As we age, our body reduces its ability to protect itself. This is reflected in the disproportionate numbers of older people getting sick and dying from Covid-19.
We are born with white cells which respond rapidly to infection and protect us from many bacterial, viral or fungal infections. Our bodies also have white cells and antibodies which we make as the result of infection and are targeted to those infections. Unfortunately, new infections such as Covid-19 or a new flu virus may meet with no resistance in bodies never previously infected. It is therefore prudent for us to look at the steps we might take to enhance our immune age and own protection.
We are all aware of some protective measures which we should use in the event of a pandemic such as that presented by Covid-19; these include distancing ourselves from others, using masks and clothing which may/may not protect us, washing our hands regularly – but not much more.
However, there are other steps we can all take to reduce the harm done by any infection we may acquire. Apart from our age, we have little to guide us when assessing our immune age; but, some – those who smoke, those with diabetes, those who are overweight, etc - might assume an immune age far greater than their years might suggest.
We can all improve our immune age by:
- Exercise. Skeletal muscle - when used - is anti-inflammatory and is a profound immunoregulator. 10,000 steps/day will provide older people with the same protection as that enjoyed by the young.
- An appropriate diet will enhance the immune system. A healthy gut microbiome (fresh fruit and veg) and a reduced caloric intake are both said to reduce your immune age.
- The most important drugs used to restore the function of neutrophils, ie our protective white cells, are statins. These drugs are used to lower cholesterol in our diets and are sometimes prescribed by doctors to patients with heart disease. They also minimise the severe reactions, sometimes seen in viral infections, which may lead to pneumonia and death.
- The ageing process itself may interfere with the protective function of T-cells (cells targeted by our bodies to combat infection). However, restorative function has been shown to follow daily dosing of vitamin E (200 IU) and vitamin D (1-2000 IU). Zinc is effective in viral infections but has a narrow therapeutic dose range. It is important to understand that, if taking vitamins and minerals, more is not better. Toxic levels are easily achieved by overdosing.
Certain drugs, such as the older antimalarials and those used by patients with rheumatoid arthritis, have been recommended by Donald Trump to treat Covid-19. These are often toxic, especially when taken in high doses, and have not passed the usual testing regimes. They should only be taken under supervision and with great care. An old antiparasitic drug, Ivermectin, is currently being investigated in Australia.
We should all strive for daily exercise and good food.