How to Strengthen Your Immune System and Protect Yourself Against Sepsis
I was both shocked and saddened when a friend’s mother recently passed after developing sepsis from a urinary tract infection – a common and treatable bacterial infection.
Prior to this incident, sepsis just seemed somewhat remote and nothing I should be overly concerned about. And I wasn’t alone – almost half the people in the U.S. have never even heard of sepsis. Indeed, most people have heard of much rarer diseases like Ebola.
In the U.S., sepsis impacts almost one million people a year with almost 200,000 of these cases resulting in death. These numbers are increasing each year. And a greater number of older people die from sepsis each year than from lung and breast cancer and stroke combined.
What Exactly is Sepsis?
The origins of the word “sepsis” should give us a clue to how dangerous this disease really is. It is derived from the Greek word “sipsi” which means to “make rotten.” Sepsis occurs when chemicals released in the bloodstream to fight an infection trigger inflammation throughout the body. Think of it as your immune system going into overdrive to battle the infection, whether it be bacterial, fungal or viral.
The resulting inflammation can end up damaging your organs and causing them to fail. Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, fast heart rate and mental confusion. Treatment generally includes antibiotics and intravenous fluids.
Is Sepsis Inevitable as We Age?
While any type of infection can lead to sepsis, the most likely ones are infections we have a higher risk of contracting as we age. These include pneumonia, abdominal infections, kidney infection, diabetes or urinary tract infection.
Other risk factors for sepsis may be increased resistance to the antibiotics used to fight infection and endocrine disorders that can alter how our immune systems respond to infections. One additional risk factors that come with getting older is more frequent hospital visits as sepsis occurs in approximately 1-2% of hospitalizations and accounts for up to 25% of ICU bed utilization. Weakened immune systems are another factor.
Our weakened immune systems may be due to a lack of nutrients. Our bodies need an optimal supply of nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, water, proteins, carbohydrates and fats to function at their best and to support a healthy immune system.
But as we age, our bodies may become less efficient and able to absorb and use many of these key nutrients. This combination can create a nutritional equivalent of a “perfect storm” – we need adequate nutrients at the same time our bodies are less able to absorb and use them. This potential nutrient depletion may have a direct impact on our ability to ward off and fight infections, including sepsis.
How We Can Be Proactive About Sepsis
The good news is that there are steps we can take to reduce our risk of developing sepsis. These steps include: getting vaccinated against infections that can lead to sepsis (talk with your doctor about this), cleaning scrapes and wounds to minimize the chance of their getting infected and practicing good hygiene such as washing your hands to minimize the spread of infectious agents.
Danger of a Weakened Immune System
And keep in mind that if you have a weakened immune system, you have a higher chance of going into septic shock should you ever develop sepsis. So it is critical that you have the right balance of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system in top shape and performing as well as possible. Determine
whether your body has enough of the key nutrients such as vitamins and minerals responsible for boosting your immune system.
Here are some minerals that may help to strengthen your immune system.
Zinc is important for a healthy immune system. 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.
Selenium may have anti-infection benefits. Dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, oysters, whole grains and meats.
Copper possibly has powerful disease fighting properties and copper is also something we all should have 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.
Iron has an impact on your body’s ability to mount a normal immune response. There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme. Lean meat and seafood are rich in heme iron. This is more bioavailable, meaning your body can use it better. Non-heme iron is found in nuts, grains, vegetables and other fortified products.
Finally, always seek help right away if you have an infection and start to shiver, have shortness of breath, a racing heart or extreme pain or discomfort. Time is your enemy when it comes to sepsis, so fast diagnosis and treatment are critical.
What do you do with your immune system to stay strong? What is your experience with sepsis either personally or with friends and family? What steps have you taken to boost your immune system to protect yourself against in infection in general? Do you believe they have been working? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.