There is a lot of conversation about “underlying conditions” these days, and we wanted to take this opportunity to explain what this term means, what some of the most common underlying conditions are, and look at some lifestyle changes and supplements that may be able to help.
Any chronic or long-term health issue that can weaken the immune system is classified as an underlying health condition. Some of the most common underlying medical conditions include diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. When there is, say, a respiratory virus going around, patients with long-standing medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing more severe complications, including things like respiratory infections and even pneumonia, because their immune system is already compromised. We want to quickly clarify though, that having an underlying health condition does not make you any more likely than anyone else to come into contact with a virus, but it appears that those with these underlying health conditions are more at risk of severe effects if they do happen to catch it. Let’s dive a little deeper into some of the more common underlying conditions.
Common Underlying Conditions
All underlying conditions impact your body’s ability to fight off sickness and viruses. Some of the most common conditions, which we will discuss below, are diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Diabetes refers to a group of diseases that affects how your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to your health because it is an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can affect and impair the body’s immune system. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system, designed to fight infection, attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, an organ that is essential to help the body with digestion and regulation of blood sugar.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, is caused by certain lifestyle factors, including not getting enough physical activity and not eating a healthy, balanced diet, which both lead to extra belly fat, and insulin resistance.1 No matter what type of diabetes you have, it can lead to excess sugar in your blood, which can lead to serious health problems.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, there are lifestyle changes that you can make which may help lower your risk of further complications. Try to get two and a half hours of moderate intensity physical activity each week to lose weight gradually, in order to achieve a healthy body mass index (BMI). Also, replace refined carbohydrates with whole grain foods and increase your intake of vegetables and other foods that are high in fiber. Small steps can make a big difference in your health.
Supplements and Herbs That May Help
Milk Thistle: Taking a daily supplement containing milk thistle, which is a flowering herb also known as silymarin, has been shown to lower fasting glucose levels by up to 15%. This herb has also been found to have beneficial effects on the body’s hemoglobin levels, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels as well.2
Chromium: Chromium is an important mineral for enhancing insulin activity. This mineral appears to have a beneficial role in the regulation of insulin action and its effects on carbohydrate, protein, and lipid metabolism. Chromium picolinate specifically, has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.3
Aged Garlic Extract: A trio of clinical studies focusing on diabetics that was recently published in the journal Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine suggests that Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract supplementation reduces multiple risk factors that increase a person’s risk of atherosclerosis (a condition where the interior lining of arteries (the endothelium) becomes damaged, leading to the buildup of dangerous plaque that can cause a heart attack or stroke).
One of the three studies demonstrated that Kyolic AGE has a direct impact on the health of arteries. During this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial, 65 people who had been diagnosed with diabetes were assigned to take either a daily dose of AGE or a placebo for three months. At the end of the study, tests indicated that those in the AGE group had better endothelial function and less arterial stiffness than those taking the placebo.4
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it can eventually cause more serious cardiovascular problems5. Uncontrolled hypertension can be taxing on your immune system, and make it harder for your body to fight off viruses6. If your immune system is elevated because of severe hypertension and you’re trying to fight off an infection at the same time, you can imagine how that could be a bad scenario. High blood pressure is called “the silent killer” because many people are not even aware that they may have overly high blood pressure levels, until the symptoms lead to more serious cardiovascular conditions. Fortunately, blood pressure can be measured with a simple test, and you can work with your doctor to manage it. First step is to know your numbers.7
If you have hypertension, there are a few things you can add to your daily routine to help lower your blood pressure. Try to exercise regularly, reduce sodium in your diet, limit the amount of alcohol you drink, reduce your stress with consistent meditation, and quit smoking.
Supplements and Herbs That May Help
Aged Garlic Extract: During a recent study that appeared in the journal Frontiers of Nutrition, researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia reported that Aged Garlic Extract produced an average 10 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure and a 5.4 mmHg drop in diastolic blood pressure in 58% of people taking the herb. An earlier study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition also showed that AGE produced similar results for lowering systolic blood pressure.8
Nattokinase: Research has revealed that natto extract, a traditional Japanese fermented food made from soybeans, can lower blood pressure levels in individuals with lifestyle related diseases such as hypertension.9 Nattokinase works by reinforcing the actions of plasmin, your body’s own enzyme that breaks down the clotting agent called fibrin, thereby preventing abnormal thickening of the blood. Because plasmin production slows as you age, this type of support is a real help for those looking to naturally lower blood pressure.10
Obesity is a medical condition that occurs when a person carries excess weight or body fat that might affect their health. Over 40% of American are obese.11 Carrying excess weight may increase the risk for many health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular problems, sleep apnea, and osteoarthritis, to name a few.12 Studies show that obesity is known to impair immunity by decreasing cytokine production, altering lymphocyte function, and reducing dendritic cell function.13 And what does all that mean? Well, it means that if you are obese, it can increase your risk of infection and complications, like pneumonia, sepsis, and other viral infections.
The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t short-term dietary changes; it’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity. Consider eating a more balanced diet with vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, lean meats like chicken and turkey, and whole grains. Avoid highly processed fried food, refined carbohydrates and excessive sugar. Regular physical activity can promote weight loss by burning calories and increasing metabolic rate, which is the amount of calories your body burns throughout the day.14
Supplements and Herbs That Can Help
Aged Garlic Extract: Aged Garlic Extract supplementation has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation and improve immune function in adults with obesity, shown in this study.15
Cayenne Pepper: Cayenne Pepper, a type of chili pepper, contains a compound called capsaicin, which gives cayenne pepper it signature heat. As it turns out, this compound has also been shown to slightly boost metabolism, by increasing the number of calories you burn throughout the day. A small study has even shown that taking capsaicin capsules increased levels of fullness and decreased total calorie intake.16
If you are interested in learning more about underlying conditions, or if any of these conditions may apply to you, we recommend that you consult with your primary care physician.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.