How to fight infection by turning back your immune system’s clock

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Your immune system ages too, weakening as you get older and making you more susceptible to infections. Fortunately, we are discovering plenty of things you can do to turn back the clock and stay healthy

Health 25 March 2020

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Fransesco Bongiorni

WASH your hands religiously for 20 seconds, sneeze into your elbow, avoid touching your face, stay 1 metre away from all other people and, as a last resort, self-quarantine for a week with only your emergency rations for company. If you want to avoid getting the new coronavirus, all of these are a good idea. But ultimately, one of the most important things standing between you and a deadly bout of covid-19 is your immune system.

We know that the immune system gets weaker as we age – which is a key reason why those over the age of 70 are most at risk from the disease. But what is becoming clear is that when it comes to immune health, age is just a number. Some people have an immune system that is effectively significantly older or younger than they are. “Some 60-year-olds have the immune system of a 40-year-old, some are more like an 80-year-old,” says Shai Shen-Orr, an immunologist at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The good news is that there are some simple ways to turn back the immunological clock. Because even after the threat of this virus has passed – sooner or later another one is going to come along, and none of us is getting any younger.

As anyone who has studied immunology will tell you, the immune system is immensely, mind-bogglingly intricate. “It is the second-most complicated system in your body after your brain,” says Shen-Orr. It consists of hundreds of cell types and signalling molecules controlled by some 8000 genes, interacting in a network of near-infinite complexity.

Happily, you don’t need to …

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