It’s Flu Season. Learn How You Can Be ProactiveNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
It’s the flu season again! And it seems like the incidence of flu related deaths, especially among younger people, has increased.
Take, for example, the tragic story of this 7-year-old boy. Aside from having asthma, his mom said he was a very healthy kid. But after being sick with a fever and a horrible stomach ache, he was taken to the emergency room and died of myocarditis, inflammation and damage of the heart muscle, reportedly caused by the flu.
And in another severe flu case, a 48-year-old father of four was put in the intensive care unit after showing signs of the flu over the Christmas holiday.
“Things got worse about day five when he said his chest was tightening, and he said it was hard for him to get his breath,” his wife said.
He had contracted influenza type-B and was experiencing renal failure. On top of that, he had a bad case of pneumonia (the flu virus can sometimes lead to pneumonia). As of a few days ago he was heavily sedated and breathing with a ventilator, fighting for his life.
And even more recently, Kyler Baughman, an aspiring 21-year-old personal trainer from Pennsylvania, died from septic shock just days after experiencing flu symptoms.
“He kinda just laid down and went about his day and that was the day he was coughing and said his chest hurt,” his fiancée reported. “He had a mild cough.”
Baughman later went to an emergency room after his cough got worse and his fever rose. But in less than 24 hours, Baughman was dead due to complications from the flu.
“Organ failure due to septic shock caused by influenza,” according to his mother. “It doesn’t seem real.”
The flu is generally most prevalent during the fall and winter months. Flu activity begins to increase in October and November and usually peaks between December and February. Flu season can last as late as May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the flu has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses each year in the United States since 2010. And since 2010, the CDC estimates that the flu has resulted in between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations each year.
Because not everyone seeks treatment or gets an official diagnosis for the flu, it is hard to determine how many deaths in the U.S. have been caused by the flu. However, the CDC estimates around 36,000 people on average die from the flu annually.
So what exactly is the flu?
The flu is a contagious illness caused by influenza viruses. These viruses can infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs (part of the respiratory system) - the organs responsible for providing us with oxygen and removing waste gases, like carbon dioxide. The flu is sometimes referred to as a respiratory illness (because it affects the respiratory system).
It is important to understand that respiratory illnesses, like the flu, affect our ability to get oxygen into our bodies. Oxygen is necessary for the healthy functioning of every cell in our bodies. Without oxygen, the food we eat would be useless and we would die within minutes. This is partly because we would be unable to convert all those great nutrients we consume from the foods we eat into energy that our bodies can use. This energy is what the body uses to fuel the muscles and brain, remove waste, control our genes and even heal.
Most healthcare professionals believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk.
You can catch the flu by touching a surface or object, like a countertop or doorknob, that has a flu virus on it and then touching your nose or mouth. This is why handwashing is extremely important.
More commonly, the flu is spread via person to person contact. For example, shaking hands with or kissing an infected person.
Reportedly, adults are contagious one or two days before symptoms appear and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. This means you can spread the flu before you even have symptoms.
Symptoms of the flu include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.
So what do you do if you think you have the flu?
The flu cannot be treated with antibiotics, because it is a viral infection. People who are generally healthy usually have mild flu illness and do not need to seek medical care. It is recommended to stay at home and avoid contact with other people so that you do not spread the virus. But of course if you feel extremely ill and have a high temperature, it is always best to be safe and seek immediate medical attention.
There are certain groups of people that fall into the high risk group of possibly having serious flu related complications.
- Young children
- Adults 65 and older (includes residents of nursing homes)
- Pregnant women
- People with medical conditions, including asthma, lung disease, kidney and liver disorders, blood disorders (like sickle cell), HIV/AIDS and heart disease.
- People who are morbidly obese. One study found that obese people may be three times more likely to die from the flu. This may be because obese people often already have existing medical conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.
- Sinus and ear and infections
- Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
- Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
- Inflammation of muscle tissues (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)
- Multi-organ failure (like respiratory and kidney failure)
- An extreme inflammatory response in the body that can lead to sepsis.
How can you be proactive about preventing the flu?
One of the ways you can be proactive about preventing the flu is by boosting your immune system. An immunity-boosting diet, rich in water and other essential nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, is a very effective way to avoid the flu.
Some immune-boosting nutrients include:
- Vitamin C. You likely already know the powerful impact vitamin C can have on your immune system. To learn more about how much vitamin C you personally need and the best sources of this vitamin, read here.
- Vitamin B6. This vitamin plays a major role in immune function and hemoglobin formation. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein in red blood cells. Oxygen entering the lungs attaches to the hemoglobin in the blood, which carries it to the tissues in the body. Dietary sources of vitamin B6 include chickpeas, chicken breast, squash, spinach and beef liver and other organ meats.
- Zinc. There is a reason why you have probably seen zinc lozenges in the cold and flu aisle of your local drug store. Zinc is important for a healthy immune system, as it can help you get sick less often or get well quicker. Oysters are the highest source of zinc. You can also get zinc from red meat, poultry, crabs, shrimp, lobster, oatmeal, whole grains, cheeses, yogurt, beans and nuts.
- Copper. One study suggests copper door knobs may protect patients from germs in hospitals. Not only do copper surfaces possibly have powerful disease fighting properties, but copper is a mineral we all should include in our diets to help boost our immunity. Organ meats, shellfish, nuts, seeds, wheat-bran cereals and whole grain products are good sources of copper.
And of course, make sure you have a balanced gut by ensuring you have an optimal amount of probiotics.
Finally, even if you are eating healthy, it is imperative to get a comprehensive nutrient test at least annually. Eating nutrient-rich foods does not guarantee that you will be nutritionally balanced. Your age, existing health conditions or medication use (both prescription and over-the-counter) may affect your ability to absorb adequate amounts of nutrients from the good food you eat. If you discover you have nutrient imbalances, you can work with a competent healthcare professional to tweak your diet, take good quality supplements, utilize IV Vitamin Therapy or use liposomal technology where appropriate.
And of course, many of you may be wondering whether you should get a flu shot. It is my opinion that this is a personal choice that should take into consideration your personal health status. It is often recommended that elderly people get a flu shot. Be proactive by consulting your doctor about what may be best for you.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.