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NEW YORK -- As fears over the spread of SARS increase worldwide, older Americans again find themselves on the front lines of an impending health crisis. Currently there is no vaccine or approved treatment for this deadly infection, so strengthening the body's natural defenses becomes of utmost importance. This can be a difficult job for most older Americans.
"As we age, our immune system response weakens," says Dr. Leonard Smith, a renowned general, gastrointestinal and vascular surgeon. "The aging process, environmental pollutants and dietary habits all play into this equation. As a result, most older Americans are not prepared to fight off common infections, let alone the new viruses and superbugs we see on the horizon."
Dr. Samuel Silverstein, the John C. Dalton Professor and chairman of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University, agrees. "A multitude of degenerative changes take place as we age. These changes occur on every level, including the cellular, and affect all of the body's systems including the respiratory and circulatory systems. This can slow the body's defensive response to infection. Even the quality of our skin suffers, which in itself can invite bacteria and toxins into the body in greater quantity as we proceed through life."
Brenda Watson, author of Renew Your Life, believes that there is an urgent need to effectively reach out to the general population with better education in support of preventative medicine.
"Traditional medical experts and counselors need to offer proactive approaches for older Americans," says Watson. "This should include counseling on diet and lifestyle changes to improve overall health."
Experts agree that diet and exercise are the fundamental keys to improving an individual's well being. But today's older adults should be aware of additional dangers, some as seemingly harmless as the water they drink.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out that older Americans, even those in good health, may have increased health risks from exposures to environmental pollutants.
"We live in dangerous times," says Watson. "Environmentally, the average American is exposed to more toxins -- through water and air pollution, household cleaning supplies, pesticides, disinfectants and food additives -- than ever before. Our natural defenses are depleted to battle these daily toxins and are, therefore, not able to manage additional viral and bacterial threats."
While strides are made every day in traditional medicine, this may not be enough for our aging populace. Approved antibiotics are becoming less effective as strains of bacteria mutate and become increasingly resistant to treatment. In addition, the effectiveness of immunization wanes as patients age.
Silverstein notes, "The response to vaccination is markedly greater in a 50-year-old than it is in a 65-year-old."
But it's not all bad news.
"As a society we are becoming more informed," says Watson. "More than ever before, the media has taken an active role in providing vital information in regard to beneficial dietary and lifestyle practices. This gives patients a great tool. Now they know some of the questions to ask and can work with their physicians in a proactive way to defend themselves against disease."
"Older Americans, everyone really, should take those steps that keep their systems strong," concludes Smith. "Then, even if they do get sick, their bodies are better equipped to fight off the illness, and dangerous repercussions, both immediate and long-term, can be greatly reduced."
Since 1996, one baby boomer turns 50 every seven seconds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of older Americans will have more than doubled to 70 million, or one in every five Americans, by 2030. This growing number of older adults places ever-greater demands on the public health system and on medical and social services.
Source: ReNew Life Formulas Inc.