Measles is once again a health concern in the United States with more than 100 people diagnosed since an outbreak began at California's Disneyland. Health experts and President Obama suggest that Americans rush to get themselves and their children vaccinated, emphasizing the importance of the overall vaccination program. Others, including Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul, indicate they believe that there should be some degree of choice in a person's decision whether to choose vaccination for themselves or their children.
So should Americans dash to their doctors' offices to get a measles vaccine? "Chill out," says holistic family physician Dr. David Brownstein. He notes that measles are very common throughout the world, and that it is estimated that over 20 million cases of measles occur worldwide every year. And although measles can lead to severe problems including encephalitis and death, serious complications are rare in the developed world.
One simple vitamin may save you from getting measles, and protect you from serious complications if you do contract them. "Adequate vitamin A levels may prevent one from getting measles," Dr. Brownstein tells Newsmax Health, "but studies are clear that one of the best treatments for preventing serious complications from measles is vitamin A supplementation.
"Adequate vitamin A levels are necessary for proper immune system functioning," he says. "When infected with measles, as well as other viral infections, those with marginal vitamin A deficiency can develop more immune system troubles."
While vitamin A deficiencies are usually associated with third-world countries, Americans are not immune. "A study in New York found 22 percent of 89 measles-infected children younger than two years old were vitamin A deficient," says Dr. Brownstein.
An adequate amount of vitamin A will protect you from more than just measles. Deficiencies are linked to an increase in viral infections and vision problems. Extreme deficiencies can lead to blindness.
"Worldwide, vitamin A deficiency has been linked to increased mortality from measles," says Dr. Brownstein. "However, it is not just measles where vitamin A deficiency can be fatal. Deficiencies have also been linked pneumonia and other viral illnesses.
"I find high dose vitamin A very helpful for people suffering from both viral and bacterial infections particularly when it is combined with vitamins C and D," he says.
There are two different types of vitamin A. Preformed vitamin A is found in animal products, such as meat and dairy products. Pro-vitamin A is found in fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and dark, leafy vegetables; the most common type is beta-carotene. Vitamin A is fat soluble and needs to be eaten with fat for optimal absorption.
The RDA for vitamin A is 1,000 IU for children 1-3 years, rising to 3,000 IU for adults. For specific recommendations, go here
Although large amounts of vitamin A can be toxic, for cases of measles, Dr. Brownstein says some experts recommend a one-time dose of 100,000 IU of vitamin A orally at the time of diagnosis for infants younger than 12 months of age, and 200,000 IU for those older.
Should you vaccinate against measles? It's a personal decision, says Dr. Brownstein. "No parent wants to harm their child by not vaccinating. We should all respect individual choice. That is what our country was founded on. I would never criticize a parent for vaccinating nor would I be critical of one not vaccinating. It is tough for parents out there — we don’t need to make it worse for them."
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