Immune systems are an intensely clever network located inside each human being. These systems work to protect humans against a range of potential health threats. With the lifting of restrictions this week and “personal responsibility” being the new status quo, it is more important than ever to maintain good immunity. Express.co.uk has compiled a list of six easy ways to protect yourself and lower your immunity age.
The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins which work together to protect your body against infection.
This body system keeps a record of all germs, called microbes, it has ever defeated.
Therefore you will be able to recognise and destroy this microbe quickly if it ever enters your body again.
There are several abnormalities associated with your immune system which take the form of allergies, immunodeficiencies and autoimmune disorders.
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The immune system consists of organs, cells and chemicals designed to attack infections.
The main components of this system include white blood cells, antibodies, the complement systems, the lymphatic system, spleen, thymus and bone marrow.
These are the elements of your immune system which work to actively defeat the infection.
As well as your immune system, your body also protects itself from disease using your skin, lungs, digestive tract and body fluids.
Obesity and exercise
Regular exercise is one of the key factors which can help prevent a decline in your immune system.
One’s immune system declines by two to three percent a year from your 20s.
But those who exercise regularly will have extra protection against this rate of decline.
Research in the British Medical Journal found those who walked for at least 20 minutes a day had 43 percent fewer sick days due to the common cold.
Smoking and binge drinking
Smoking has a number of negative influences including increasing your immune age.
This in turn reduces your risk of combatting serious illness and means you are likely to live for a shorter period of time.
Binge drinking prompts a reduction in white blood cells which are used to combat infections.
Therefore avoid binge drinking alcohol as it makes your immune system less active.
Protein and diet
Poor gut health can increase one’s immune age according to scientists, whereas a healthy microbiome can slow down this ageing process.
You should try to eat as much plant food as possible as these support antibodies.
Slow fermented sourdough bread is also very helpful to your gut.
Protein does not necessarily have to mean meat or fish – eating a range of different proteins is also very helpful to extending your immune body’s lifespan.
A study of 120 older adults found that a Mediterranean diet, high in vegetables, fruit, pulses, wholegrains, oily fish and olive oil, had a positive impact on ageing immune cells.
Vitamin D has a long-established role in one’s immunity.
Spending plenty of time outside in the sunshine and taking supplements when the sun’s rays are insufficient is crucial to extending your immune system’s functionality.
An estimated third of people in the UK are vitamin D deficient and therefore supplements of this kind are often advised for Britons especially.
Stress is one of the most devastating influences on health.
It can impact your sleep pattern and mental health hugely and therefore avoiding and managing stress effectively is essential.
Those quick to anger tend to have immune systems which are constantly primed for inflammation which means they weaken with age.
Social connection is also important as loneliness can cause immune systems to go into stress.
This prompts an inflammatory response which can cause long-term damage.
Ohio University has announced a series of scholarship and prize giveaways for vaccinated students, while the state prepares to revive its multi-million-dollar lottery scheme to boost vaccination coverage.
Fully vaccinated students who sign up for the college’s “vaccination pathway” programme, which exempts them from having to take a weekly asymptomatic Covid-19 test, will be eligible for weekly prize drawings between now and mid-August, Ohio University said in a statement on Wednesday.
Two weekly winners for the next four weeks can choose between $ 500 scholarships or other prizes such as an on-campus autumn photo shoot, a VIP ride in the homecoming parade or “dinner with a soon-to-be-announced Ohio University celebrity.” (The university’s alumni include Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, MacGyver star Richard Dean Anderson, and businessman Robert Walter, who had a role in the creation of Cardinal Health.)
The grand prize, to be drawn in the fifth week, is a scholarship for the autumn 2021 semester.
The announcement comes a day after Ohio governor Mike DeWine said the state planned to announce a new vaccination incentive programme within the next week.
DeWine provided few details during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, but hinted the lottery could include smaller amounts of money to give more people a chance at winning, local media reported.
While some states had begun to offer beer or tickets to the baseball, Ohio in May became the first to announce a vaccine lottery offering million-dollar cash prizes and full college scholarships to previously or newly vaccinated residents. California and New Mexico were among those to follow Ohio’s lead. West Virginia did, too, but also pledged guns as prizes.
The Republican governor said on Tuesday he was concerned about the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 and parts of Ohio that have low vaccination rates. The highly-transmissible strain of the virus, which was first identified in India, is behind an increase in cases in communities in states like Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi that have low vaccination coverage.
When DeWine announced the first lottery in mid-May, Ohio had vaccinated about 37 per cent of its population, which compared to the national average of about 35 per cent. Two months later, 45.6 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated, which is 2.6 percentage points below coverage for the US overall and puts Ohio in the bottom half of states.
Temma Ehrenfeld is a writer and ghostwriter in New York drawn to philosophy and psychiatry. Her most recent book is Morgan: The Wizard of Kew Gardens. This story was originally featured on Undark.
