The Coronavirus pandemic, which has shaken the foundations of most countries even in these times of technologically advanced medicine and research, has come as a shock to the world. There is new data being collected every day to help better understand the structure of the virus and its mode of action to combat it. From what we’ve learned of COVID-19 so far, those at high risk for severe illness from it, according to Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, include people aged 65 years and older, people with pre-existing lung diseases, heart conditions and a few other underlying medical conditions, and people who are immunocompromised.
Ageing and the Immune system
Vineet Menachery, an immunologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch who studies the effect of coronaviruses on aging immune systems says "During the original SARS outbreak, the lethality rate for the overall number of cases was 10%, but that lethality rate jumped to over 50% in people over the age of 50”.
According to Harvard Health, as we age, our immune response capability gets reduced, which in turn contributes to contracting more infections and terminal diseases like cancer. While we can’t directly fight ageing itself, we can combat the adverse effects it has on our immune system.
The Coronavirus is a massive wake up call for us all, especially those over the age of 50 to start focusing on our health with a long-term focus. One of the best ways to do this is to support and strengthen the immune system- the first line of defense against pathogens. Luckily, there is a wealth of information available today on what types of foods and which habits help boost the immune system, especially for the 50+ population.
Cultivating an Active Lifestyle
The first way is to build and maintain an active lifestyle. Note that this isn’t necessarily the same as going to the gym and lifting heavyweights. Toronto-based physician Dr. Mike Evans, in his brilliant visual lecture titled ‘Twenty-three and a half hours’ says that the single best thing you can do for your immune system and health, with the best return on investment, is to be active and elevate your heart rate for 20-30 minutes every day. This can even mean going for a brisk walk, playing frisbee with your children in the garden, walking the dog, and other fun things that are far cheaper and less intimidating than lifting iron weights.
Nutrition for the 50+
The next major contributor to a healthy immune system is nutrition. Ensuring that you get all those macronutrients and micronutrients - some essential vitamins and trace minerals that are obtained from diet or by taking supplements - will go a long way towards strengthening the immune system. Now, there are two ways we can go about accomplishing this :
- Increasing the efficiency of the small intestine in absorbing nutrients, and
- Provide our body with an adequate amount of nutrients.
To help your body better absorb nutrients, there’s one ingredient that works the best : Probiotics. Probiotic is a term that is used to define the gut healthy bacteria and yeast, that are essential for the digestion of food in the gut. Probiotic supplements are foods with gut bacteria that are beneficial for your intestines and will help better absorb the nutrients in the food you’re eating so that your body can utilize them. Curd and other fermented food products (like dosa and idly) are good sources of probiotics, but we often don’t get enough quantities of them in our meals on a consistent basis. Fitday offers effective probiotic supplements to ensure that the nutrients in the food you eat don’t go to waste.
Nutrient Rich Foods
Now we turn to the nutrients themselves.
Vitamin C : There’s an old tale that British sailors were called ‘limeys’ because they used to suck on limes all the time. With the variety of food limited on a ship, the Vitamin C in limes would help prevent them from contracting scurvy and other deficiency diseases (Dr. Lind from ASU, Phoenix). According to an article published in the Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry (Indian J Clin Biochem. 2013 Oct; 28(4): 314–328.), Vitamin C is essential for the development and maintenance of connective tissues, bone formation, and wound healing. It protects the immune system, reduces the severity of allergic reactions, helps fight off infections, and increases the body’s iron absorption.
Along with the above-mentioned helpful effects, Vitamin C has a few other added benefits for those over the age of 50. It reduces oxidative stress which is one of the leading causes of aging process, leading to wrinkled skin, clogged arteries, and other conditions. It also helps improves cardiovascular health, mitigating the risk factors that lead to heart disease and stroke.
Ginseng : A less commonly known food that boosts the immune system is the legendary Ginseng, which takes about 4-6 years to harvest! An article published in Planta Medica (Planta Med. 1984; 50(6): 462-465) confirms the immunomodulatory activity of ginseng extract, which enables the generation of circulating antibodies and cell-mediated immunity. Furthermore, a study suggested that people who take ginseng could have up to a 35% higher chance of living disease-free for five years after curative surgery and up to a 38% higher survival rate compared to those not consuming it on a consistent basis.
For older adults, Ginseng has the added benefit of fatigue-fighting properties. It reduces the amounts of stress-causing hormone Cortisol, allowing for a better quality of sleep, enhancing the rest factor which helps strengthen the immune system.
This almost-magical herb has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and you can now avail these benefits too; Fitday offers a selection of ginseng in different forms to include these immune-boosting superpowers in your diet.
Other vital nutrients
In addition to these nutrients, there are many other natural products like Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng), honey, ginger, and turmeric that help bolster and sustain a sharpened immune system. Every single one of these nutrients has a host of other benefits that will be beneficial for people of all ages, specifically for the folks aged 50 and above. Ginger is said to soothe digestive problems, improve blood circulation, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and risk of cancer, and relieve muscle aches and pain. Ashwagandha is another mighty herb that helps with insomnia, boosts memory, balances blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps with digestion and rejuvenation of tissues. Honey, a commonly used ingredient, often doesn’t get the attention it deserves for its antioxidant and cholesterol-reducing properties.
Immune System for a Healthy Life
The main thing to keep in mind is that building and strengthening immunity through nutrition is a way of life for people of all ages, but of prime most importance for individuals who are 50+. Living mindfully and incorporating these little changes in your daily life will ensure that your body will age slowly and gracefully with your immune strength intact. The best part is that working to boost your immune system is much more than just protecting yourself from a viral attack like COVID-19. It will be with you forever, protecting you from the thousands of possible infections and diseases you may encounter as you live your best life. Your wellbeing and health are of utmost importance, and Fitday is here to help by providing you the care and education necessary to take charge of your nutritional needs and life.
This article was written by the Fitday Nutrition team. For any questions, comments and clarifications please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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