Did you know that your immune system ages?
Over time, your immune system shifts to a state of chronic activation – it stops turning itself down when not needed, like a home furnace pumping hot air into your house even though it’s already warm. Scientists call this shift “immune-aging” or “immune senescence”. Why does this matter? Immune-aging accelerates aging; it may also damage your brain.
What does your immune system do for you, anyway?
Your immune system kicks in anytime there is an injury or infection. When you are sick with the flu, it makes you feel tired, listless and feverish, forcing you to stay in bed and divert your energy towards fighting infection. Feeling sick is no fun – but there is an upside. These symptoms mean your immune system is actively repairing tissues and repelling invaders, which is a good thing.
A healthy immune system keeps your memory running smoothly
But your immune system does even more: it regulates your biological operating zone, the optimal conditions and temperatures needed for all your vital biochemical reactions. Like an engine’s temperature gauge, if things get too hot or too cold, you are at risk of engine failure. A healthy immune system makes sure this doesn’t happen, and that’s why it plays a huge role in memory storage. Every time you encode new information, the cells in your memory circuits alter their shape and their connections to physically incorporate the new memory into the existing memory cell matrix. Amazingly, your immune system oversees these biochemical cell reactions, turning on and turning off various switches to ensure that remembering and learning occur smoothly and seamlessly.
But there is one catch: when your immune system is activated to attack infection or injury, it will interfere with memory. If you’ve ever tried studying for a big exam while sick with the flu, you’ll know exactly how that feels. An immune system in combat mode is not conducive to good memory recall. We all know that our memory declines with age, and immune-aging may be one of the reasons. Is memory capacity during immune-aging like trying to remember with a head cold? It may be.
So how do we fight immune-aging? Here are five ways to get started.
The good news: exercise calms your overactive immune system and decreases immune-aging. It takes about 6 months of regular exercise to reap the immune benefits. For the best results, please speak to a kinesiologist at Copeman Healthcare to have a personalized program designed to match your individual needs.
2. QUIT YOUR IMMUNE-ACTIVATING HABITS
Do you overeat sugary or high-fat food? Are you a social binge-drinker? Have you gained weight as you get older? These habits all cause immune activation, which is like throwing accelerant on a fire – exponentially increasing your immune-aging. If being sharp matters to you, it’s time to let go of unhealthy habits.
3. REDUCE PERIPHERAL INFLAMMATION
Peripheral inflammation is damage or disease occurring outside the brain – for example, affecting your heart or muscles. Any disease or injury downstream from the brain causes an upstream immune response in the brain that could affect your memory. Don’t put off treating lingering or chronic diseases – this includes high cholesterol, back pain, joint injuries, and skin problems. And take the time to fully recover after surgery – surgery activates the immune system and can interfere with memory in the early post-op period.
4. LOSE THOSE EXTRA POUNDS
There is no way around it: being overweight spells trouble for your brain. This is because fat cells trigger an immune response that over time damages your brain’s memory circuits, proportional to pounds of excess weight – and degree of memory loss over time. Losing weight is hard — but keep in mind that all-or-nothing thinking can derail you. Even a small weight loss of 5 pounds can be beneficial. If you’ve struggled with weight loss in the past it might be time to consult a Registered Dietitian who can help you kick bad habits and lose that weight.
5. EAT ANTI-INFLAMMATORY SUPERFOODS
Anti-inflammatory foods may reduce immune-aging. Berries, wild salmon, chia or flax seeds, olive oil and other components of the Mediterranean diet, and fermented or probiotic foods are all good choices. If you can do one thing: try to eliminate fast food and processed food, and cook real food at home.
In the end, keeping your immune system in mind may help you make healthy choices to keep your amazing brain as young as possible for as long as you can.