They grow, and learn many things. They serve a good purpose in their society, but age and gather damage during their useful lives. Eventually they lose efficiency, transmit their expertise to the next generation, and expire gracefully. Who are these worthy individuals? Your brave immune cells!
Just like us, immune cells age. And just like us, they can age more quickly or more slowly. Some kinds of stress accelerate immune aging, which can contribute to inflammation, while other “positive” types of stress slow it down.
The Power of Positive Stress
Seem strange? Humans evolved under many threats to survival, and certain temporary stressors actually have a positive effect on our ability to renew our immune and other cells. As a result, we age more slowly and retain better immune function over time.
These “positive” stresses have a very particular influence on cells — they convince them to do a really deep spring cleaning and separate their useful treasures from all their damaged junk.
Then something kind of awesome happens. The cells divide into 1) a new cell outfitted with the tools and nutrients it needs for work, and 2) a collection of garbage that is bagged and tagged for disposal. What’s really amazing is that this is a natural and normal rejuvenation process, yet it doesn’t happen as often as needed for health if we don’t experience those positive stresses often enough.
Modern research has identified three distinct things that encourage this kind of healthy cell renewal — and all three relate directly to natural influences on human evolution.
- Having brief, repeated periods of less food, or going without. This is now sometimes being replicated for health purposes by limited instances of fasting (whether hours or days), but it’s good to check with your doctor before trying them. Another approach is observing one-day periods of eating only fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Having brief but regular times of performing hard physical labor in order to survive, or traveling long distances in order to obtain food. Replicating this could translate into an especially intense soccer game or exercise session, shoveling lots of heavy snow, an extended hike in hilly terrain, or doing the gardening without any labor-saving devices. Again, get the good-to-go from your doctor beforehand.
- Eating plants that grew under harsh conditions. Weathering flood, drought, insects, heat, poor soil, or freezing causes plants to concentrate specific nutrients that help them adapt and survive. Enjoying organic produce and heirloom plant varieties (Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat is a great example) can also help humans top up on plant nutrients that specialize in stimulating cell rejuvenation.
For a Deeper Dive
Curious to learn more? Here’s a science article that describes how cell renewal gets triggered by fasting, exercise, and consumption of particular plant nutrients. It’s ironic that many of our modern lives are stress-filled and yet lack opportunities for events like these to exert their beneficial influences.