Your Immune System Plays a Big Role in Living to 100

  • New research explores the genetic and lifestyle differences of people who live to be at least 100 years old.
  • The study researchers found that people who live past the age of 100 have robust immune systems.
  • Doctors say the results of the study could eventually help lead to treatments that could help extend the lives of others.

Many people aim to live a long and healthy life, and scientists may have discovered the secret to making it happen.

A new study published in the journal eBioMedicine, analyzed the DNA and lifestyle of seven centenarians (that is, people who are at least 100 years old) to try to understand how they lived so long. Researchers have found that people in the 100+ group have a highly functioning immune system that has fought off and recovered from various illnesses.

Although the study was small, the researchers said in a statement that this is the largest single-cell dataset of centenarian subjects to date. According to data from The United Nations.

So is having a robust immune system in old age the key to living longer? Here’s what we know.

Why might a strong immune system help you live longer?

It’s important to note up front that the study didn’t prove that having a strong immune system helps you live longer – it just found that people who live past 100 have stronger immune systems. strong. “It’s unclear whether this is the driver of extreme age or the consequence of it,” says Scott KaiserMD, geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California. However, there are a few points worth exploring here.

The first is that your immune system tends to become less robust as you age, says lead study author Tanya Karagiannis, Ph.D., senior bioinformatician at the Center for Quantitative Methods and Data Science, Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts. Medical Center.

“As we age, changes occur in our immune systems, including their function and cellular composition, and these changes can lead to age-related diseases,” she says. “Many centenarians experience delays in the onset of age-related diseases, suggesting the presence of elite immunity that continues to remain highly functional even into extremely old age.”

But centenarians also seem to come into contact with their fair share of pathogens, Karagiannis says. “Our results suggest that centenarians are at greater risk of infections and harbor unique and highly functional immune systems to cope with these exposures, allowing for reaching very old age.“, she says.

Also on a very basic level, having a strong immune system means your body is better able to fight off infections that could be serious and even deadly, says Thomas Russo, MD, chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. York. “One of the main causes of death is infection,” he says. “We’re doing better in this age of antibiotics and a variety of supportive therapies, but we’re still pretty flawed in trying to manage serious infections.”

“If someone has an immune system that behaves like that of a much younger individual, they are much less likely to die from infections,” Dr Russo continues. “Although this is not the only factor in reaching old age, it is an important factor.”

How to support a healthy immune system

Much of your immune system’s performance depends on genetics, says Dr. Russo, and the latest findings from the study confirm this. “Our study suggests that there are changes in immune system gene expression specific to centenarians,” Karagiannis says.

You can’t really build an immune system like a centenarian, but you can “artificially boost” it to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for any pathogens that might come your way, says Dr. Russo. “That means making sure you’re up to date with all the vaccines we recommend with the right timing,” he says. “It’s definitely better than not getting vaccinated.”

It’s also important to see your healthcare provider regularly and, if you’re in a high-risk group for developing serious or life-threatening complications from infections, to have a low threshold to call your doctor, says the Dr Russo.

Dr. Russo emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and getting at least seven hours of sleep a night. “Anything that’s good for your overall health will potentially help your immune system and your longevity,” he says.

“The practice of mindfulness, self-care, and stress management are also important,” says Dr. Kaiser. “It’s amazing the evidence that shows regular meditation can have a significant positive impact on your immune system.”

Ultimately, says Karagiannis, “we don’t have the answer to the question of how to live longer.” However, it could happen. “Our findings may provide a foundation for exploring potential drivers of extreme old age that could lead to the discovery of healthy aging therapies,” she says.

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, health and sex, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives near the beach, and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and a taco truck.

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