When you get old, you become more prone to infections. Although “50 years” is not considered aged, you need to start taking vitamins to boost immunity and fight the infections.
Aging is not a disease state but physiologic changes that do occur. Most patients note subtle changes like body temperature and sleep abnormalities after the age of 50 years. However, some patients may note these changes as early as 35 – 40 years of age.
Important hormonal changes that are responsible for these changes are gonadotrophins, growth hormone, thyrotropin, melatonin, and ACTH. Progenitor stem cells may become inefficient and decrease in number.
Other harmful factors may increase relatively. These include inflammatory markers like fibrinogen and plasminogen activator inhibitor – 1
Furthermore, these changes are confounded by illnesses and frailty.
With increasing age, the immune system continues to decline. A declining immune system is the most critical of all the changes that occur with aging.
A dysfunctional immune system can result in infections, autoimmune disorders, cancers, and chronic conditions like heart, kidney, and liver problems.
The shortening of telomeres makes the cells vulnerable to DNA damage.
What is successful aging and why you need Vitamins to boost immunity?
When a person ages without developing chronic illnesses including mental and physical illnesses. Some patients are termed as “exceptionally healthy”.
These patients are aged but have normal blood pressure, sugars, cholesterol levels, do not have any chronic conditions, do not take any medicines, and have normal body weight.
Since nutrition plays an important part in the health maintenance and immune status of the patient, the AAFP (American college of family physicians) recommends routine nutritional assessment and counseling.
Both obesity and undernutrition are detrimental to patients’ health. Individuals who lose more than 10% of their body weight needs evaluation for an underlying disease state.
Respiratory infections, influenza, and pneumonia, in particular, are the leading cause of death in individuals who are older than 65 years of age.
Undernutrition is one of the major causes of low immune status. Micronutrient malnutrition is a common form of undernutrition. Individuals especially those older than 65 years of age are particularly deficient in micronutrients and minerals.
Patients do not use a variety of food items as they age. Loss and teeth decay may also result in limiting certain food items especially dry fruits.
Important micronutrient deficiencies that may result in a dysfunctional immune system include zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, Vitamin D, and vitamin E.
Zinc – a micromineral that boosts your immunity:
Zinc is one of the important minerals that have great health benefits. It is especially important to maintain the cellular lining of the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract.
Hence, its deficiency is associated with frequent respiratory infections and diarrhea. Another important role of zinc is in individuals with sexual dysfunction and hypogonadism.
Food Sources of zinc:
oysters, crab, lean meats and poultry, baked beans, yogurt, and chickpeas. It is also available as a dietary supplement.
Selenium for boosting immunity:
It is a trace micromineral. It is present in the hematopoietic cells and tissues that are involved in the regulation of the immune system like the liver, spleen and lymph nodes.
It is important for skeletal growth and the heart. Patients who are deficient in selenium are also prone to immune dysregulation. It enhances the activity of natural killer cells and inhibits HIV replication.
Selenium prevents inflammation and prevents the development of autoimmune thyroid disease. It has also been studied in the prevention of cancers.
It is also beneficial for atherosclerotic heart disease and may improve glucose metabolism.
Food Sources of selenium:
Food sources of selenium include garlic, broccoli, sardines, tuna, brazil nuts, and barley.
Iron is required for the immune system:
It is one of the most important micronutrients and responsible for a number of cellular functions. The deficiency of iron is most commonly associated with iron-deficiency anemia.
Patients with Iron deficiency anemia may experience fatigue, irritability, lethargy, shortness of breath, and palpitations.
Food Sources of Iron:
Iron is mostly found in animal diets such as meat, fish, eggs, oil, and liver. Plant sources of iron include apple, spinach, and other leafy vegetables.
Copper to boost immunity:
Copper is another important micronutrient. It may cause anemia similar to iron deficiency anemia. The deficiency of copper also causes neutropenia that is an important cellular defense mechanism against a variety of infections.
Deficiency of copper may also result in neurological manifestations such as impaired memory, difficulty walking, and pins and needles in the limbs. Copper deficiency may also make the bones weak resulting in osteoporosis.
Food Sources of Copper:
It is found in high concentrations in the liver, brain, and to a lesser degree, in kidney, heart, and pancreas.
Folic acid – an important vitamin to boost immunity:
Folic acid is an important vitamin that is required for cellular replication. Deficiency of folic acid results in megaloblastic anemia, oral ulcers, smooth tongue as a result of the loss of papillae, diarrhea, and mucosal inflammation, and recurrent infections.
Food sources of folic acid:
Folic acid is found in green leafy vegetables, fruits, cereals and grains, nuts, and meats.
Vitamin A is required for humoral and cellular immunity:
Vitamin A deficiency results in night blindness, dry eyes, dry skin, poor bone growth, and impaired cellular and humoral immunity.
The WHO recommends supplementing Vitamin A in developing countries because of its beneficial effects on immune function.
Vitamin A drops are also given to patients with measles to avoid visual problems.
Food sources of Vitamin A:
Vitamin A is found in the liver, kidney, egg yolk, and butter. Beta-carotene is a provitamin A that is mostly found in green leafy vegetables, sweet potato, and carrots.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine):
Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine is also called as the anti-pellagra factor. Mild deficiency results in stomatitis, glossitis, cheilosis, irritability, and depression.
Severe deficiency, although rare, may manifest with severe neuropathy, venous thromboembolism, and impaired immunity resulting in frequent infections.
It is also used to treat patients with Down’s syndrome, autism, gestational diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, depression, and diabetic neuropathy.
Food Sources of Pyridoxine:
Meats, whole grains, vegetables, and nuts are the best sources of vitamin B6.
Vitamin B12 causes neutropenia:
Vitamin B 12 or cobalamine is required for cellular replication. Its deficiency is very commonly seen especially in developing countries.
Patients present with macrocytic anemia or pancytopenia. Patients may also notice a slight yellowish discoloration of the sclera as a result of an increase in the unconjugated bilirubin.
Other patients may develop pancytopenia and recurrent infections as a result of neutropenia, dementia, neuropathy, and gait problems.
Patients who have gastric or colonic surgery, chronic diarrhea, Inflammatory bowel diseases, pernicious anemia, and strict vegetarians are at a high risk of developing vitamin B 12 deficiency.
Food sources of Vitamin B 12:
It is the only vitamin that is only found in animal diets. It is concentrated in the liver and meat.
Vitamin C for immunity:
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid acts as an antioxidant. It is essential for collagen and connective tissue synthesis.
Its deficiency results in scurvy, impaired wound healing, joint pains, and recurrent infections.
It is recently been advocated in patients with coronavirus infection, however, data in this regard is limited.
Important food sources of vitamin C:
It is found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, cabbage, and spinach.
Vitamin E as a free-radical scavenger:
Vitamin E is commonly used in patients with infertility, muscle spasms, dyslipidemia, and liver diseases caused by fatty infiltration.
Vitamin E deficiency has also been associated with hemolytic anemia and impaired immunity.
It has also been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration.
Vitamin E food sources:
It is found in a variety of oils, meat, eggs, and leafy vegetables.
With age, immunity declines. Individuals with unhealthy dietary habits and those with certain medical conditions such as chronic diarrhea, gastrointestinal surgery, loss of teeth, and patients on drugs or chemotherapeutic medicines are at risk of immune-dysfunction.
These patients should be advised to take some of the above-mentioned vitamins to cover for the immune deficiency.