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Preventing Immune Senescence: An Immune-Boosting Strategy for Longevity

As you age, there's no denying the ample changes that happen to your overall health. Not only are there physical changes, but internally your cells are losing strength and aren't as valuable as they once were.

Your immune system is greatly affected by the aging process. It is composed of different types of cells that work together to fight off bacteria, infection, and other diseases. Unfortunately, if you catch a common cold at an older age, it can cause your health to decline more rapidly than when you were in your 20s, 30s or 40s.

The term "immune senescence" is described as a dying immune system and is now recognized as a huge emerging public heath threat. Currently, many doctors treat each condition you suffer from individually. This doesn't necessarily work to your advantage. Doctors are not properly correcting the root problem that's causing your immune system to die.

What are four characteristics of an aging immune system?
  • Loss of a group of natural killer cells
  • Loss of naïve T-cells
  • Build up of old memory cells
  • Loss of helper cells and gain suppressor cells

What are some ways you can you restore a youthful immune response?
  • enzymatically modified rice bran
  • Cistanche
  • Reishi mushroom extract

Dr. Mike discusses four characteristics of an aging immune system and how you can successfully restore a youthful immune response.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: March 5, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Healthy Talk with Dr. Michael Smith, MD. And now, here's the country doctor with the city education. Dr. Mike.

So, let's talk an immune boosting strategy for living longer. We're going to reverse what's called immunosenescence. Most of my career as a natural medicine doctor is really focusing on helping people be healthy right now; to prevent disease. But there's nothing wrong with trying to add some good years to that as well. So, working with Life Extension, I'm able to see a lot of the current research into living longer. But, I agree with you. I think it's about living healthier longer. I think that's an important point.

Conventional drugs, today, conventional approach, conventional medicine, what we call allopathic medicine, has increased longevity. People are living longer. Now, there are other reasons for that: cleaner water, running water, cleaner cities. But, the chemical prescriptions have played a role. I mean, antibiotics, for instance.

So, conventional medicine is helping us live longer, but it's going to be depressing, but go to like a general practitioner's office or a family doctor's office or an internal medicine doctor's office and just kind of look around the waiting room. What you see is, yes, you see older people—people living longer, but they don't look good. So, conventional medicine has maybe played a role in helping us live longer, but I don't necessarily think it's healthier. So, really, the focus here is, and it's my focus, it's not just about adding years, but healthy years. I mean, what's the point of living 2 or 3 more years and you can't move? You're stuck in a wheelchair. I mean, maybe some people think that's fine.

Personally, not me. That's not for me. So, I like to talk about and discuss and educate on things that you can do now that will add years to your life, but good years—years that you can now maybe take a second trip out to Europe or a 3rd trip or maybe go to China or someplace you've never been before. That's what I'm talking about. In order to do that, we need to talk more about the immune system. We talk a lot about antioxidants, which is important. We talk a lot about hormones and living longer—living healthier longer. That's important, too.

We talk about DNA, your genetics, the anti-aging genes, the sirtuins. I've talked about that several times and that's all important. But, if you don't strengthen your immune system and do things to help it function at an optimal, peak level throughout your life, a lot of those other things you're doing just aren't going to have as much of an impact as they could. So, I know that I want to talk more about the immune system. I'm going to try to make it sexy and fun as best I can, but it's hard because it's the immune system.

Well, there's this concept called immunosenescence. All that means is, an old, dying immune system. The word "senescence" just means "death" basically.

So, immunosenescence. It's just an old, dysfunctional, lack luster, not very sexy, immune system and it's one of the reasons why we eventually pass. We eventually die because our immune system is not strong. What we have found is that there are four components, or maybe I should say, four things that happen to an immune system as it gets older—immunosenescence, okay? What we need to do is, we need to reverse those four things and there are some ways to do that. I'm going to share that with you.

The four things that happen in immunosenescence, an old, aging, dying immune system, number one is you lose a group of cells called natural killer cells. These are your patrol cells. Natural killer cells are awesome. These are the types of cells you want floating around in your blood all the time. They fight cancers that develop quickly, viruses, bacteria, harmful yeast. I mean, anything that gets into your system that shouldn't be there, they're able to recognize very quickly as foreign, attack it and get rid of it. So, you want a lot of natural killer cells. Well, one of the first things that happens to an old, dying immune system is we lose those cells—the natural killer cells. That's the first thing. So, we've got to reverse that.

The second thing that happens is, we lose the production of brand new immune cells, what are called naïve cells. These are cells that are produced in the bone marrow. Some of them will mature in the bone marrow. Some will mature in the thymus.

That's where you get your B-cells, your T-cells. When they haven't been exposed to a certain foreign bacteria or something, they're called "naïve" and as we get older, we just don't make many of these brand new naïve immune cells, the bone marrow and the thymus, they just kind of pooter out a little bit.

The third thing that happens is we build up old memory cells. Now, having memory in your immune system is very powerful, right? The fact that you can remember, I mean, the whole vaccine industry is based on this concept. The fact that if I am attacked by chicken pox virus as a child, my body will develop cells—memory cells—that remember chicken pox.

So, if I get hit again, I have this robust immune response right away. I'm able to take care of it and I'm not even affected at all by it. It's amazing when you think about it. So, we want memory cells, but the problem is, some of those memory cells are never used again and they just sit there decade after decade after decade and they start causing problems. As a matter of fact, the older the memory cell gets, at some point, it's really not a memory cell any more. It's not going to respond to chicken pox anymore. That's why sometimes with vaccines, you have to get boosters, right? So, the memory cells, basically, stop being memory cells, but they're still there and they still have the ability to produce what are called "cytokines". These are pro-inflammatory proteins. I think one, in particular, we've found that old memory cells produce is interleukin 6, a very powerful inflammatory marker. So, you've got these old memory cells that really can't offer you any immune protection any more, yet they're driving inflammation which is the common denominator of all age-related disorders.

Then, the fourth thing that happens in immunosenescence is we lose what are called "helper cells" and we gain what are called suppressor cells. So, your immune system is kind of like a light-switch. Sometimes you turn it on, but once the infection is taken care of, you've got to turn it off. So, you have helper cells that turn on the switch; turn on the light; turn on the immune response, but then, you have suppressor cells that help to control it and then when you need the immune response to go away, it turns it off. You need a nice balance between helper and suppressor cells, but as we get older, we lose the ability to turn on the immune system, we lose the helper cells, but we gain a bunch of suppressor cells. So, as we get older, we have a suppressed immune system. It's compromised. So, those are the four components of immunosenescence.

Loss of natural killer cells. Now, number one, how can you reverse that? How can you get more natural killer cells? I like reishi mushroom extract. That will boost NK cell (natural killer cells). Also, I've talked about before, modified rice bran, enzymatically modified rice bran, is another great way to boost natural killer cells. So, that's one or two suggestions right there to reverse the first part of immunosenescence.

What about boosting naïve cells? Having your body make more young immune cells from the bone marrow or the thymus? There's an herb known as the ginseng of the dessert called cistanche. Taking that in an extract form has been shown to boost those naïve, brand new immune cells. So, we're going to be able to respond to brand new infections better.

What about getting rid of the old memory cells? Well, cistanche will help to get rid of those old memory cells that don't work anymore. Reishi can all play a little bit of a part in that as well. So, a nice extract of cistanche, the ginseng of the dessert, with reishi mushroom, you're going to help to boost natural killer cells; you're going to boost brand new cells and you're going to get rid of old memory cells. So, that's very helpful. Then, it also turns out that cistanche and reishi can improve that helper to suppressor ratio as well.
So, reishi, cistanche. Awesome for immune protection.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.