COVID-19: More than the elderly are at risk. Maybe you are too.
By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD
There are a lot of “Covid Deniers” out there. You’ve probably heard people say,
“We’re over-reacting. The coronavirus isn’t so bad. It’s only old people who are
at risk. They should isolate themselves, but I can live my normal life.”
This kind of thinking puts you and everyone else at risk. Here’s why:
- Actually up to half the population is at heightened risk of a severe case of COVID-19
-- everyone with a suppressed immune system, which could be from disease, medications,
past medical history, and so on.
- It’s true that the elderly are at heightened risk of dying, but COVID-19 puts people
of all ages in the hospital. The young are more likely to survive. But not if the
hospitals are overwhelmed with patients -- as they will be if the pandemic continues
You want to
protect yourself and your loved ones from coronavirus. So let’s dig a little
deeper into how your immune system gets suppressed. We’ll look at the obvious factors
so you can figure out who in your family is at greatest risk. And we’ll talk about
some not-so-obvious signs that
your immune system needs more support.
It isn’t just the elderly at risk
It’s true that our current knowledge says that 80% of COVID-19 infections are mild; some of those infected
show no symptoms, or just the signs of a common cold. This is also one reason why
it spreads so fast: many of the carriers don’t know they are sick, so they go about
their normal lives and infect lots of other people.
It’s also true that most of those who die are elderly, and that the elderly are
at multiplied risk compared to the young.
But that isn’t the whole story, and the truth is only now beginning to emerge. Of
the 20% whose cases are serious, they are of all ages. This is vital to understanding the
threat of this disease. Epidemiologists are planning on scenarios in which various
percentages of the population get infected, over various horizons of time, and with
varying percentages requiring hospitalization.
In the best case, based on the data so far, we think about 20% of infected individuals
will have such a severe case that they require hospitalization. What do they have
in common? The research is still incomplete, but almost by definition, this 20%
is the people with compromised immune systems.
Why are their immune systems compromised? Now we’re getting into something that
every doctor knows, but very few patients. It’s that there are dozens of diseases,
medical treatments, health conditions, and medications that all damage or suppress
your immune system.
Who are they? Here’s a partial list. Think of everyone among your family and friends
who can be described as:
- Suffers a disease that compromises the immune system. This includes cancer, diabetes,
high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, COPD, all
autoimmune diseases, and many others.
- Suffers a condition that acts similarly. These conditions include metabolic syndrome,
all chronic inflammatory conditions, intestinal dysbiosis,
irritable bowel syndrome, etc.
- Has had medical treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation, tonsillectomy, etc.
- Experienced infections that damage the respiratory organs, especially pneumonia
or chronic bronchitis, or any chronic infection.
- Taking medication, not just those that are intended primarily to suppress immune
function (there are several categories) but those which as an unintended side effect
impair immune function, including many of the most-prescribed drugs in the world:
statins, birth control pills,
antibiotics and all psychotropic drugs.
- The elderly, because immune function generally declines as we age.
- Pregnant women, who seem to be especially at risk for severe COVID-19 infections
that affect both mother and fetus.
So -- you realize immediately we are talking about tens of millions of people at
risk. No wonder the CDC reported this week that 38% of those hospitalized with
COVID-19 were aged 20-54. That’s young! Even more concerning, almost half of the
sickest patients were under 65. But when you realize this is also an epidemic of
suppressed immunity -- as we see in the list above -- it begins to make sense.
Let’s go back to the argument that only the elderly are at risk. Anyone who thinks
that just doesn’t know the facts. I might go further: they’re not living in the
real world. And if they act like they aren’t at risk, then they become vectors for
Vectors make victims
In the science of infectious diseases, a “vector” is an agent of contagion -- an
animal, person or other factor that spreads the infection. With COVID-19, it’s important
for everyone to understand that “Vectors Make Victims”.
Many of us live in “mixed households.” We have different COVID-19 risk profiles,
and different behaviors too. You may be struggling to get everyone in your home
to agree on a united front -- a consensus about how to behave.
I suggest that we update the old saying from the 1960’s -- “If you’re not part of
the solution, you’re part of the problem.” The updated version could be something
like, “If you’re not mindful of the victims, you’re a vector.”
Within the people who run WHN, we’ve heard stories about young people flying around
on Spring Break, then coming home to visit at-risk parents. I understand these questions
-- I have an elderly parent and a young granddaughter, and I have to adjust my behavior
around the risks I am creating for them.
