Have you ever heard of the Great Spanish Flu of 1918?
Probably not. Most people under the age of 75 today have never heard of it! This is actually quite remarkable because you’d think more schools would teach about it and try to use what happened as a means to promote healthy living and disease prevention.
Because well over 50 million people all over the world died within a matter of months from this pandemic and no one knows why. Literally killing more people than every war in recorded history combined, this famed influenza outbreak has boggled the mind of epidemiologists and doctors for nearly 100 years.
One of the most interesting things about the “Mother of All Pandemics,” as some researchers refer to this horrible tragedy, is that nestled away in the tomes of our archives exists interested data describing how chiropractors were one of the primary instruments to stopping the plague!
But before I talk about the chiropractic-flu connection, we need to understand a little bit more about the Spanish Flu…
The Spanish Flu Mystery
Between 1918 – 1919, an estimated one-third of the world’s population (~500 million) were infected by what public health researchers now believe was a mixture of H1N1 and swine flu pandemics. In public health speak, the disease was so severe that case-fatality rates exceeded 2.5%, which is 25 times greater than most flu pandemics. This is a 2,500% difference! No one really knows for sure, but the total death toll has been estimated between 50 – 100 million. (1)
After nearly 100 years, public health experts are still unable to explain why this flu outbreak was so deadly. The primary reason is that, as explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
“No virus from 1918 had been isolated, but all of its apparent descendants caused substantially milder human disease. Moreover, examination of mortality data from the 1920s suggests that within a few years after 1918, influenza epidemics had settled into a pattern of annual epidemicity associated with strain drifting and substantially lowered death rates.” (1)
Additionally, most flu outbreaks will kill younger, older or already sick people. However, as seen in the chart below, the Spanish Flu pandemic predominantly killed healthy young adults; confounding researchers even more.
Figure 2: “U-” and “W-” shaped combined influenza and pneumonia mortality, by age at death, per 100,000 persons in each age group, United States, 1911–1918. Influenza- and pneumonia-specific death rates are plotted for the interpandemic years 1911–1917 (dashed line) and for the pandemic year 1918 (solid line). (2)
Recent research conducted on the bodies of frozen victims has actually discovered that the virus killed through an overreaction of the body’s immune system; somewhat like an autoimmune disorder where your body thinks your own cells are pathogens and puts your immune system in overdrive. According to one source,
“The strong immune reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas
the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in
fewer deaths among those groups.” (3)
The reason this is so important is because in a day and age where autoimmunity affects more than 50 million people alone in the U.S., we may be ripe for another healthy catastrophe. (4)
Don’t Fear: The Key is PREVENTION
Before we all put on hazmat suits and live in a storm shelter, just know that you don’t have to worry about dying from the flu (or even getting the flu for that matter) if your immune system is functioning at 100%. And you don’t have to worry just about the flu. As Rashid Buttar, DO puts it, “Cancer, first and foremost, is a problem with the immune system, you cannot have cancer if you have an intact immune system.” (5) I would say with same thing with all diseases!
The key, therefore, to keeping sicknesses like influenza at bay is to follow steps that have been shown to enhance immunity.
- Maintaining a Paleo-like Core Nutrition Plan.
- Regularly exercising the right way by following a Burst Training
- Minimizing stressors in a positive way.
- Supplementing with the right kind of probiotics.
- Reducing toxins like sugar and preservatives every chance you get.
- And, of course, regularly visit your chiropractor!
The Chiropractic-Flu Connection
First off, it’s important to understand, in the words of Dan Murphy, DC, “Chiropractors are doing something to influence the efficiency of the immune system.” (6)
Multiple literature reviews have supported this notion and chiropractic adjustments can boost various aspects of the immune function in a unique way. (7,8) Specifically, chiropractic has been clinically shown to:
- Promote the production of white blood cells, which are the mainstay of the immune system. (9, 10)
- Consistently reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. (11)
- Induce and enhance production of the immunoregulatory cytokine IL-2 and the production of immunoglobulins. (12, 13)
- Increase CD4 counts in HIV/AIDS patients. (14)
This helps explain why chiropractors were originally licensed as doctors because of their ability to treat infection, NOT take away headaches or back problems. (15) Contrary to popular folklore, chiropractors primarily treated infectious diseases like polio up until the 1950s!
The Texas Chiropractic Association highlights this point in their historical account of the Chiropractic – Spanish Flu connection: (15)
- “Chiropractors got fantastic results from influenza patients while those under medical care died like flies all around.”
- “Statistics reflect a most amazing, almost miraculous state of affairs. The medical profession was practically helpless with the flu victims but chiropractors seemed able to do no wrong.”
The data that they reference is quite remarkable: (15)
- In Davenport, Iowa, 50 medical doctors treated 4,953 cases, with 274 deaths. In the same city, 150 chiropractors including students and faculty of the Palmer School of Chiropractic, treated 1,635 cases with only one death.
- In the state of Iowa, medical doctors treated 93,590 patients, with 6,116 deaths – a loss of one patient out of every 15. In the same state, excluding Davenport, 4,735 patients were treated by chiropractors with a loss of only 6 cases – a loss of one patient out of every 789.
- National figures show that 1,142 chiropractors treated 46,394 patients for influenza during 1918, with a loss of 54 patients – one out of every 886.
- Reports show that in New York City, during the influenza epidemic of 1918, out of every 10,000 cases medically treated, 950 died; and in every 10,000 pneumonia cases medically treated 6,400 died. These figures are exact, for in that city these are reportable diseases.
- In the same epidemic reports show that chiropractors 3,490 cases of influenza with only 7 deaths. But the best part of this is, in Oklahoma there is a clear record showing that chiropractors were called in 233 cases where medical doctors had cared for the patients, and finally gave them up as lost. The chiropractors saved all these lost cases but 25.
Profound, isn’t it?
Dr. Hardick’s Personal Note
In my practice, the number of my patients who get sick from flu viruses is quite low; especially those who follow a whole-food, lower-sugar diet, avoiding chemical additives and preservatives. (Check out the Advanced Nutrition Plan if you’re looking for a similar approach.) And when people do get affected and present with some symptoms, they generally get back up on their feet in no time flat.
As cold/season reaches half-time this season, I implore you to regularly visit your chiropractor and don’t let the Holidays derail you off of your natural health regimen. If you need help finding a good DC in your area, just leave me a comment below and I’ll be sure to find one for you!