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Aging in Centenarians: The Role of Resilience

Henning Kalwa

06/07/2024

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Aging in Centenarians: Resilience is Key

Key takeways

Many factors have been studied to determine what contributes to longevity in humans

A recent study determined that immune resilience seems to be a common factor in many centenarians

Immune resilience may be genetic in centenarians

Centenarians have been a hot topic recently, which is quite understandable. Living to be 100 years old is a mean feat. However, what is particularly interesting to both researchers and regular people alike is the fact that age-related diseases often seem to spare centenarians. While most of us begin to suffer from age-related chronic illnesses as soon as we touch the 60s, those who live till they are a hundred enjoy morbidity compression, wherein for most of their lives, both their minds and their bodies work seamlessly without any hassles. In their final days, their organ reserve and functional status undergo a quick decline. Their lives are evidence enough that it is possible to live a life where healthspan and lifespan converge. About 150 years ago, this curiosity about people who comfortably lead long healthy lives led to the field of research known as centenarian studies. Research in this area continues to intrigue many scientists and there is more work to be done before we gain a comprehensive understanding of what sets centenarians apart. There are many aspects of the lives of centenarians that were evaluated by scientists, right from their diets to their mental health. The focus of this article is their immune resilience which, according to theories, plays a crucial role in longevity.   

Table of contents

Fundamentals of the Immune System

Our immune system works day and night to defend our body from the frontline. In particular, this complex network helps ensure that we are healthy across three primary verticals: 

Innate Immunity

This type of immunity is always ready to address any threat and may be compared to a rapid-response team. Here, our white blood cells are in charge. They flow across our bodies to identify any foreign elements and actively engulf them. 

Adaptive Immunity

Our adaptive immunity is akin to specialized forces. They customize responses when specific threats emerge, based on their prior experience with them. Here, T cells and B cells, which are crucial lymphocytes, play an active role. While targeted attacks are carried out by T cells when they encounter infected cells, antibodies are produced by B cells. Antibodies help identify threats, so they can be destroyed. Our adaptive immunity protects us from contracting the same infection more than once.

Barrier Systems

Finally, we have our barrier systems, which are like security checkpoints in an airport. We are protected from many pathogens by our skin, which is a highly effective barrier. Invaders are also trapped by mucous membranes present in our digestive tracts and respiratory systems, ensuring they don’t cause any disease or illness. 

In addition to ensuring that we don’t contract infections, our immune system also plays a role in the prevention of cancer by ensuring that our body is capable of differentiating between our cells and invaders. The immune system also causes inflammation in response to foreign threats, by raising blood flow and facilitating greater immune cells. This helps get rid of disease-causing stimuli and improves healing.  

Resilience and Centenarians: Is There a Correlation? 

Turbaned Tornado is the nickname given to Fauja Singh, who is the first and only known centenarian marathon runner. When Fauja Singh was asked about how he managed to complete a marathon at his age, he said that he does not find it challenging to run the first 20 miles. During the remaining six miles, he claims to talk to God while running. On a scientific level, it may be resilience that is driving Singh through the last few miles, which is as miraculous as God.

Resilience, in simple terms, is a biological characteristic that enables the body to bounce back despite being subjected to many stressors. There are many ways in which this quality manifests itself, with scientists arguing that centenarians are the best examples of this attribute.      

The immune resilience of this group has been a topic of substantial research in recent times. What exactly does this term mean? Immune resilience enables individuals, regardless of their age, to navigate adverse states by managing inflammation and quickly facilitating immune activity. 

For instance, in a marathon, immense physical stress impacts the body when running. Illness or fatigue may be the body’s inflammatory response in such a situation. However, those who exhibit immune resilience can effectively handle this inflammatory response by ensuring that it does not harm the body in any way. To do so, it releases Interleukin-13, which is a protein that sustains energy by briefly reprogramming the muscles’ metabolism.    

