Ageing cripples the immune system but science might have a way to slow this

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Science has found that the older we get the less efficient our immune system is, leaving us open to infections.

However, there might be a way to slow this process by adding antioxidants to our diets.

Research with mice, published in the journal Cell Reports, focused on an organ called the thymus which produces immune cells and which must be continuously replenished to respond to infections.

“The thymus begins to atrophy rapidly in very early adulthood, simultaneously losing its function,” says Scripps Research Institute Professor Howard Petrie.

“This new study shows for the first time a mechanism for the long-suspected connection between normal immune function and antioxidants.”

Scientists have been hampered in their efforts to develop specific immune therapies for the elderly by a lack of knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of this process.

The latest findings support the free-radical theory of ageing. This proposes that reactive oxygen such as hydrogen peroxide produced during normal metabolism can cause cellular damage which contributes to ageing.

The researchers found that certain cells were deficient in an antioxidant enzyme called catalase, which resulted in elevated levels of the reactive oxygen and, subsequently, accelerated metabolic damage.

In the experiments with mice, those animals given two dietary antioxidants, including vitamin C, were protected from the effects of ageing on the thymus.