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The Immune Diet

Author : Dr. P. D.GUPTA

(Former Director Grade Scientist, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India)


Asked a question, “How old are you?” the pet answer came, ”As old as my immune system”. Very wise and scientific answer is given. We know that the immune system gets weaker as we age – which is a key reason why those over the age of 70 are most at risk from the disease. But what is becoming clear is that when it comes to immune health, age is just a number. Some people have an immune system that is effectively significantly older or younger than they are. “Some 60-year-olds have the immune system of a 40-year-old, some are more like an 80-year-old,” 

One can keep immune system healthy. One of the most successful anti-ageing strategies ever discovered is caloric restriction (Fasting). It requires a permanent cut in energy intake of up to 60 per cent. In every experimental animal that has been put through this, it extends lifespan and healthspan, the number of disease-free years at the end of life. 

Probably all world religions had provisions for fasting. According Indian calendar we have 2 ekadashies, one poorna mashi and 4 Tuesdays to keep fasting withprovisions of different types of calorie restrictions. 

The strategy works because it switches on an evolutionary adaptation to starvation, which prioritises repair and survival pathways over growth and reproduction. Calorie-restricted animals tend to be leaner, fitter, metabolically healthier and mentally sharper than those that eat at will. They also have a stronger immune response. 

Unfortunately, caloric restriction is extremely hard to maintain voluntarily. But there are ways to mimic it without going on a permanent starvation diet.  When calories are scarce, it switches off, initiating the metabolic cascade that transitions your system into famine mode.   

Cutting calories 

One way is intermittent fasting, a temporary state of caloric restriction.  There are various regimes including the 16:8 diet, which involves completely eschewing calories for 16 hours and only eating in an 8-hour window like Tuesdays. Even done once a week, this is an effective way of slowing ageing and strengthening the immune system. Exercise is also a proven immune boosting. 

Even if a fasting diet isn't for you, simply keeping your weight down can have immune-boosting effects. According to Bonnie Blomberg at the University of Miami in Florida, being obese suppresses the immune system to a similar extent as being immunosenesced. Ageing is associated with a decline in the function of the immune system's B-cells and low production of antibodies in response to vaccines, and so is being obese. “Adipose tissue negatively impacts the antibody response,” says Blomberg. “So obesity is associated with poor vaccine response, even in people who are young.” (The author has his own study and views)