As such, it is not presumptuous to argue that Singh’s muscles and seamlessly functioning cardiovascular system that he developed as a marathoner helped him get through the initial part of the marathon. However, once he began to feel tired, his immune resilience came to the rescue and enabled him to cross the finish line.       

Evidence of Centenarian Immune Resilience

The Turbaned Tornado is merely one example of how immune resilience possibly contributes to centenarian longevity. This section will further delve into various real-world studies to reiterate the role of the immune system in protecting centenarians against various complications associated with age. 

COVID-19

It was apparent during the peak of COVID-19 that the symptoms seemed more severe among the elderly population. Yet, this did not hold true for centenarians, which may be attributed to their immune resilience.

In one study, a blood sample was collected from centenarians who contracted COVID-19 and resided in a long-term care facility. These samples were tested to check if there are antibodies that are specific to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which is used by the virus when entering cells.  This research revealed that the spike-specific antibodies capable of ensuring that the virus does not spread or infect cells were potent in centenarians, even 60 days after their diagnoses.  

This general theory can be extrapolated to other infections as well, with substantial research showcasing that the health outcomes are positive against influenza, HIV, and sepsis in individuals who are immune resilient.

Cancer 

It is interesting to note that resistance to cancers seems higher among centenarians with immune resilience. There are three parameters that were identified by scientists when studying the mechanisms that contribute to this level of resistance: p53 (a protein), IGF-1 (a hormone), and inflammation.      

The hormone in question resembles insulin and is a crucial element for growth. Unfortunately, it may also lead to cancer cell growth. On the other hand, p53 works toward the prevention of tumor growth. According to studies, an interesting combination of these parameters is prevalent in centenarians. Their high protein levels prevent inflammation, while their responses to IGF-1 are low. Their p53 responses are effective. A combination of these factors helps prevent cancer.      

Inflammaging

In recent years, inflammaging has become a popular term in the media. What does it mean? It is a term used to refer to the chronic low-grade inflammation that occurs in the aged. This condition is subtle yet persistent, eventually leading to various age-related health issues and impacting everyday tasks. However, according to studies, inflammaging is handled in a unique way in centenarians. Typically, inflammation is promoted by T Helper 17 cells, while it is controlled by Regulatory T cells. Both of these are immune cells and in centenarians, there is an interesting balance between the two. While Regulatory T cells are higher, T Helper 17 cells are lower in proportion. This is how they manage to avoid inflammaging.      

Autoimmune Diseases

Finally, the possibility of suffering from autoimmune diseases increases with age, wherein a body starts attacking its own cells. Yet, this issue is seldom observed in people who are aged above ninety or hundred. According to research, the immune system produces proteins known as autoantibodies, which may begin attacking the tissues within a person’s body. However, centenarians produce relatively less autoantibodies, which means their immune system is more accurate at distinguishing the self from others.   

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Understanding the Significance of Centenarian Immune Resilience 

This article looked at all the ways in which longevity is enhanced in centenarians by their immune resistance. However, why is it significant for you?

Simply put, immune resilience is genetic among centenarians. If your parent lived to be a hundred, chances are, you will also lead a long and healthy life. We also learned that when compared to males, immune resilience is more common in females."

Over the next few years, research will be focused on supercentenarians – those who are aged 110 and above, in order to learn more about the secrets of longevity. 

To learn more about how you can benefit from cutting-edge longevity interventions today, contact ImagineHealth. Our team is dedicated to providing you with access to innovative treatments and strategies that can help you live a longer, healthier life. Discover the possibilities with ImagineHealth and take the first step towards enhancing your own longevity.

About the author

Henning Kalwa

Henning Kalwa is a visionary healthcare executive dedicated to democratizing access to innovative Longevity Medicine at affordable prices. Inspired by the accessibility enjoyed by global elites, Henning founded ImagineHealth with a mission to ensure that more people can benefit from cutting-edge healthcare solutions. With over 15 years of experience in healthcare management and a graduate of Harvard Medical School’s Southeast Asia Healthcare Leadership program, Henning is committed to transforming ImagineHealth into Thailand’s premier health facilitation company.
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