The New Swine Flu – Why Are Younger Adults Dying?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist Byron J. Richards,
Up to this point most deaths from the new swine flu have occurred in Mexico, striking indiscriminately at young and old. What alarms health officials is the ability of this flu to kill seemingly healthy young adults, which is a prerequisite for a pandemic. I have received a number of questions from concerned individuals wondering if boosting their immune system would make them more susceptible to a problem, a question I will cover in detail.
First, let’s put what we do know in perspective. Many of the Mexicans who have died are lower income individuals living in unsanitary and crowded conditions which are ideal breeding grounds for germs. It has been reported that they cannot afford to take time off work to seek medical care. Their diets are often lacking in key nutrients that would help the immune system behave normally. Nevertheless, there is still serious and legitimate concern that young adults can be killed by this flu.
The first death in the U.S. occurred in a 23-month-old Mexican infant who was in Texas at the time of outbreak. What has concerned health authorities here is that they were unable to save the child despite the use of anti-viral drugs, breathing assistance, and the best care that could be mustered.
The flu pandemic of 1918, also a swine flu, struck many young adults. Only recently did scientists figure out that this earlier swine flu was able to hijack the host’s own immune response and ramp up the inflammatory aspect of that immune response and thereby increase its level of attack in a healthy person.
It is important to understand that your immune system is not just one type of response, it is many. If you get the flu you absolutely must have the energy and nutrition to be able to make antibodies. The speed and efficiency you can do this will determine the severity of infection and your odds of survival.
For example, in cases where humans contracted the bird flu in Asia, if they began making enough antibodies to the infection by day 7 they lived, if they didn’t start mounting an effective response by day 9 they died. This pattern appears similar to the current reports of people dying in Mexico – by the 9th day of a significant battle it is too late unless your own immune system has kicked into gear. In this context you must have the nutritional horsepower to fuel antibody production or you could be in for a very unpleasant experience.
Another aspect of your immune response is its initial inflammatory reaction – which is of course normal. This is one aspect of immunity that occurs before antibodies are made, and is part of the process that leads to antibodies being made. It is possible for a younger or healthier person to have a more exaggerated inflammation response than an elderly person, infant, or person with compromised immunity. In this scenario, inflammatory cytokines may become their own problem – think of this as a “cytokine storm.” This was the case with the similar flu in 1918.
This problem does not mean that you should not attempt to naturally boost your immune system. It does mean that you should use nutrients as part of your immune support protocol that reduce inflammation so as to help “put a lid” on how much inflammation is generated. The single best nutrient for this is quercetin, which has been proven to help prevent the flu. However, there are many nutrients that are anti-inflammatory in nature and any of them would be helpful, including the fresh fruit and vegetables that should be part of your diet.
It is also important to understand that a younger adult who is stressed out, not sleeping enough, eating poorly, is too anxious or wound up, and is in a general trend of wear and tear has already primed the inflammatory pump. This means that a flu entering into such a person is much more likely to have a magnified inflammatory response because this person’s anti-inflammatory and relaxation reserves are already running on empty.
During the time of a potential flu pandemic the last thing you want to do is let yourself get worn down. Besides lifestyle management, any nutrients that help you sleep better, feel calmer, or manage stress better will also help your immune system not hyper-react to a problem.
While this may seem like common sense, there are many people out there who are generally healthy but are running their bodies into the ground trying to get things done. This is definitely a time to re-evaluate your priorities as doing so can put you into a high risk category if this flu begins to spread.
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