Inflammation and Age In The COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 is showing how inflammation and age are making people vulnerable to viral infection, severe symptoms, and even death. Let this be a wake-up call to address any chronic illness that’s making you chronically inflamed.
Inflammation and age go hand-in-hand. This is so clearly true that scientists have coined a term for the association — inflammaging.
A 2019 study published in Aging and Disease put it like this:
One of the major changes that occur during aging is the dysregulation of the immune response, leading to a chronic systemic inflammatory state. Among the dysregulated proinflammatory mediators, cytokines and chemokines are major culprits in the development of chronic inflammation and the immunosenescence process.
In that quote, you might recognize some newly acquired terms that have been presented to us in various explanations of what can happen when infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease:
- Dysregulation of the immune response — A rapid and well-coordinated innate immune response is the first line of defense against viral infections; however, when the immune response is dysregulated, it will result in excessive inflammation, and even cause death
- Proinflammatory mediators — Pro-inflammatory molecules inside your body are strong predictors of all-cause mortality risk.
- Cytokines and chemokines — These are two immune-modulating agents, which are involved in the mediating and modulating of the responses of the immune system. If they are imbalanced, the so-called, often deadly “cytokine storm” can ensue.
- Immunosenescence — This refers to the changes in immune function that contribute to the increased susceptibility to disease in the elderly.
All of these extend from a weakened immune system that SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 (“Covid”) exploit. And that’s why certain “comorbidities” increase the odds of becoming infected and experiencing challenging, deleterious symptoms.
The highly respected Covid expert Dr. David Katz clearly describes the inflammation/comorbidity/Covid connection in a piece he wrote about the mechanistic conjunction between inflammation and chronic diseases:
“Obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases both induce systematic inflammation, and are propagated by it. Such dysfunctional inflammation [my link] in turn impairs the body’s capacity for the functional inflammatory responses that are the hallmark of effective immunity, while potentiating misdirected, unbalanced immune responses such as the now notorious “cytokine storm.” These pathways impair vascular function at the origins of its control in the endothelium that lines our vast network of blood vessels, putting every organ-system at risk, and explaining the dizzying spectrum of COVID complications.”
Add to these comorbidities, age, because what makes these diseases chronic is time. You need time for a poor diet and lack of exercise to create illnesses like type 2 diabetes, or atherosclerosis, as the graph below so decisively shows:
The correlation between age and chronic disease is one big reason that older people are much more vulnerable than most other cohorts are to infection, hospitalization and death by Covid. The chart below shows Covid infections and deaths by age group in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the pandemic.
It’s startling to see how high are the chances are of getting infected with Covid as we get older, not to mention dying. I don’t know the number, but imagine how big a proportion of the general population are those who have one or more comorbidities, as well as 50 years old and older. When you add obesity into the mix — a chronic condition that according to Harvard approximately one-third of American’s have — that number is very, very significant.
-associated increases in Covid infection rate, severity and lethality is immunosenescence.
Not limited to Covid, immunosenescence is a well-known age-related process contributing to the global burden of chronic disease . It is among the major factors underlying the difference between younger and older populations in the response rate to vaccinations and the virulence of infectious diseases .
One big reason for this is that as we age, our thymus gland shrinks. It’s been shown that the infection rates of Covid, separated by age, are correlated with involution of the thymus . By the time you reach between 40 and 50, there are negligible traces of the thymus remaining . Given that the thymus boost your immunity by playing a role in the development of a special type of white cells called T-cells, it’s not helpful to our immune system that it decreases significantly in older age .
The good news is that much of what places us at higher risk for bad Covid outcomes is fixable. While the best and brightest of us pour themselves into developing a Covid vaccine — which may be one year or longer before it’s created, tested and distributed — we can strive to understand and incorporate into our diets the proper anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing nutrition to develop a high-potency defense against Covid.
If you need some incentive to prepare your immune system for some challenges as we head back into the world before this pandemic has waned much (in fact in some places it’s had a resurgence), perhaps you should get a handle on your personal risk factors for infection.
Last week, I published a post, What’s Your COVID Risk Level? Take The Test, where I wrote about this COVID-19 Risk Calculator:
And now I want to show you another way to assess your risk for Covid infection based on age and health. This approach was developed by the aforementioned Dr. Katz.
Examine the following table, and then scroll down for a description:
Age vs Health Covid Risk Matrix
The copy that accompanies the table above does a good job of describing what the chart signifies; in my case, however, I read it thrice, so don’t hurry through the explanation.
The chart makes risk associations between age and health, and presented are three tiers of each. The upshot:
- Most risk: Over 70 and burdened by disease — stay home and physically distance.
- Middle risk: Between 50 and 69 and generally healthy — return to work, or other places with people, but wear a mask and keep six feet away from others.
- Low risk: Under 50 and healthy — party!… no, I mean, don’t do anything stupid, but relax a bit.
I hope that table up there helps you assess your Covid risk profile.
To further help yourself:
Any of the above links will help you break the connection between inflammation and age.
There’s also this: