Article Audio Reading In Different Languages
As you grow older, your immune system just doesn’t work as well as it used to.
Scientists call it “immune senescence.” This process is actually considered a hallmark of the aging process itself.
Unfortunately, it leaves older folks increasingly susceptible to a variety of health concerns.
That’s why I’m writing today.
To tell you about a research-proven natural health strategy that offers seniors new hope . . .
With support for better immune function, a more stable mood, improved digestion, and overall well-being.
And it’s all connected to an area of your body you might not expect has anything to do with your immune system.
But before we get into this natural solution, it’s important to know how growing older contributes to immune function decline:
- First, with increasing age, you have fewer immune T cells. These cells are necessary to recognize and respond to health threats.
- Second, you accumulate more worn-out memory-type T cells, which have lost their ability to divide and function properly.
Instead, they release pro-inflammatory molecules. An imbalanced inflammatory response further accelerates immune system decline — and contributes to many other health issues seniors face.
- Third, older adults face a decrease in natural killer (NK) cell activity, linked to increased risk of adverse health concerns.
But apart from changes to specific cells in your immune system . . .
There’s a key factor associated with the immune decline of aging — and it relates to your gut.
The Immune System and Your “Second Brain”
Did you know you have two brains?
Deep within the walls of your gut lies a network of 100 million nerve cells — more than you have in either your spinal cord or peripheral nervous system.
Scientists call this second brain in your digestive system the enteric nervous system or ENS.
While it can’t balance your checkbook or help you solve a crossword puzzle, your gut’s second brain is extremely powerful.
And these powers extend far beyond merely processing the food you eat.
Here’s why . . .
Scientists have discovered that around 70% to 80% of your immune system is actually located inside your gut.
This immune system in your digestive tract is designed to “fence off” potential threats from gaining entrance to the rest of your body through your circulation.
And the enteric nervous system inside your gut helps to regulate many of your vital immune functions.
So as you can imagine, supporting your gut’s immune system is vital to maintaining health as you age.
Providing this support means taking care of the defenders that live there.
The “Soldiers” in Your Gut
Your gut is home to about 100 trillion bacteria. So many of them, they weigh 2 or 3 pounds!
And because so many living organisms make a home there, many scientists now consider your gut to be an organ of sorts. They call it the microbial organ — or microbiome.
You’ve probably heard about the beneficial bacteria in your gut — your defending “soldiers.”
For you to remain optimally healthy, about 85% of the bacteria in your gut should be comprised of friendly bacteria, such as Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria.
The remaining 15% are different kinds of non-beneficial microbes, but their minority status helps keep them in check.
Unfortunately, in many people — especially older folks — this ratio becomes skewed. The non-beneficial bacteria increase in numbers, crowding out your good soldiers.
And since most of your immune system is located in your gut, this does not bode well for your aging immune function.
In fact, research shows that a delicate balance of microbial species is required to maintain healthy immune function. A disturbance in this balance can result in an imbalanced inflammatory response leading to health concerns, even the frailty of old age.
Threats to Your Gut Bacteria
Researchers are becoming more and more aware that microbial balance in the gut becomes increasingly disturbed by the aging process itself.
And not only that . . .
Consider how many toxins we’re exposed to today — especially in our water and food.
More than 80,000 chemicals are currently used in the U.S. today. Most of them have not been adequately tested for their effects on our health. Of course, this includes our gut health.
And there’s the matter of our generally poor diets, low in fiber and high in fat and refined carbohydrates. As a nutritionally-oriented doctor, I consider this a major factor.
These dietary concerns influence the type of gut microbes we have — as well as their ability to function. Because this can negatively modify immune function.
Even certain medications can disrupt the proper balance of your gut microbes. Of particularly importance are medications you know as antibiotics.
Antibiotics and Your Immune Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), at least 30% of antibiotic treatments prescribed in the outpatient setting are unnecessary.
Unfortunately, every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed. But resistant ones are left to grow and multiply. This means that overuse of antibiotics is a major cause of the epidemic rise in drug-resistant bacteria.
And this antibiotic resistance is of particular concern for older adults, who have a high rate of antibiotic use.
Because antibiotics have a wide range of effects, they also kill off those “friendly” bacteria in the gut, leading to upset in the composition of the intestinal microbes.
Eventually this can lead back to that undesirable imbalanced inflammatory response and immune health concerns.
And if this wasn’t bad enough, what happens in your gut also affects your mood and your overall health.
Your “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well‑Being
Contrary to popular opinion, mood changes are not all in your head . . .
Whenever you’ve experienced a “gut feeling” or felt “butterflies in your stomach,” this is your second brain talking to you.
A big part of your emotions are likely influenced by the nerves in your gut, which communicate back and forth with the brain in your skull.
It may surprise you to know that your gut’s enteric nervous system is home to more than 30 neurotransmitters, including serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine.
In fact, 95% of your body’s serotonin is found in the bowels.
Serotonin is a chemical responsible for mood control (you’ll often find serotonin regulated by certain antidepressant medications).
Scientists are just beginning to unravel the complexities of the enteric nervous system. They’ve found that the bacteria in your gut may affect not only the gut, but the mind itself.
Emerging research indicates that your gut’s nervous system may influence emotions, response to stress, pain perception, and other aspects of behavior.
According to Johns Hopkins University, the enteric nervous system can trigger big emotional shifts in people coping with digestive health concerns such constipation, bloating, stomach upset, and others.
That’s because irritation in the GI system sends signals to the brain that can trigger these mood changes.
In fact, research suggests that serotonin dysfunction in the GI system can lead to impairments in brain function that involve mood, sleep, and behavior.
This is yet another important reason to keep your gut happy and healthy.
So what’s the best way to do this?
Well, I don’t really recommend commercial yogurts today.
They are loaded with sugar and other additives. Plus, they are often heat processed or pasteurized, which destroys some of their live bacterial cultures.
That’s why I recommend supplementing your diet with probiotics to help balance the bacteria in your gut.
This is especially important for older adults, as you’ve already seen.
Millions of people take probiotics today, but do they really work?
The answer is “yes” — with a caution you’ll see in a moment.
And the science is solid . . .
Multiple clinical trials have found that probiotics can enhance immune function in the elderly.
A 2019 review of research in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism also notes that probiotics help regulate the inflammatory process.
The Harvard Health website reports that probiotics can do more than support the health of your digestive tract. They can enhance mood and cognitive function — and decrease stress and anxious feelings.
And a 2017 review in the journal Gut Microbes considers the use of probiotics a sound nutritional strategy for healthy aging.
However . . .
Despite all these great benefits of probiotics, it’s not a smart idea to go down to your drugstore, grocery store, or discount store and pick up a bottle.
The Real Truth About Many Probiotic Supplements
Unfortunately, researchers warn that about half of the probiotic products available today do not contain the bacteria listed on the label.
Even those that do may not have the correct mix of bacterial strains to benefit your health.
And low quality products may not be manufactured in the correct way to help the bacteria survive a trip to the supermarket shelf, no less the harsh trip through your acid-laden GI tract.
For this reason, using a high quality probiotic supplement is the only way to guarantee maximum health benefits.
Disclaimer: This article is not a medical advice and may not reflect the opinion of GQ.