A year before the pandemic, I was diagnosed with a condition called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). A hallmark of the syndrome is hypersensitivities in more than one organ system: Food and other triggers can give me abdominal pain and severe diarrhea; my nose swells and I sneeze and wheeze. That sounds like allergies, but I’ve never tested positive on an allergy test.
Mast cells are among the immune system’s first line of defense. They are abundant in the parts of the body that have close contact with the outside world, including the skin, airways, and intestines. Mast cells gone wrong cause allergic symptoms, secreting histamine and giving us itchy eyes, hives, and rashes. Less well understood is their role in modulating the responses of other immune cells. Before the pandemic, researchers had suggested that mast cell dysfunction could explain severe cases of the flu—and highlighted the cells’ role in shutting down inflammation in a variety of situations. In my case, probably because of a genetic peculiarity, my mast cells overreact.
I was fairly stable on my medication, and then I became sick with Covid-19. Months after the virus had passed and I no longer had pneumonia, I was still fighting fatigue and breathlessness. My symptoms also flared up erratically. On some mornings, for example, the oatmeal I had relied on for years could cause me abdominal pain. “Once the mast cell response is turned up, it doesn’t wind down just because the infection is gone,” explained my doctor, Leo Galland, a New York internist who specializes in difficult cases.
MCAS often seems to first emerge after a virus. Could it explain any of the symptoms of the growing group of patients with long Covid? Congress has now dedicated more than a billion dollars towards research into why so many post-COVID patients—roughly a quarter, more often women—still feel ill long after their infection. In Facebook groups and elsewhere, people with plausible symptoms—for instance, severe lingering rashes and months of hives—have been trading information about remedies for the disease. Severe fatigue after exercise suggested myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, which some say is linked to MCAS. Others became lightheaded when they stood up, which might mean they had postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Spend an hour searching online, and you’ll find papers saying POTS, too, may be a manifestation of MCAS.
But getting a workup for the syndrome can be a long ordeal. The full range of tests and treatments aren’t routinely covered by insurance, leaving some patients to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket. Before you get there, you need to find a sympathetic doctor: Researchers don’t agree on whether the illness is rare, or quite common.
I was lucky; Galland took me on in the 1980s. Long before the microbiome became a news item, he diagnosed me with intestinal dysbiosis—a disturbed gut. We don’t know why I got sick when I did, but when I showed up in Galland’s office, I was a young woman on an absurdly limited diet with a myriad of fluctuating symptoms. On a trip to Tucson, as just one example, my face and arms ballooned, and then shrank on the plane home. I had been exposed to a fungus in the desert. My grandmother commiserated; when her face swelled up, her doctors in Antwerp, in the 1930s, pulled out all of her teeth. She had no explanation.
Interestingly, disturbances in the gut may be linked to severe COVID-19, and correcting them a possible path to health for long COVID sufferers. Mast cells may have a unique role in communicating with gut bacteria. In midlife, I fit the profile for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the abdominal pain, often accompanied by diarrhea or constipation, that afflicts as much as 20 percent of the population, and often sets in after a virus. Desperate, in 2018, I had just completed a trial of hypnotherapy for IBS when my digestion took an embarrassing turn, with accidents in taxis, and I could no longer eat outside my home.
A new dietician, Tamara Duker Freuman, author of “The Bloated Belly Whisperer,” helped me identify the worst offenders: foods that are high in histamine, which can be found in everything from alcohol to avocados. After further testing, Galland put me on a regime: an arsenal of mast cell modulators and anti-histamines, including Pepcid, which also blocks histamine.
And I got better.
Mast cells were first named in 1878 by a German-Jewish Nobel Prize winner, Paul Ehrlich, a father of modern immunology who is most famous for discovering the cure for syphilis. At the turn of the century, scientists discovered anaphylaxis, the classic mast cell allergic reaction. The word comes from the Greek ana (against) and phylaxis (protection). The idea that an immune response could actually hurt us, rather than protect us, came as shock. Current research about the gut and immunity may change the paradigm again.
Five decades later, in 1949, scientists described a rare genetic disorder called mastocytosis, in which mast cells produce clones, building up in the skin, bones, and other organs. It wasn’t until the 1980s that researchers began to notice that mast cells could become hyper-responsive or over-activated without cloning.
On a separate track, since the 1990s, researchers have explored mast cell activity in IBS. (A clinical trial of Pepcid and Zyrtec for difficult IBS cases is currently underway at the University of Cincinnati.) Kyle Staller, director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, now sometimes prescribes Pepcid if he sees other signs like hives, to patients who ask him to consider a histamine or MCAS issue. “I think anyone who’s been following the science closely has to start wondering, ‘How much could this be playing a role in that IBS patient who’s in front of us on a given day?’” he told me.
Competing proposals for diagnostic criteria emerged after 2010. Both proposals say that doctors should rule out other explanations for a person’s symptoms, and that symptoms should appear in a least two organ systems (in my case, it affects my gut, nose, and skin). Both proposals require lab tests—but they disagree on which tests are necessary, and on the ranges that would indicate someone has MCAS, as well as other details. Because lab results are elusive, Galland and some other doctors rely on a medical history instead.
