Life Extension Magazine®

Man in bed with IL-6 and wife looking at thermometer

When Your Immune Function Falls

Standardized botanicals have been shown to improve protective immune factors while reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6).

Scientifically reviewed by Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: William Faloon.

Significant dollars are being invested to develop methods to turn youthful immune function back “on.”

Yet many of us can’t wait for delays while our immune systems “fall off a cliff.”

This article explains some of the changes that occur with aging that cause our immune functions to become dysfunctional (senescent).

It also describes some of what is available today to help restore immune competence in aging humans, including suppressing the interleukin-6 cytokine.

Much of this article was published by Life Extension® in January 2016.1

Human research has since moved forward on several fronts to induce systemic improvements in immune functions.

Around age 60 a startling change occurs that decimates our ability to combat infections and malignancies.

Some people encounter these immune impairments earlier in life.

This catastrophic event decreases naïve T cells needed to ward off new bacteria, viruses, and cancers.

At the same time naïve T cells are lost, we accumulate senile memory T cells that emit pro-inflammatory signals that wreak havoc in every organ system.2

One of the deadliest of these inflammatory “signals” is a cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6).3

Higher IL-6 levels are associated with a 2-fold greater risk of death.4 Higher levels are also involved with multiple degenerative processes, including frailty, from which so many elderly suffer.5-7

A common trait of healthy centenarians is that they have unusually low levels of IL-6.8

People associate immune senescence with weakened immune function. It turns out that impaired immunity is only half the problem. Spiraling levels of IL-6 that attack our healthy tissues are another component of immune senescence that must be addressed.9

The encouraging news is that significant dollars are being invested to develop technologies to turn youthful immune function back “on.10 These immune-restoration therapies may add decades to our healthy lifespans.

The problem is that many of us can’t wait for bureaucratic delays while our immune systems fall off a cliff.

There is an urgent need today to accelerate restoration of immune competence in aging humans, including suppressing deadly interleukin-6 levels.

Leading Cause of Disability and Death in Older Persons

medicine vial

Immune senescence is a leading cause of disability and infectious death in aging humans.11

By way of example, deaths from pneumonia are rare in youth, but spiral upward as humans mature.12 If you read obituaries (as I do), the number of once-vigorous individuals who perish from opportunistic illnesses caused by immune senescence is startling.

Life Extension® magazine has published in-depth reports about underlying causes of immune senescence and what stop-gap measures people should initiate to reverse this deadly trend.13-15

In people over age 65, the top 10 causes of death include influenza, pneumonia, and sepsis.16 Immune senescence is a major cause of all these maladies.12,17-22

Cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and heart attack are common diseases of aging.16 These illnesses are all also related to immune senescence.

We often hear the term “immune health” as people seek to protect against winter viral infections. The public does not yet understand what causes our immune system to fail as we age.

We conclude that CHF (chronic heart failure) patients show a higher degree of immunosenescence than age-matched healthy controls. T-lymphocyte differentiation and IL-6 levels are increased in patients with an advanced clinical status and may contribute to disease impairment through a compromised adaptive immune response due to accelerated aging of their immune system.”

Publication: International Journal of Cardiology – July 1, 2014

Article title: Immunosenescence and inflammation characterize chronic heart failure patients with more advanced disease.

More Naïve T Cells Urgently Needed

Immune imbalance occurs when our aging immune system fails to protect against new cancers/infections and instead generates inflammatory reactions (including increased IL-6) that attack every cell in our body.

A “naïve immune cell is one that has not yet been activated.23 Since it is “naïve” (not yet exposed to an antigen), naïve immune cells are primed to effectively respond to new infectious agents and malignancies.

Once exposed, naïve immune cells become memory cells or plasma cells specific to the original antigen. As our internal reservoir of naïve immune cells is decreased, we have less ability to respond to new infections/malignancies.23

A deficit of naïve immune cells combined with overaccumulation of exhausted memory cells decreases the efficacy (antibody response) of vaccinations.24

Exhausted memory T cells are associated with increased risks of coronary heart disease and endothelial dysfunction, along with systemic inflammation.25-30

If we are to guard against the ravages of immune senescence, we need to increase our numbers of naïve cells (“virgin” immune cells), while reducing numbers of senile memory cells.

What you need to know

Immune Senescence

  • Around age 60, physiological changes decimate our ability to combat infections and malignancies.
  • Immune senescence is a leading cause of disability and death in aging humans.
  • Most Life Extension® customers take nutrients that boost immune activity, including zinc, DHEA and fish oil.
  • Immune imbalance occurs when our immune system fails to protect against new infections and instead generates inflammatory reactions (including increased IL-6) that attack every cell in our body.
  • The herb Cistanche helps combat immune senescence, which appears to have rejuvenating effects on bone marrow.
  • Supplementation with Cistanche has been shown to increase naïve T cells and natural killer (NK) cells while decreasing memory T cells and pro-inflammatory IL-6.

