From beautifying creams and lotions, aesthetic surgery, all the way to medical supplements that aim to increase our life span and rejuvenate our bodies and minds, our species has long been searching for ways to live longer than ever before.
In addition to researching Mother Nature and the creatures that have naturally long lives in search for their “elixir of life”, scientists have also started looking into nations and people who have preserved their health for longer than a hundred years, and the underlying ingredients that have enabled them to live so long.
While you’ll find numerous studies, research papers, as well as hypotheses out there suggesting a slew of different factors from the location of their residence, their diet (such as the Mediterranean diet )that has the potential to add years to your life), all the way to their basic lifestyle preferences, some of the most recent results point to a single cell in our immune system: the cytotoxic T cell.
Although there’s still so much the scientific community has to discover before we can start producing actual immortality potions, here are a few interesting bits of data we’ve collected thus far that tell us how our immune cells grant us different lifespans.
Your immune system in action
Every single day, your body fends off numerous pathogens, from viruses, bacteria, all the way to parasites, toxic elements, and the like. Containing an intricate system of tissues, organs, and individual cells, your immune system serves a unique purpose to defend your body from harm and ensure health and longevity.
Your immune system works around the clock spotting threats and removing them with a range of different methods – which is why you experience fever when you get sick as your body elevates its own temperature to fight off viruses and bacteria.
Without referring to the minor portion of the population that unfortunately deals with some form of autoimmune disorder, deficiency, or hypersensitivity, we are all born with some level of immunity and we continue to adapt during our existence, which allows us to build up our resilience to various illnesses and diseases.
While there are so many complex roles in your immune system, one particular cell has drawn scientific attention for its incredible role in protecting our health: the cytotoxic T cell.
Deciphering cytotoxic T cells
Also known as CD8+ T cells, these defensive little beasts mostly belong to our adaptive or earned immune system, which means that we develop them over time rather than being born with a set number of these cells. What makes them so efficient is that they seek and destroy all kinds of pathogens as well as defective cells, or tumors.
As a result, they amp up the power of your overall defense mechanisms and ensure that your body wards off any threats and diseases effectively. Now, these cells are present in any healthy immune system, but their presence varies in numbers, making them more or less effective.
This is where the most recent research steps in to save the day, as studies have pointed out that these cytotoxic T cells are present in greater numbers among people who manage to reach very old age and stay healthy. So, it’s not just about increasing lifespan, but ensuring that the quality of those added years is equally high, so as to make sure health and vitality in old age and these cells play a key role in both to occur.
Supercentenarians – our key to longevity
Now, these studies have been conducted in some of the regions known to have the oldest living people on the planet that are of excellent health, such as Japan. It seems that Asia is generally a region where longevity presents itself more frequently, paired with good health and lower instances of various forms of cancer.
This, however, hasn’t decreased the quality of preventative measures such as comprehensive life insurance in Singapore even against critical illnesses, including cancer, in these regions. Their awareness of the risks associated with such health problems is on the rise, making their population eager to practice prevention (and post-cancer care!).
This prevention-focused mindset is a very prudent one, especially since supercentenarians (someone who has reached the age of 110) are rare in any society, including Asia. What’s curious about this age group is that their cytotoxic T cells have a dual role: they retain their original role as helper cells to “tell” other immune system cells how to keep invaders at bay, but they also assume the role of killer cells and directly attack whatever is compromising the immune system. To put it in perspective, the number of these unique cells in younger study participants was around 2.8%, which is very low, whereas supercentenarians had approximately 25% of these cells.
Lifestyle paired with genetics
Essentially, the dramatic increase of these double-trouble cytotoxic T cells in the bloodstream of supercentenarians has pointed researchers to look to the immune system for answers to our longevity. While there’s still a need to establish a direct link between these cells and our potential to increase our lifespan, the pattern sure comes with a promise of better understanding the role of our genetics and our lifestyle in the pursuit of a longer life.
Truth be told, the number of supercentenarians is very small on a global scale, and more studies are needed to make further conclusions regarding the unique makeup of their immune systems, as well as other factors that could play into the longevity game. Perhaps getting to know these cells will help the scientific community come up with unique cancer-fighting antigens and similar disease-specific treatments that will help improve the lifespan of those who weren’t lucky enough to have such high numbers of cytotoxic T cells in the first place.
Increasing your own lifespan
Of course, before we can rely on our own immune systems to do all the work, we shouldn’t forget that our lifestyle choices impact our ability to live longer and reach those silver years in good health. For instance, around 60% of all premature deaths have been linked to unhealthy lifestyle choices, giving you a fair fighting chance to add more vital years to your life.
For starters, you can ditch smoking, drinking alcohol, and you can certainly switch to a healthier diet, while you ensure that you’re active every day and include regular exercise into your weekly schedule. Until the time comes for us to recruit our immune systems, make sure that you’re doing your best to lead a healthy life and you’ll have a better chance at spending your silver years resilient and strong.