Why do some children never get the flu when they go back to school? And why do some teachers keep getting pneumonia or flu frequently when they’re exposed to children coming down with viruses? See the August 29, 2011 news release from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, published in PLoS Genetics, “Researchers find wide gap in immune responses of people exposed to the flu.” The study appears in PlosGenetics journal.
Nutrition talks may tell you to make sure your child gets enough vitamin D3, vitamin C, DHA from purified fish oils, and other foods that are supposed to protect your child’s immune system against the sneezes and coughs of other kids once school starts, but did you ever wonder why some kids go back to school, eat anything they want, and still have immunity to common viruses children are exposed to daily? Check out the site, 9 Power Foods That Boost Immunity – Prevention.com. According to Prevention publications, you’re supposed to feed your child and yourself colorful servings of fruits and veggies, plus 8 to 10 glasses of water a day. The only issue is that children can’t handle that much water a day.
The article at that site also recommends yogurt for its priobiotic cultures. But which yogurts actually contain priobiotics to the extent that they’d work? The article suggests two 6-ounce servings of yogurt. If your child can’t tolerate dairy, there also are cultured yogurt made from soy and from coconut milk.
One study from the University of Vienna in Austria found that a daily 7-ounces of yogurt was just as effective in boosting immunity as popping pills. In an 80-day Swedish study of 181 factory employees, those who drank a daily supplement of Lactobacillus reuteri–a specific probiotic that appears to stimulate white blood cells–took 33% fewer sick days than those given a placebo. Any yogurt with a Live and Active Cultures seal contains some beneficial bugs, but Stonyfield Farm is the only US brand that contains this specific strain, according to the article, 9 Power Foods That Boost Immunity – Prevention.com.
Other foods recommended include oats and barley, but what if grains rot your child’s teeth or perhaps your child needs gluten-free food instead of certain grains? Then garlic also is recommended in that article on the 9 power foods that boost immunity. Fish also is recommended because the selenium in cod boosts your immunity. Read in the article why chicken soup is recommended. A study actually tested chicken soup for surprising results that work to boost immunity.
Tea is recommended, but for kids, you don’t want to given them caffeine. Beef was recommended since zinc deficiency has been found in people with lowered immunity, and a little zinc from food boosts immunity. But you can get zinc from sunflower seeds if you don’t eat beef. Other nuts contain zinc.
Sweet potatoes because of the fiber and vitamin A content also boost immunity. Mushrooms create a healthier immune system, according to a study mentioned in that article. Go for shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms. See the article for more information on such foods that were studied. Also santize your child’s computer keyboard. You might also put in a little plastic bag a wipe containing a hand sanitizer if your child uses school equipment such as keyboards at school and home. Even though the foods help a lot, your genes determine a lot about your immune response.
Why do some folks who take every precaution still get the flu, while others never even get the sniffles? It comes down to a person’s immune system response to the flu virus, says Alfred Hero, professor at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. In one of the first known studies of its kind, Hero and colleagues from Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, used genomics to begin to unravel what in our complex genomic data accounts for why some get sick while others don’t. The study findings appeared in PLoS Genetics Aug. 25, 2011.
Hero’s analysis group used several methods, including a pattern recognition algorithm previously developed for satellite imaging of the environment to discover the genomic signatures associated with immune response and flu symptoms. Using these genomic signatures, researchers compared the responses of previously healthy participants inoculated with the flu, and found significant and complex immune responses in both people who got sick and those who did not.
The gene expression data gets to the heart of how the immune system reacts and orchestrates its response to the flu virus, which dictates whether people get sick. “We looked at over 22,000 genes in 267 blood samples,” said Hero, who is also affiliated with the U-M College of Literature, Science & Arts and the U-M Medical School. “No study of this magnitude has ever been done on human immune response, according to the news release.”
Geoff Ginsburg, study co-author and director of the Center for Genomic Medicine at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, said in the news release that the study reveals what happens after virus exposure. “It also points out, importantly, that remaining asymptomatic in the face of an exposure to a virus is an active process in the immune system, and we can now begin to probe the underlying biology to resisting infection,” Ginsburg explained in the news release.
The team inoculated 17 healthy individuals with the flu virus and about half of them got sick. They then collected gene expression data from each individual at 16 time points over 132 hours. These data provided a clear picture of the gene expression over time in those who developed flu symptoms and those who did not.
Eventually, if scientists can understand what happens at the level of the genome that makes people more or less susceptible to viral illness, they could potentially develop therapies to prevent the illness. Hero said the inflammatory genomic signature that differentiated the well group from the sick group was measurable up to about 36 hours before peak flu symptoms developed. It may, therefore, be possible to detect illness early, allowing people to take precautions and perhaps even prevent the worst symptoms.
Mathematical methods for finding hidden correlations within large quantities of data were a key component of the analysis performed by Hero and his former doctoral student Yongsheng Huang, who is lead author on the study. One of the principal analysis methods was a pattern-recognition tool previously developed for processing hyperspectral satellite images of the earth. Called Bayes Linear Unmixing, Hero applied it with virtually no modification to image the patterns of gene expression. The work was funded by the DARPA Predicting Health and Disease program under a grant to a team at Duke and Michigan assembled and led by Ginsburg. For further information, check out the following websites: Alfred Hero, or U-M College of Engineering, and Geoff Ginsburg.