Sixteen years ago I had a series on radio called Turning Back the Clock, which I presented in response to listeners in their 50’s and 60’s looking for rejuvenation and tips on staying young. Like me they were exasperated by the claims of the cosmetic industry that the various ingredients in their products could knock ten years off their age. I was asked to design a diet that would help reverse the signs of aging and this developed into a weekly challenge that was undertaken by nearly 100 listeners. The series became a book in 2010.
I try to practice what I preach! And certainly so far I have managed to maintain healthy key indicators such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol without medication, much to the surprise of my doctor!
In my opinion the answer to turning back the clock by several years is to consider and address a number of factors which include physical, emotional and mental age markers.
Link to part to Part Four and the influence of hormones on the aging process: Here
The Key to Health and Anti-Aging is a powerful Immune System.
Over the last three chapters I have looked at the main contributory factors associated with aging. In this chapter I am going to explore the necessity of having a functioning and thriving Immune System and how we can eat food to achieve that.
Why is the Immune System so important in preventing premature aging?
In a nutshell, if your immune system is not functioning well your entire body, including the tissues, organs and systems suffer damage and cannot repair themselves. Additionally, you are wide open to bacterial, viral and toxic invaders who are looking for a nesting site.
You have what they need to reproduce and thrive, but they need to make some adjustments when they arrive. They like a lovely acidic, toxic, waste filled environment without too much oxygen. They are particularly fond of a new home that does not have troublesome neighbours such as anti-oxidants and they prefer a quiet life without too much exercise so that they get on and breed. They are a “class act” and make sure that they give you something back in the form of rent. Frequent Colds and Flu, Thrush, skin complaints, fatigue and stomach problems. If you are a really up-market landlord and are offering premium accommodation they will pay you back with Arthritis, Rheumatism, Osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and Cancer.
Not the sort of tenants one is looking for then?
No they definitely are not. The trouble is, of course, that most of them are squatters and should not be there in the first place. Most of us are very careless about our property and leave the back door and sometimes the front door wide open.
So how does a properly functioning Immune System protect us?
The immune system is not just about our internal defences. It actually has a pretty formidable array of physical barriers that are designed to keep pathogens, which are all harmful substances out of our bodies.
The skin is our main external protector. If it is not damaged it will not allow harmful toxins to enter the bloodstream. The problem is that of course it is porous and is designed to allow fluids in and out through the pores. So, any substance that touches your skin, such as chemical preparations can pass right through. For example; if you use strong household cleaners these contain highly toxic substances that will pass through the dermal layer and store in the tissues causing anything from a mild rash to a violent allergic reaction. This is why you must wear gloves when using them. Many of us react to perfume, cosmetics or even simple hand-creams that our body obviously thinks of as toxic.
If you cut yourself-then germs can pass through directly to the bloodstream and from there they have complete access to the rest of your body.
We have special hairs and mucus tissues in our nose, mouth and throat that are designed to catch anything harmful.
If toxins get as far as our stomachs, then acid and enzymes will react and cause you to get rid of the problem. Our lungs too have a very sophisticated defence system that will make you cough it up.
Should any harmful bacteria, virus or toxin get past these barriers then we have a very complex system of cells and antibodies that will rush to our defence.
The liver is of course the place where most of these toxins are going to pass through, and it has specific enzymes designed to destroy them so that they can then be evicted from the body.
What are the effects of Free-Radicals on how quickly we age?
If you cut an apple and effectively damage it, within a few minutes it will begin to turn brown. If you leave it long enough the tissue of the apple will begin to break down and you will end up with a liquid, bacteria covered, and unidentifiable lump on your cutting board.
That just about sums up what free-radical damage does to your body. Just to get a little more technical for a few seconds. We bandy about the phrase “Free-Radicals” as if they are some dissident political group or schoolyard bullies. Like most bullies they are missing something and want yours.
In this case a free-radical is a molecule. A normal molecule has an even number of electrons and is considered stable. Free-radicals on the other hand have an uneven number of electrons and are unstable. They are desperate to be like the normal molecules so they have to steal from them to get another electron. This of course means that they have created another free-radical. More and more cells become damaged and leave the body open to most diseases from cardiovascular to cancer.
