Chronic Viral Infections and Telomeres

November 24, 2017 | Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Chronic Viral Infections and Telomeres
Do you feel worn down, fatigued, or older than you actually are? Do you wake up with a sore throat or feel achy in the morning? Low-grade, chronic infections can take a toll on your health. Ongoing immune challenges lead to oxidative damage and inflammation triggered by an infection, like a virus. The sensation of feeling older than one actually is with chronic infection may be related with an exhausted immune system and aging telomeres. Now we can take this information and apply what we know with clinical nutrition to help optimize the immune system to protect against advancing immunological age. It is possible to increase energy and feel better!

Chronic Viral Infection Cause Shortened Telomeres


The October 2017 journal Viruses recently delved into the topic of chronic viral infections and how viruses affect telomeres and biological aging. Science technology confirms that telomeres age more rapidly with chronic viral infections. Telomeres are like the plastic tips at the end of shoe laces. They function as a cap at each strand of DNA that protects our chromosomes. Telomere shortening is the main cause of age-related breakdown of our cells. Stressors, from various sources like a chronic viral infection, can increase the rate at which telomeres age and shorten. Further information on telomeres and their importance may be found at Nutrition Makes Anti-Aging Possible: Secrets of your Telomeres.

Acute vs. Chronic Infections


There are many differences with how an infection affects the body. Acute and chronic infections have very different characteristics and impact on the telomeres and immune tolerance. Acute infections cause a rapid immune response to the viral pathogen. Usually, this resolves in a short time period. In a healthy response to acute infection, you return to health as the virus is cleared with very little impact on overall telomere health.

In some cases, the immune system battles the acute infection and cannot fully clear it. If this happens, the virus transitions into a chronic infectious state. The virus maintains a low-level, persistent, semi-stable active state and creates a chronic continuous or intermittent antigen stimulus.

An antigen is a molecule that can trigger an immune response within the body. Over time, repetitive antigen stimulus causes chronic T-cell exhaustion and permanent stress on the immune system. T-cells are a type of lymphocyte/white blood cell that is directly involved with cell-mediated immunity. Every time the virus releases an antigen, the T-cells have to respond.

Healthy T-cells contain a protein called telomerase, which helps extend and stabilize telomeres. If T-cells are unhealthy and exhausted, there is less telomerase and telomeres go through a shortening process with each viral antigen hit. This process can literally become a repetitive strain and wears out the immune system. The consequence is exhausted T-cells and shortened telomeres.

The type of chronic infection, i.e. slow, latent, or productive influences the rate and release of antigen. Chronic viruses known to cause disease in humans and shortened telomeres are Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), Hepatitis B/C/D virus (HBV/HCV/HDV), human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I), human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes simplex virus-1/2 (HSV-1/2), Varicella–Zoster virus (VZV), rubeola, and rubella.

Scientists have evaluated various medications to stop T-cell exhaustion and shortened telomeres. Much of the focus pertains to cancer drugs at this time due to the link of chronic viruses with many cancers, but current medical treatments are still under investigation. However, there are some empowering findings with nutrition, viral infections, and telomeres that may help individuals better manage this challenge. Nutritional science demonstrates the versatility and amazing power of nutrition with possibilities of telomere, T-cell and immune fortification against viral activity.

Telomere Protection


Telomere protection involves many different nutrients and even getting off to a great start in life with prenatal care and nutrition. It requires nutrient-dense diets rather than diets that are calorie rich as excess calories shorten telomeres. The Standard American Diet with its high calorie, nutrient poor, and high omega-6 processed vegetable oils act like a chronic sprain/strain which causes more damage and shortening of telomeres. Instead, focus on following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet. Each day, choose a wide variety of organic non-GMO fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, fish and seafood, whole grains, spices, and extra virgin olive oil mixed with moderate intake of poultry, eggs, dairy, and occasional red meat.

Several nutrients help preserve and protect telomeres. These include the omega-3 oil DHA, green tea, quercetin, multiple vitamin, tocotrienols, vitamin D, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, and B vitamins. Poor methylation function and insufficient B vitamins adversely impacts telomeres. Because telomeres rely on antioxidants for protection and sustainability, phytonutrients from colorful fruits and vegetables are essential.

Immune Support


The immune system has a higher risk for chronic viral infections and immune system stress when the body’s nutrient status is compromised. Sufficient vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, curcumin, lactoferrin, and monolaurin can be extraordinarily helpful for combating chronic viral infections like chronic active Epstein Barr Virus or other viruses. Additional nutrients found effective for viral management include NAC, quercetin, astaxanthin, lutein, selenium, mangosteen, passion flower, gingercordyceps, and olive leaf extract

T-Cell Support


In order to keep T-cells energized, several nutrients are needed. The most fundamental nutrients include adequate protein, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, iron, and copper. Deficiencies of these nutrients, especially vitamin A and vitamin D, can lead to more severe infections. Improving DHEA status is also helpful for age-related decline in immune system function. DHEA, a natural steroid made by the adrenal glands, provides powerful antiviral, immune enhancing effects and T-cells. DHEA declines with age and becomes depleted with elevated cortisol.

Individuals who have gene SNPs or gene defects related to methylation, glutathione, vitamin D and/or vitamin A may have increased risks for immune challenges and chronic viral infections. Individuals with these gene SNPs are more prone to cells not getting the nutrients that is needed. This may require considerably higher dietary intake to keep nutrient levels optimal and the immune system supported.

Healthy aging is everyone’s goal. No one wants to feel older than they should. Chronic infections can make anyone feel exhausted and old. Nutrient needs vary greatly from person to person, especially with chronic concerns. It however is possible to protect and reinvigorate immune cells, telomeres, and put viruses back into dormancy. Try a blend of nutrients like zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, cordyceps, and curcumin or whatever your favorite immune combination is to regain some immune vitality and vigor. Long-term support is best for chronic immune exhaustion. Restoration of a healthy immune system may feel like the turning back the hands of time.

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