Your immune system helps protect your body from foreign or harmful substances. Examples are bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells, and blood or tissues from another person. The immune system makes cells and antibodies that destroy these harmful substances.
Aging Changes and Their Effects on the Immune System
As you grow older, your immune system does not work as well. The following immune system changes may occur:
The immune system becomes slower to respond. This increases your risk of getting sick. Flu shots or other vaccines may not work as well or protect you for as long as expected.
An autoimmune disorder may develop. This is a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissues.
Your body may heal more slowly. There are fewer immune cells in the body to bring about healing.
The immune system's ability to detect and correct cell defects also declines. This can result in an increased risk of cancer.
To decrease the risks from immune system aging:
Get the flu and pneumonia vaccines, and any other vaccines your health care provider recommends.
Get plenty of exercise. Exercise helps boost your immune system.
Eat healthy foods. Good nutrition keeps your immune system strong.
Tummala MK, Taub DT, Ershler WB. Clinical Immunology: Immune senescence and the acquired immune deficiency of aging. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Woodhouse K, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 7th ed. Philadelphia PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 13.
Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.