To Your Health/Live Longer: Flu, What It Does To Your Body

This summer, the Telluride Ski Resort and The Peaks Resort & Spa plan to host a series of week-long wellness intensives – Live Longer Retreat –  to support your (recurring) New Year’s resolution to get healthy and therefore live well longer. The program is led by Dr. Alan Safdi, a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine. Safdi also has a gift for delivering evidence-based medical findings for healthier living in easily digestible sound bytes. 

In the run-up to the retreats (and earlier lectures in March and April), Dr. Safdi plans to post regular updates on Telluride Inside… and Out based on the latest, closely vetted research in health, wellness and longevity. The first in the series, “To Your Health,” was designed to start your New Year off right and jumpstart your Live Longer Retreat session. Safdi writes here about “Food Habits for Life.” 

According to The New York Times, this is the worst flu season in nearly a decade:

“This year’s flu season is now more intense than any since the 2009 swine flu pandemic and still getting worse, federal health officials said recently. Nationally, the number of people falling ill with flu is increasing. More worrying, the hospitalization rate — a predictor of the death rate — has just jumped. It is now on track to equal or surpass that of the 2014-2015 flu season…”

This week, we decided to give Dr.Safdi a time-out so Laura Haynes in EcoWatch could weigh in on “What the Flu Does to Your Body, and Why It Makes You Feel So Awful.”

And feel free to sign up now to participate in a Live Longer at www.longevity@telski.com or call 1-877-448-5416 for further information.

Every year, from 5 to 20 percent of the people in the U.S. will become infected with the influenza virus. An average of 200,000 of these people will require hospitalization and up to 50,000 will die. Older folks over the age of 65 are especially susceptible to influenza infection, since the immune system becomes weaker with age. In addition, older folks are also more susceptible to long-term disability following influenza infection, especially if they are hospitalized.

We all know the symptoms of influenza infection include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue. But just what causes all the havoc? What is going on in your body as you fight the flu?

I am a researcher who specializes in immunology at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and my laboratory focuses on how influenza infection affects the body and how our bodies combat the virus. It’s interesting to note that many of the body’s defenses that attack the virus also cause many of the symptoms associated with the flu.

How the Flu Works Its Way Into Your Body

Influenza virus causes an infection in the respiratory tract, or nose, throat and lungs. The virus is inhaled or transmitted, usually via your fingers, to the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or eyes. It then travels down the respiratory tract and binds to epithelial cells lining the lung airways via specific molecules on the cell surface. Once inside the cells, the virus hijacks the protein manufacturing machinery of the cell to generate its own viral proteins and create more viral particles. Once mature viral particles are produced, they are released from the cell and can then go on to invade adjacent cells.

While this process causes some lung injury, most of the symptoms of the flu are actually caused by the immune response to the virus. The initial immune response involves cells of the body’s innate immune system, such as macrophages and neutrophils. These cells express receptors that are able to sense the presence of the virus. They then sound the alarm by producing small hormone-like molecules called cytokines and chemokines. These alert the body that an infection has been established.

Cytokines orchestrate other components of the immune system to appropriately fight the invading virus, while chemokines direct these components to the location of infection. One of the types of cells called into action are T lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights infection. Sometimes, they are even called “soldier” cells. When T cells specifically recognize influenza virus proteins, they then begin to proliferate in the lymph nodes around the lungs and throat. This causes swelling and pain in these lymph nodes.

After a few days, these T cells move to the lungs and begin to kill the virus-infected cells. This process creates a great deal of lung damage similar to bronchitis, which can worsen existing lung disease and make breathing difficult. In addition, the buildup of mucous in the lungs, as a result of this immune response to infection, induces coughing as a reflex to try to clear the airways. Normally, this damage triggered by arrival of T cells in the lungs is reversible in a healthy person, but when it advances, it is bad news and can lead to death.

The proper functioning of influenza-specific T cells is critical for efficient clearance of the virus from the lungs. When T cell function declines, such as with increasing age or during use of immunosuppressive drugs, viral clearance is delayed. This results in a prolonged infection and greater lung damage. This can also set the stage for complications including secondary bacterial pneumonia, which can often be deadly.

Why Your Head Hurts So Much

While the influenza virus is wholly contained in the lungs under normal circumstances, several symptoms of influenza are systemic, including fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches. In order to properly combat influenza infection, the cytokines and chemokines produced by the innate immune cells in the lungs become systemic—that is, they enter the bloodstream, and contribute to these systemic symptoms. When this happens, a cascade of complicating biological events occur.

One of the things that happens is that Interleukin-1, an inflammatory type of cytokine, is activated. Interleukin-1 is important for developing the killer T cell response against the virus, but it also affects the part of the brain in the hypothalamus that regulates body temperature, resulting in fever and headaches.

Another important cytokine that fights influenza infection is something called “tumor necrosis factor alpha.” This cytokine can have direct antiviral effects in the lungs, and that’s good. But it can also cause fever and appetite loss, fatigue and weakness during influenza and other types of infection.

Why Your Muscles Ache…

Continue reading here.

 

More about Dr. Alan Safdi:

Dr. Alan Safdi is a board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Gastroenterology and a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. A proven leader in the healthcare arena, Safdi has been featured on the national program “Medical Crossfire” and authored or co-authored numerous medical articles and abstracts. He has been an investigator in over 581 studies and is President of both the Consultants For Clinical Research and the Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute.

Dr. Safdi has been involved in grant-based and clinical research for about 35+ years and is passionate about disease prevention and wellness, not just fixing what has gone wrong. He lectures internationally on the subjects of wellness, nutrition, and gastroenterology.

More about the other lectures:

A series of lectures given by Dr. Alan Safdi and Dr. William Renner in Telluride is planned for the Spring. The talks on health, wellness, and longevity research target health care providers as well as the general public.

A new workshops targets the veterinary world with lectures and hands-on training for veterinarians in the field of endoscopic therapy in animals. Multiple stations with direct hands-on learning with in-depth lectures with regards to GI disease that can be treated or prevented with endoscopic therapy. For more information, visit the following websites:www.wellnesstelluride.org/; www.animalendoscopy.com; and www.tellurideCME.com

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Susan Viebrock

Susan is Telluride Inside… and Out’s founder and editor-in-chief, the visionary on the team, in charge of content, concept and development. For 19+ years, Susan has covered Telluride’s cultural economy, which includes non-profits and special events. Much of her writing features high-profile individuals in the arts, entertainment, business, and politics. She is a former Citibank executive specializing in strategic planning and new business development, and a certified Viniyoga instructor.

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