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Diet could enhance immunity among the elderly: Researchers

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By Anna Bonar+

29-Aug-2014
Last updated on 29-Aug-2014 at 15:13 GMT

'There is a possibility that dietary instead of drug intervention could be used to enhance immunity since metabolism and senescence are two sides of the same coin,' said Arne Akbar, Professor of Immunology at UCL
'There is a possibility that dietary instead of drug intervention could be used to enhance immunity since metabolism and senescence are two sides of the same coin,' said Arne Akbar, Professor of Immunology at UCL

Proper nutrition could strengthen immunity in older age and thus prevent diseases, according to two recent UK studies.

Researchers from University College London (UCL), led by prof Arne Akbar, previously showed that ageing in T lymphocytes (immune system cells) were controlled by a ’p38MAPK’ molecule which acted as a break to prevent some of the cellular functions and caused decline of immunity.  

One of their most recent studies, published in Nature Immunology suggests that p38 MAPK activated itself when low nutrient level were coupled with ageing.

“Our life expectancy at birth is now twice as long as it was 150 years ago and our lifespans are on the increase. Healthcare costs associated with ageing are immense and there will be an increasing number of older people in our population who will have a lower quality of life due in part to immune decline.

"It is therefore essential to understand reasons why immunity decreases and whether it is possible to counteract some of these changes," said Arne Akbar, Professor of Immunology at UCL and a co-author of the studies.

In the second paper published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation the researchers showed that blocking p38 MAPK reversed the signs of ageing in cells. It also highlighted that there is a link between the immune function of the old T lymphocytes and metabolism.

There is a possibility that dietary instead of drug intervention could be used to enhance immunity since metabolism and senescence are two sides of the same coin,” Akbar said.

“Instead of manipulating the immune system with drugs, which a lot of people do now, there might be ways to intervene in a dietary way, by changing the diet. This might be very important in terms of lifestyle changes for older people,” he added.

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