Protecting against Immune Senescence

scientist using a microscope

Most Life Extension® customers take nutrients that exert beneficial effects on immune activity.

Zinc and DHEA partially restore thymus function, which is vital to transforming bone-marrow-derived immune cells into activated T cells. 31-35

DHEA and fish oil help suppress deadly interleukin-6.36-41

An advance in combatting immune senescence is an herb called Cistanche. This medicinal plant has been used extensively in China to treat the “ailments of aging.”42

Supplementation with Cistanche has been shown to increase naïve T cells and natural killer (NK) cells while decreasing memory T cells and pro-inflammatory interleukin-6.43

A prime cause of the severe immune dysfunction suffered by the elderly is a marked decrease in naïve T cells44-46 and functional natural killer cells,47-49 with a concomitant increase in memory T cells.50,51

Cistanche counteracts these pathological trends that characterize immune senescence.43

How Cistanche Boosts T Cell Production and Healthy Longevity

Doctorholding vial

Cistanche helps restore progenitors of peripheral naïve T cells, which explains the increase seen in these vital immune cells in response to Cistanche.43

Animals supplemented with Cistanche have increased lifespans, which would be expected from a compound that counteracts immune senescence.43

Cistanche is one of the most popular Chinese herbal medicines and is listed in the Chinese herbal pharmacopeias as having “anti-aging” properties.

One reason Chinese physicians see such impressive therapeutic results is that Cistanche restores one of the most prominent bone marrow biomarkers of immune cell formation called stem cell antigen-1.43

Senile bone marrow loses its ability to produce fresh, naïve immune cells, which are launched into the bloodstream to differentiate into mature naïve T and natural killer cells.

Bone marrow stem cell antigen-1 represents the body’s main source of naïve T cells in the blood.43

Cistanche appears to have a rejuvenating effect on the bone marrow, something that is generally available only through expensive recombinant drugs. 52-54

The beneficial impact of Cistanche was demonstrated in an open-label, pilot trial of elderly people. This study combined a low dose of Cistanche (100 mg) with zinc, vitamin E, vitamin B6, fucoidan, and coenzyme Q10. Not only were markers of immune senescence reversed, but the test subjects reported improvements in quality of life, such as not “feeling tired all the time.

This makes sense in light of the multiple adverse effects immune senescence inflicts on the body, which include increased levels of frailty.55

Cistanche represents an opportunity to restore vital components of our aging immune systems. Its low cost makes it readily affordable.

Suppressing Deadly Impact of IL-6


One way of describing “aging” is that beneficial factors (such as naïve T cell production) decrease while detrimental ones (like interleukin-6) increase.

IL-6 levels are especially high in patients with autoimmune conditions in which an out-of-control immune system attacks one’s own tissues.

High-serum IL-6, as seen in rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, is regarded as a reliable biomarker of high-grade inflammation.56-58

When it comes to “normal” aging, elevated IL-6 contributes to the destruction of bone, heart valves, neurons, and other tissues.

The DNA damage that IL-6 inflicts accelerates aging processes and malignant transformation of healthy cells.59-65

Life Extension® has published a number of articles about the critical need for aging humans to suppress chronic inflammatory inducers like interleukin-6.

As will be described in the article on page 58, a low-cost tea extract has demonstrated the ability to reduce IL-6.

When this tea extract by itself was given to 90 patients (30-65 years old) with metabolic syndrome, the following reductions in inflammatory markers were observed:66

  • C-reactive protein (CRP) was reduced by 26%
  • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF-a) was reduced by 23%
  • Interleukin-6 (IL-6) was reduced by 21%

In addition to suppressing IL-6 and other inflammatory factors, this tea extract was shown to favorably alter genes (such as mutant p53) involved in tumor cell growth.67

Making Major Strides… but Not Fast Enough

For the past five years, significant resources have been expended to initiate studies aimed at counteracting age-related disease.

Scientific studies document how certain nutrients that Life Extension® supporters have taken for decades (like DHEA and zinc) help protect against immune decline, while guarding against chronic inflammatory factors.68-73

Consumers have access to an arsenal of novel compounds to help counteract the underlying factors that characterize immune senescence.

An impressive array of clinical research is being investigated to induce systemic age reversal in elderly people, including restoration of youthful immune function .

The carnage inflicted by dysfunctional immunity in the elderly mandates that research accelerate faster, so that more lives can be saved.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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