Are you increasing your risk of pneumonia?
Coughing, shortness of breath, fever, and chills. These are the signs of pneumonia, the 8th leading cause of death in the United States and the most common reason someone will die from an infection. It also results in missed work, decreased productivity, and makes you feel just plain awful. If you have any of these symptoms, make sure to get examined by your doctor to determine if you need treatment. These statistics might seem scary, but there is something you can do. Here are 5 easy steps to decrease your risk of pneumonia.
- Avoid proton pump inhibitors if possible. Approximately one-third of patients who get community acquired pneumonia are taking a proton pump inhibitor for heartburn or reflux. Many people don’t realize that this could be creating an environment where infections are more likely to invade. Proton pump inhibitors (such as Prilosec, Protonix, and Nexium) decrease the acid in your stomach. That acid in your stomach is important for many reasons. It is critical for digesting food and preventing infections from getting into the body. You can learn more about what increases your risk of heartburn and reflux here and how you can wean off the PPIs for good.
- Look for the underlying root cause. Too often the focus in medicine is naming the disease and prescribing a medication. As a functional medicine doctor, I look instead for the root cause of a symptom or illness and remove it. This helps my patients get better much faster. Just as PPIs increase your risk of pneumonia, many other medications have side effects. Inhaled steroids used to treat asthma or COPD increase your risk for pneumonia by up to 69%, and benzodiazepines used for anxiety increase your risk for pneumonia by 54%. Instead of popping pills for symptoms, try to find the underlying cause. Some common sources of discomfort are food sensitivities, stress, poor diet, and irregular sleep.
- Focus on a whole foods diet rich in zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C. For my patients who frequently get infections or have a hard time getting rid of an infection, I first make sure they are getting certain nutrients. Zinc is an important mineral for the functioning of the immune system. You can find zinc in animal protein like oysters and meat as well as in some vegetable proteins like beans. Vitamin A is also critical for proper immune function and is found in liver, fish, cod liver oil, chicken, eggs, and dairy. Beta-carotene (found in yellow and orange vegetables) can turn into vitamin A in your body, but not everyone makes this conversion easily. Vitamin C is another important nutrient for your immune function. Eating 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day will give you plenty of Vitamin C.
- Protect your microbiota. Every day, we are discovering more and more about the amazing microbiota in our bodies. Your microbiota creates a wall of defense that prevents infections from entering your body. When these bacteria are disrupted, our risk of getting infections, including pneumonia, skyrockets. So how can we protect the trillions of good bacteria that line the surfaces of our body? First, eat a high-fiber, whole-foods diet. Fiber-rich foods (like beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds) feed these good bacteria. Secondly, avoid unnecessary antibiotic use. Antibiotics kill off these good bacteria along with the infections they are treating. Only use antibiotics if necessary. Make sure not to use antibiotics for viral infections; they are ineffective and will do more harm than good. However, antibiotics are necessary for many types of pneumonia and can often save lives. Make sure to check with your doctor to determine if an antibiotic is needed for your infection.
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk of getting many infections including pneumonia. Just another reason to stop!
If you want to learn more about how to build a better immune system for lifelong health and vitality, come join me at Kripalu, Novemeber 24th!
To your health,