The disagreement has led to two camps. In camp one, the condition is rare; in camp two, it occurs in up to 17 percent of the adult population. Specialists in camp one say patients are misled: “More and more patients are informed that they may have [mast cell activation syndrome] without completing a thorough medical evaluation,” an international group of 24 authors, led by Peter Valent, a hematologist and stem cell researcher at the Medical University of Vienna, wrote in April 2019 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
A year later, a largely American group of 43 authors led by Lawrence Afrin, one of the earliest mast cell activation researchers, countered in the journal Diagnosis that patients are suffering and even dying from underdiagnosis. By then the pandemic had arrived, and Afrin suggested that some patients with long COVID might be experiencing MCAS.
Patients were seeing links as well. For example, the distinct POTS symptom of extreme lightheadedness, once often dismissed as a problem of anxious young women, emerged as one of the odder long Covid symptoms. POTS, which has been reported by patients who experienced Lyme and other infections, may involve histamine and several other chemicals released by mast cells. It is known to overlap with MCAS.
Last fall, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on what it labeled multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS), the name rang bells: MCAS is clearly a multi-system inflammatory syndrome. Theoharis Theoharides, a professor of immunology at Tufts University who has studied mast cells for more than 40 years, wrote that MIS patients should be evaluated for MCAS.
Mariana Castells, director of the Mastocytosis Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told me in an email that she’s seen no data showing that long COVID patients have the requisite diagnostic markers of MCAS.
Observers agree that the long COVID group probably includes people with different vulnerabilities. It would be marvelous indeed, if, one day, we found a single powerful concept to understand post-viral illness.
In the meantime, you might not need to fit either group’s criteria for MCAS, a difficult and chronic illness, to experience your mast cells’ betraying you sometimes. “Like many, many conditions, over time we [may] learn that there’s a spectrum of disease,” Staller said. “It’s not an all or nothing phenomenon.”
Even the group that sees MCAS as rare acknowledges the existence of a less severe form of mast cell activation that does not meet MCAS criteria. Theoharides has detailed several categories of the illness. He told me that he’d guess half of patients diagnosed with IBS might have mast cell activation of some kind.
If mast cell dysfunction is truly common, I trust the online buzz to help us find out. Crowdsourcing on patient forums is here to stay. And it’s good, after all, that sick people shared information, found support, and made long COVID a “thing” with ontological status.
Growing up, I had wondered if my grandmother’s multiple “allergies” were real. We didn’t laugh, but we didn’t exactly believe her. Then it happened to me.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas will argue that it has governmental immunity that protects it from the at least 35 lawsuits that have been filed against the operator after February’s disastrous winter storm which killed dozens of people and created millions of dollars of damages.
“ERCOT has and will continue to assert that it is entitled to sovereign immunity due to its organization and function as an arm of State government,” the organization wrote in a Wednesday court filing requesting to consolidate several of the lawsuits it’s battling.
Sovereign immunity grants protections for state agencies against lawsuits, with some exceptions. And this isn’t the first time ERCOT has made the argument — with some success — that it should be shielded from lawsuits due to its role acting upon the directives of state agencies and lawmakers.
In 2018, an appeals court in Dallas ruled that ERCOT, despite the fact that it is a private nonprofit, has sovereign immunity after Dallas-based utility Panda Power sued the operator over allegations of flawed energy projections.
That immunity was challenged at the Texas Supreme Court last month. However, the high court refused to rule on the issue, claiming it lacked jurisdiction because the original case that posed the question was dismissed — a hotly contested opinion with four of the nine justices dissenting.
The grid operator is asking the Texas Supreme Court to merge the nearly three dozen lawsuits filed against it as a result of the February storm into multidistrict litigation, meaning the cases would be handled in a single court.
A spokesperson for ERCOT said in a statement it requested the move “to more efficiently resolve common questions of law and fact.”
Attorneys for ERCOT detailed the lawsuits filed against it over the last couple of months in the request. Two dozen include families accusing the operator of causing the deaths of family members, who they say died from sickness, cold or lack of power for oxygen machines, according to court filings. One of these cases include the death of an 11-year-old boy in Conroe.
In some lawsuits, ERCOT is named alongside Texas power companies, such as CenterPoint Energy, NRG Energy, Oncor and CPS Energy — which do not have sovereign immunity. Two of the cases are proposed class action lawsuits.
ERCOT’s insurance provider, Cincinnati Insurance Co., asked the U.S. district court in Austin on Tuesday to excuse it from covering storm damages or damages from lawsuits, according to the Houston Chronicle. It argues that the damages should not be defined as an accident because ERCOT should have been prepared for the storm.
Disclosure: CenterPoint Energy, CPS Energy, NRG Energy and Oncor have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.