So many people are at risk because of suppressed immune function -- not just the
elderly. Let's all share this fact far and wide so people who need to take extra
Let’s also talk about how you can assess your own immune function, apart from the
issues of your medical history -- factors that show how well your immune system
is functioning right now.
COVID-19 Vectors & Victims: 25 Conditions That Lower Immunity
We're told that 15% of us are at greater risk for disease, and it's mostly the elderly.
The reality is -- it's way more than that -- and age often has nothing to do with
Conditions, Treatments & Medications That Damage Immune
3. Birth Control Pills
4. Chronic Bronchitis
5. Cancer Chemotherapy & Radiation
6. Chronic Infections
7. Chronic Stress
10. Excessive Alcohol consumption
11. Excessive intake of sugary foods and drink
12. High Blood Pressure
13. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
14. Intestinal Dysbiosis
15. Insomnia and lack of sleep
16. Immune-suppressing medications prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis and severe
17. Metabolic Syndrome
18. Pneumonia (damage to respiratory organs)
19. Poor nutrition
21. Psychotropic drugs
23. Statin drugs
24. Tonsillectomy (having your tonsils removed)
5 signs your immune system needs extra support
1. You’re under chronic stress.
Do you often come down with a cold or bad case of the sniffles after a big project
at work or big emotional situation at home? The underlying culprit could be stress,
which is a known factor for weakening immune system response. Stress, and the cascade
of hormonal and physiological changes it triggers in the body, is associated with
decreased levels of lymphocytes, the white blood cells that fight off infection.
This puts you at risk for things like cold and flu viruses.
If you are under chronic stress -- and honestly, who isn't these days? -- you need
to take immediate corrective measures to protect yourself. Rebalance stress hormones
with a quality stress-relief
supplement, and use mind-body techniques such as meditation to cut the stress.
Your immune system will thank you.
2. You have digestive issues.
Research shows that nearly 70% of your immune system is located in your digestive tract,
making your gut a major "home base" for your body's immunity. All along the lining
of your gut, beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that live there defend your
gut from infection and support immune function, including the production of white
blood cells. Other cells detect pathogens and tell the immune system to swing into
When not enough good bacteria flourishes, bad bacteria moves in, disturbing all
your intestinal immune function, and putting you at increased risk for infection
and autoimmune disorders. Having lots of digestive issues -- including gas and bloating
-- is a sign that your good gut bacteria may be short supply and needs restocking
3. You're tired all the time.
Constantly feel exhausted, even after just waking up from a full night's sleep?
This could be a warning sign from your immune system. According to researchers,
when immune function is struggling, the body will attempt to funnel more energy
to the immune system to get it back up to speed. This added effort can leave the
rest of you feeling depleted and tired.
If your energy levels are rock bottom, and you really can't explain why, try an
supplement. Antioxidant compounds help to protect immunity at the cellular
level and enhance immune function.
4. Your diet is high in sugar.
Eating or drinking too much sugar can dampen your immune function, putting your
white blood cells into a sort of “coma,” as researchers describe it. You want your
immune system to be ready for action, so ditch sugary foods and embrace foods that
provide immune support. These include fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidant
vitamins A, C and E, including berries, citrus fruits, apples, red grapes, kale,
onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
Another favorite immune-building
food is garlic, which contains natural compounds that help fight viruses
and bacteria. Some mushroom varieties -- such as shiitake -- also help strengthen
5. Your wounds take a long time to heal.
Whenever you get a paper cut or scrape your knee, your body sends nutrient-rich
blood to the injury to jumpstart healing and skin regeneration. To be a success,
this process relies on healthy immune cells. So if your scrapes, cuts and other
skin wounds take a long time to heal, this can be a sign of compromised immunity,
often triggered by underlying diabetes. If you do notice slow healing wounds, please
get checked out by your doctor.
Let’s look on the bright side
If there is a silver lining to this time we're living through, it's that we are
finally talking about immune health and all the things we can do to take better
care of it! I encourage you to check in with your body to see how your immunity
is doing, and what steps you can take to turn on its super powers for keeping you
healthy and well.
I also think it’s high time we grow more mindful of how our behaviors affect one
another. Wellness is not just every man for himself. COVID-19 is bringing that home
in more ways than one.
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Last updated on 04/01/2020