Our immune systems have been a big talking point between families and across the media of late but how does age affect our immune system? This week’s Nutrition News looks at articles and research that lifts the lid on immune ageing, virus risk for infants and the brain-gut axis.

Read about the latest studies and research here.

What you need to know about immune ageing

It is well known that, with age, the immune system becomes less effective at fighting off infections and responding to vaccinations but is there anything we can do to support our immune systems as we age?

The good news is, that according to this Medical News Today article, the answer is yes. By continuing exercise and eating a balanced Mediterranean style diet with the right nutrition, we can maintain a healthy immune system into old age, which could prevent chronic inflammation that is associated with most age-related illnesses.

As well as becoming weaker, the article warns that our immune systems become imbalanced as we age, affecting both innate and adaptive immunity; the former responsible for being our first line of defence against infections, the latter responsible for remembering and attacking pathogens.

While the article makes clear that there is no direct evidence that supports the impact of a Mediterranean diet on healthy ageing and immune ageing, it does point out the countless indirect studies that support it.

Association between vitamin D and lower virus risk in infants

We’ve frequently discussed the importance of vitamin D for immune support but a recent study, as discussed in this article by the Pharmacy Times, has found that this immune support may extend to infants, lowering the abundance of the bacteria Megamonas.

While little is known about Megamonas, there is research to suggest it may be linked to asthma and respiratory viral infections, so this latest study may shed light on how vitamin D could further support a child’s health.

As a child’s gut microbiota changes very quickly in the early stages of their life, it is important to gain a greater understanding of what can affect these changes and support a child’s health into adolescence. The research was part of the CHILD cohort study that is following 3,500 children in Canada in the hopes of discovery the root causes for a number of illnesses.

The gut and brain connection

The relationship between gut health and the brain is one that has been publicised at length in recent years as an increasing amount of evidence and research comes to light supporting its effects. This article by Healthline aims to summarise this relationship and explore some of the latest research supporting it.

There are a number of different physical and biochemical ways in which the brain and the gut are connected, this includes the vagus nerve, neurotransmitters and gut microbes.

The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting the gut and the brain, with signals running both ways. There are studies that suggest that stress inhibits the signals that are sent through the vagus nerve and that this can then cause gastrointestinal problems. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that connect the gut and the brain. A large amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in the gut and it is this chemical that contributes to feelings of happiness. Finally, there are trillions of microbes that are present in the gut that affect how the brain works. These gut microbes make compounds such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which affect brain function through controlling appetite and other thought processes.

The gut and brain relationship is also responsible for controlling inflammation through its role in the immune system as the gut microbes control what is passed into the body and what is excreted. Inflammatory toxins can pass into the body if the microbes aren’t doing their job and can cause inflammation if too much is passed from the gut into the blood.

The gut-brain relationship still needs a huge amount of research and investigation but it is already clear that it has a vitally important role in our general health and wellbeing.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is Director and Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.