COVID-19, 5 rules to help prevent it

Article by Mario Clerici Professore Ordinario di Immunologia e Immunopatologia, Università degli Studi di Milano
The reasons why older people are more prone to infections, such as the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, are several and depend on complex phenomena such as immunosenescence and inflammaging. With time, the immune system becomes less efficient at protecting us from external aggressions. However, we can help it. How?

Even in old age, a healthy lifestyle can help us to maintain an efficient immune system and better fight infections.

Before answering this question, we need to clarify a fundamental concept: all processes underlying the aging of the immune system have something in common, namely the alteration of epigenetic mechanisms, that our cells possess to maintain all the functions essential to their survival, but also to keep their DNA intact. This is good news because epigenetic mechanisms can be influenced by the way we live. There are five simple rules to follow.

Rule 1: Prevent infections

The first basic rule is to prevent, as far as possible, seasonal viral infections such as influenza. This is where vaccines come to help. Although less effective than in the young, flu vaccines provide sufficient coverage to limit episodes even in the elderly.  It is very important to understand that every flu episode gives rise to inflammation and that as the episodes recur, the inflammation becomes chronic. Every flu episode gives rise to inflammation. As the episodes recur, the inflammation becomes chronic.

Rule 2: Be physically active

‍The advice is to exercise regularly (at least three times a week) if possible under medical supervision or with the help of a personal trainer. There are now countless studies that demonstrate the effect of physical exercise on the immune system. All the data reported so far have shown that resistance training is the most suitable exercise after a certain age. Resistance exercise increases the number of T naive lymphocytes in circulation, the very ones that fail with age. ‍ Controlled clinical trials show, in fact, that endurance exercise increases the number of “naive” T lymphocytes in the bloodstream, the very ones that fail when you get older. ‍ Fast walking, cycling, swimming, all endurance aerobic sports are effective, regardless of the fact that their benefit goes far beyond boosting the immune system and affects all our functions, especially those of the brain.

Rule 3: Eliminate inflammation

Try to eliminate all hotspots of inflammation in our body. The first and most important is the gut. The set of microorganisms, bacteria and fungi that live in the intestinal tract, known as microbiome, is responsible for regulating the inflammatory state of the intestine, and it is affected by our food and life choices in general.

Rule 4: Eat well

Following a healthy diet, with the correct protein intake and, above all, rich in vegetable fibres that maintain the right balance of the intestinal microbiome, is the first medicine.

Rule 5: Food supplementation

When necessary, proper nutritional supplementation can be important. On the subject of supplements, important scientific knowledge is accumulating that supports the possibility of taking action on epigenetic aging. Recent research has shown that naturally extracted substances can positively regulate our epigenetic mechanisms. An example of this is resveratrol and vitamin B3: a particular type of vitamin B3, nicotinamide riboside, seems to be very effective, while a study published in the journal Science Signalling has shown that resveratrol, used at certain doses, significantly increases the ability of lymphocytes, especially naive T lymphocytes, to activate in response to antigens and to generate a more efficient immune response. It is therefore likely that in the near future, as research progresses, we will have new drugs and nutraceuticals that will improve the response to infections.

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