teenagers to adults. As an infant, our bodies produce about 2000 mg of HGH. At 20 years of age, the production of HGH drops to around 700 mg. Ten years later, HGH levels fall to around 400 mg. By the time you reach 60 years of age, you produce about 10% of what you did as an infant. Passing through your eighth decade, the production rate falls near one percent of the maximum produced as an infant.
HGH is not the only hormone to decrease with age. All hormone levels decrease. HGH is no longer made at sufficient levels to influence or control the functions needed by our bodies.
At sixty years of age, we see many people susceptible to diseases, infections, and more health issues. Naïve T cells respond to new pathogens like COVID-19 because our immune system has not seen them before. Once our immune system as seen and recognized as an invader, it builds memory T cells to fight that invader the next time it invades our bodies.
We begin to lose naïve T cells at the onset of puberty. Most researchers believe that the thymus is programmed to make fewer naïve T cells as we age. A few researchers believe that our body’s support environment for naïve T cells is the real cause of the loss.
An elderly person with pre-existing conditions (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, and more) has an immune system that is overtaxed and unable to maintain any semblance of function. Add the loss of naïve T cells to that equation and it is easy to understand why they are the most susceptible to COVID-19, a new pathogen the body has never seen before.
In a younger person, naïve T cells react to the new invader (COVID-19 for example). Once the invader has been encountered, antigens are made, and the naïve T cells are converted into memory T cells that quickly respond the next time that invading disease cell is found in the body. Aging and other factors cause memory T cells to become senescent memory T cells.
Senile or senescent memory T cells cause inflammation in the body. One of the more deadly inflammatory agents is called interleukin-6 (IL-6). Increased levels of IL-6 enhance many degenerative processes in the body. People who live to over 100 years of age have low levels of IL-6.
The immune system protects us against outside invaders. IL-6 attacks healthy cells inside our bodies and adds a dimension that the immune system does not address. An aging immune system (immune senescence or immune imbalance) is powerless to fight effectively. Death from pneumonia is rare when a person is young, but it is one of the top ten causes of death for those over the age of 65.
What can you do? Nutrients such as zinc and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) improve the thymus function. DHEA and fish oil suppress IL-6. Cistanche, a popular herb used in Chinese anti-aging medicine, increases naïve T cells and natural killer (NK) cells and decreases IL-6.
I research and provide awareness and information about health and wellness. Consult your physician regarding any changes you might want to make regarding anything contained in this article, especially if you are taking prescription medicines.
Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – RedOLaughlin.com