Like the apple, the damage is a kind of oxidation, which is the action of adding oxygen to a substance (essentially the same as rusting!)
Aren’t some free-radicals important for the body?
Ironically, yes. The immune system uses some free-radicals to go and steal an electron from harmful molecules that have entered the system illegally. Problem is, like everything else in the body, we need balances and checks. The Free-Radical police are anti-oxidants and if you have not got enough of them then the free-radicals become vigilantes and go after everything that moves.
Also, we create free-radicals when we exercise energetically and take in additional oxygen. These then assist with the metabolism of foods that enter the body. Again if the balance between these and anti-oxidants is not correct more free-radicals are created than are needed.
What particular part do free-radicals play in aging?
The free-radicals cause cells to oxidise and die. The major damage is done to our DNA, which results in mutations and death of the cells. Our body does produce anti-oxidants and enzymes that can repair this damage if we eat healthily. However, as we get older so do our cells and it becomes harder to repair them and they die. This is aging! These cells that are dying are in our skin, tissues and organs such as the heart, brain and liver and every system that keeps us alive.
What other area of the Immune System is important to help with anti-aging?
We have a number of safety regulators in the body that are designed to deal with intruders, and if their health is not maintained we become very much more susceptible to disease.
Apart from our bloodstream we have another network throughout our bodies, which is called the Lymphatic system. This system runs throughout the body, and is a little like a railway network with stations along the route, which are called glands. You will often hear people say that their glands are swollen which is an indication of infection
The main ones are the Lymph Nodes in your neck, under your armpits and in your groin. The lymph fluid, which is called plasma, travels along the network, reaches one of the stations and drops off any harmful bacteria in the node. The lymph system contains a number of cells that sound like something out of James Bond movies: B-cells, Killer T-cells, Helper T–Cells, Macrophages and Lymphocytes and these and all other blood cells are produced in our bone marrow; which we hear a great deal about in relation to transplants.
All these cells have specific roles to play but for example the lovely macrophages swallow bacteria and kill them.
When it comes to aging, I think we all know how it feels to be drained of energy, getting continual infections, suffering the pain of degenerative diseases like arthritis. These in themselves make us feel old. But of course all these infections are adding enormous stress and strain to the body and are damaging the tissues in our body at the same time.
Although our body is programmed to regenerate over our lifetime, each cell only has a number of times that it can regenerate. If you wear out that system of regeneration when you are too young you are going to age.
In addition, when our body is stressed on a continuous basis, our glands will secrete hormones to counteract the inflammation and adrenaline to enable us to cope. This wears out the organs and they suffer damage and disease.
Where do we start when building up our Immune System?
The first place that we need to start is by gently detoxing our bodies of the accumulated waste. Earlier in January I shared an easy programme to get the body back to normal after the Christmas excesses and it is a good place to start when boosting the immune system.
For anyone that has been eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting down on the processed sugary and high fat foods and drinking more natural fluids such as water, that process has already begun. Hopefully problem foods like stimulants and alcohol have been reduced so there are fewer toxins entering the body. The anti-oxidants in the diet are boosting the immune system and you should be achieving a much healthier balance.
In addition to a daily diet of fresh unprocessed foods, particularly vegetables you need to take in foods that will absorb toxins and move them through the body efficiently.
For example I recommend that all my clients start the day by having some fresh lemon juice in hot water – this is excellent for your liver to help it detox. If you add a teaspoon of honey that will help your intestines too. Have a glass of carrot juice mixed with unsweetened apple juice a day will support the detox function of your liver and bile ducts. Also a medium glass of cranberry juice can help keep your urinary tract and therefore your kidneys free of infection.
You should be eating brown rice regularly and certainly a large tablespoon every day is excellent for keeping waste moving through your system as it should. There is a plan for a gentle detox at the end of the book which is easy on the body but effective in getting rid of unwanted visitors.
Is it ever too late to start this?
The really good news is that if you are not already dead you can do something about it. Sounds awful, but even if you are already in your 70’s and 80’s you still have trillions of cells left that can be nourished and repaired and still have reproductive life in them. The real key for managing the aging process is to stop the damage right now.
