Measles, Memory and Leadership: Protecting Vitality and Cognitive Health

Measles, Memory and Leadership: Protecting Vitality and Cognitive Health / Alessandra Edwards

In January 1954, a remarkable event unfolded at the Fay School, a century-old boys’ boarding school in Southborough, Massachusetts. Measles, a common and highly contagious disease at the time, had swept through the school, leaving many students bedridden. Amidst this outbreak, a young physician-scientist arrived at the school’s infirmary, armed with a bag full of sterile throat swabs and syringes.

This physician-scientist was none other than Dr. Thomas C. Peebles, who had been tasked by Dr. John F. Enders, a prominent virologist, to collect samples from measles patients. Enders, who had previously played a crucial role in developing the polio vaccine, was now setting his sights on conquering measles. The samples collected by Peebles would prove instrumental in isolating the measles virus in Enders’ laboratory.

The successful isolation of the virus marked a turning point in the fight against measles. It laid the groundwork for the development of the measles vaccine, a feat achieved by Enders’ team in the early 1960s. This achievement marked a significant stride in public health, drastically reducing the global incidence of measles.

Despite this progress, measles remains a concern due to its highly contagious nature and potential for severe complications, particularly in unvaccinated individuals. The disease is spread through respiratory droplets and can linger in the air for up to two hours, making it easy to contract.

One of the lesser-known dangers of measles is its ability to cause “immune amnesia,” where the virus erases the immune system’s memory of how to fight off other infections. This leaves individuals, especially children, vulnerable to a range of illnesses they were previously immune to. Research has shown that this immune suppression can last for several years, increasing the risk of secondary infections and complicating recovery.

For leaders, grasping the broader implications of measles and other viral infections is not just about personal health, but also about safeguarding productivity and organisational effectiveness. The erosion of immune memory can lead to a heightened susceptibility to other diseases, which can, in turn, impact a leader’s ability to think clearly, make decisions, and lead effectively.

Moreover, studies suggest that a high viral burden is associated with cognitive decline, underscoring the importance of a robust immune system for maintaining mental acuity and overall well-being.

Therefore, it is essential for leaders to become increasingly aware of the importance of a strong immune system. This means not only protecting against specific threats like measles but also adopting a holistic approach to health that supports the body’s natural defenses.

To protect against measles and bolster overall health, leaders should focus on the following strategies:

  • Vaccination: Ensure you and your family are up to date with measles vaccinations to prevent outbreaks and protect vulnerable individuals. I was born in Italy in 1973, when the measles vaccine was not yet compulsory. As I cannot find accurate records of my childhood vaccinations, I will be getting the MMR vaccine this year.
  • Vitamin A Supplementation: Vitamin A plays a vital role in immune function and can mitigate the severity of measles. Incorporating foods rich in pre-formed vitamin A such as liver, oily fish and eggs can support recovery and immune resilience. I prefer recommending the retinol form of vitamin A as opposed to the plant-based, beta carotene version, because most people I test have a common genetic mutation that means they do not convert beta-carotene to vitamin A effectively.
  • Sleep: Quality sleep is fundamental for maintaining a robust immune system. Prioritising restful nights helps the body repair and defend against infections, while also supporting mental clarity and decision-making skills. Good quality sleep has been shown to support innate and adaptive immunity and even foster an efficient response to vaccines.
  • Nutrition and Lifestyle: A balanced diet, regular exercise, a healthy digestion and stress management are key components of a healthy lifestyle that supports immune function and overall well-being.
  • Herbal medicine: While these isn’t a huge amount of peer reviewed studies when it comes to herbal medicine and its application to viral defences, as a medical herbalist with 16 years’ experience I have definitely seen the beneficial effects of traditional herbs such as Echinacea, Cat’s Claw and Garlic as excellent adjuncts to diet, exercise and vaccination to foster robustness over the approaching winter period.