Immunity Boosting Strategies For Seniors

Your immune system is designed to protect your body from harmful bacteria and viruses, but as we age, it doesn’t always keep us as safe as it once did. It’s just one more part of the natural aging process that requires a little extra care and attention as we get older.

It’s also why health care professionals encourage older adults to get vaccinated every year. Older adults are more vulnerable to complications from Covid-19, flu and other viruses, so preventing infection the first place is the best course of defense.

How Immunity Changes with Age

As with many biological changes associated with growing older, waning immunity is one aspect of aging that contributes to illness. That’s because we need a healthy immune system to protect us from harmful bacteria, viruses, and disease.

It’s called immunosenescence, or the decrease in immune function experienced with age, and it causes older adults to get sick more often. In short, it takes older adults longer to recover from illness due to changes in cell function.

As we age, we produce fewer white blood cells needed to fight infection. For older adults, fewer white blood cells in the body translate to slower recovery time and healing from illness.

Even though they need protection the most, older adults are also less responsive to vaccinations. For this reason, special formulations with more antigens are made specially for older adults.

Diet and Immunity

The relationship between diet and immunity has been widely examined by scientists with many studies emphasizing the importance of macronutrients, micronutrients, and the gut (or microbiome) in improving immune health.

Vaccination is the best defense against seasonal illnesses like influenza. However, many studies highlight how diet and nutrition play a crucial role in strengthening immunity. Moreover, scientists believe nutrients can influence immune cell activity in the body. Other studies have shown that our immune system relies on nutrients for growth and function, including vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein. In short, eating essential nutrients keeps the immune system working properly.

Immune Boosting Nutrients in Food 

Scientists are still working to understand the complex relationship between diet and immune health. While there is still much to learn, we do know that micronutrients play a key role in supporting the function of immune cells. These include:

  • Beta Carotene – an antioxidant and protects the body against cell damage. It is found in plant foods such as spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, and carrots.
  • Vitamin C – a crucial nutrient that helps prevent disease, including heart disease and cancer. It is found in berries, melons, citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli.
  • Vitamin D – helps the body to absorb calcium and reduces inflammation. Vitamin D sources include supplements, fatty fish, eggs, and milk.
  • Zinc – helps repair damaged tissue and support cell growth. High levels of zinc are found in beef, shellfish, beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, and whole grains.
  • Iron – an essential mineral for the development of immune cells, iron is found in red meat, poultry, and seafood as well as beans, spinach, and tofu.

For immune health, add to that a healthy level of microorganisms in the gut. Scientists have discovered that both probiotics and prebiotics are good for the immune system because they help regulate cytokine production and T cells, which protect the body from infection.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that improve immunity by increasing the presence of the good bacteria in the gut. You can find probiotics in fermented foods such as yogurt, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, and kombucha tea.

Prebiotic foods promote healthy bacteria in the gut, which is also linked to immune health. Foods include onions, leeks, garlic, bananas, seaweed, and dandelion greens.

Eating Tips for Immune Health

Making a few modifications to your diet can help increase your total intake of recommended nutrients for added protection against infection and disease.

Sonata Senior Living is committed to enhancing the health and nutrition of older adults in senior living communities throughout Florida. They offered these tips as a way to boost immunity throughout flu season and year-round:

  • Fill your plate with vegetables, including broccoli, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini and brussel sprouts.Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables and a favorite immunity booster, plus it’s incredibly easy to prepare since it can be steamed, roasted, or baked.
  • Make it spicy. Adding spice to recipes boost antioxidants in the diet.
  • Ferment foods. Foods with probiotics help us maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which is linked not only to immune function, but digestion and inflammation. Simply having yogurt can help you get in the live, active cultures.
  • Stir-fry and roast. Stir-frying and roasting help preserve the nutrients content in vegetables better than boiling and steaming and often taste better!
  • Cook with fat. Cooking with olive, flaxseed, or avocado oil can combat inflammation in the body, which has been linked to chronic illnesses.

Keep in mind, there is no magic bullet, food group or cooking method that can protect you against illness, but making a few simple changes can give your body the extra ammunition it needs to maintain immune health as you age.

Support For a Healthy Immune System

An immune-boosting diet is fuel for a healthy body and brain. Physical changes caused by age may make healthy eating more challenging, but even small changes to your diet will provide benefits beyond what you thought possible.

Eating a balanced diet comprising lean meats, vegetables, whole grains, and plenty of water will work wonders for your immune system, but a healthy lifestyle is also essential for your health.

If you are finding it difficult to get the nutrition you need or are living with chronic illness or dementia, discover how moving to a senior living community in Florida is a safe way to improve health and wellness and maintain it as you age.

Sources

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0531556517306599
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2214799318300055#preview-section-abstract
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723551/
https://www.nutritionnews.abbott/healthy-living/diet-wellness/how-nutrition-supports-your-immune-system/
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322412

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