You can start by embracing the healthy eating plan you will find later on in the series which is packed full of wonderful ant-ioxidants. The main anti-oxidants are vitamins A, C, E and Beta-carotene, which is the precursor of Vitamin A. There is also Selenium, Zinc and Bioflavonoids. The more brightly coloured fruits and vegetables you consume the more anti-oxidants will be available to your immune system to fight the damage caused by free-radicals.
You should also drink plenty of fluids including water to flush any toxins out of your system and other fluids such as green tea, which are full of anti-oxidants.
You will also be eating a high percentage of your foods unprocessed and from plant sources, which is creating an alkaline environment that germs cannot survive in.
Vitamin D and the immune system.
There have been an increasing number of studies in relation to vitamin D levels its role in COVID-19 mortality rates: Patients with severe deficiency are twice as likely to experience major complications : Science Daily May 7th 2020
Researchers analyzed patient data from 10 countries. The team found a correlation between low vitamin D levels and hyperactive immune systems. Vitamin D strengthens innate immunity and prevents overactive immune responses. The finding could explain several mysteries, including why children are unlikely to die from COVID-19.
How Vitamin D works with our immune system.
Vitamin D is a bit like a health and safety consultant, constantly on the look out for areas that are unbalanced in the structure of our body and operating systems. I will look at the structure and bone density later in the post, but first a look at why the vitamin is being identified as playing a vital role in the strength of our immune system and in particular respiratory infections and auto-immune diseases such as arthritis.
Our white blood cells have receptors and activating enzymes for Vitamin D on their surface. It is a difficult role managing all the complexities involved in maintaining an efficient immune system without upsetting the balance… too much interference results in the immune system becoming overactive and attacking the cells of the body resulting in autoimmune diseases such as arthritis.. Too little interference is as bad, because dampening the immune system’s responses, leads to frequent infections.
Both these scenarios can occur if there is insufficient Vitamin D absorbed or ingested by the body, and whilst reduced levels of the vitamin do not cause an autoimmune disease, it can make matters worse.
Low levels of Vitamin D were identified in resulting in frequent colds and flu ten years ago, and with the pandemic, this line of research is going to be more closely monitored.
Supplementation – Pharmacy News
In 2017, a large analyses of prospective clinical trials showed that taking vitamin D reduces the odds of developing a respiratory infection by approximately 42% in people with low baseline levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D; below 25 ng/mL.3
The analysis suggests that taking vitamin D daily or weekly was more effective than larger doses taken in single or monthly boluses. The most common daily dose used was vitamin D3 300-4,000 IU.
Apart from food is there anything else we can do to protect our Immune System?
Exercise will move toxins out of your body provided you are drinking sufficient fluids. If not, you will know about in the form of lactic acid and muscle cramps. Exercise also pumps oxygen into the body and although this creates free-radical activity, other harmful bacteria and viruses do not like an oxygen rich environment and die. So provided you are taking in sufficient anti-oxidants taking exercise is fantastic.
We have to learn how to relax so that our bodies can rest. Being young at heart and full of vibrant energy is exactly what we are aiming to achieve. But at the same time we have to allow time for our bodies to recover from activity and rebuild its defences. You cannot run any living system without down-time otherwise you will damage all the components.
Take a nap. Make sure you get the right amount of sleep. Take a day off and do something completely different and go out and enjoy a quiet dinner for two etc.
Avoid toxins and germs. Do not put yourself in harm’s way. Use gloves when you are cleaning, wash your hands before preparing food. Wash food if you are not going to peel it.
Do not store household chemicals under your sink in the kitchen, try and put them into an outside storage area.
This year last year as Covid took up residence in our communities ‘wash your hands’ became a mantra…Although it is wonderful to kiss our friends and shake hands, that is how germs are spread by touch more so than inhaling.
So keep wearing your mask and wash your hands several times a day especially if you have been in an environment that has been infiltrated by many people, such as supermarkets.
If it is possible to get outside to exercise, fresh air at least once a day for 45 minutes does wonders as far as clearing your system and boosting your oxygen levels and with exposure to sunlight a boost to vitamin D levels.
In the next post I am going to show you how breathing and doing some very simple exercises each day can help boost your immune system and mimimise damage to cells and organs.
©Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2021
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you will join me again next week for part six of this series and the impact of simple breathing exercises on our aging process.