Looking Into the Mirror of EBOLA: A Reminder of the Importance of Nutrition As We Age

April 21, 2015 6:09 PM

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When the world was devastated by the deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa last year, we were given a warning call on many levels. While I was mulling over the whys and hows of the epidemic, my mind automatically went to the role that nutrition can play in helping to stem the spread, and mortality rates, of diseases and perhaps deter future outbreaks. The next step my mind took, (admittedly, I research nutrition, immunology and infection in older adults), was to the role nutrition plays in maintaining a robust immune response and fighting against infections particularly in older adults. Remember the SARS outbreak in 2003? SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a viral respiratory disease caused by the SARS coronavirus. The outbreak began in southern China and caused an eventual 8,096 cases with 774 deaths reported in multiple countries. The overall mortality rate in aged populations exceeded 50%. Age matters in fighting infections. As we age, our immune systems gray and we need to factor this into our response to outbreaks.

It is telling that infectious epidemics usually originate in areas of the world that suffer from poor nutrition. Malnutrition is the primary cause of immunodeficiency worldwide, and older populations are particularly at risk for sub-optimal nutrition. Numerous factors such as decreased physical abil...

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