When Your Immune Function Falls Off the Cliff

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Significant dollars are being invested to develop methods to turn youthful immune function back “on.” Yet many of us can’t wait for delays while our immune systems “fall off a cliff.”

This article explains some of the changes that occur with aging that cause our immune functions to become dysfunctional (senescent). It also describes some of what is available today to help restore immune competence in aging humans, including suppressing the interleukin-6 cytokine.

Human research has since moved forward on several fronts to induce systemic improvements in immune functions.

Around age 60 a startling change occurs that decimates our ability to combat infections and malignancies. Some people encounter these immune impairments earlier in life. This catastrophic event decreases naïve T cells needed to ward off new bacteria, viruses, and cancers. At the same time naïve T cells are lost, we accumulate senile memory T cells that emit pro-inflammatory signals that wreak havoc in every organ system. One of the deadliest of these inflammatory “signals” is a cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6). Higher IL-6 levels are associated with a 2-fold greater risk of death.4 Higher levels are also involved with multiple degenerative processes, including frailty, from which so many elderly suffer.

A common trait of healthy centenarians is that they have unusually low levels of IL-6. People associate immune senescence with weakened immune function. It turns out that impaired immunity is only half the problem. Spiraling levels of IL-6 that attack our healthy tissues are another component of immune senescence that must be addressed.

The encouraging news is that significant dollars are being invested to develop technologies to turn the youthful immune function back “on.” These immune-restoration therapies may add decades to our healthy lifespans. The problem is that many of us can’t wait for bureaucratic delays while our immune systems fall off a cliff.

There is an urgent need today to accelerate the restoration of immune competence in aging humans, including suppressing deadly interleukin-6 levels.

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