COVID-19 and Your Immune System


What Is A Virus?

A virus is a microscopic parasite that cannot do much on its own. It needs to infect a susceptible cell and then direct that cell’s machinery to do its bidding. First, they steal energy from the cell they infect, and then use the cell’s machinery to make multiple copies of themselves. Basically, a virus is genetic material, either RNA or DNA, with an outer shell of protein. That’s it, not very complicated. The main purpose of a virus’s life is to just make more of themselves, which many times disorders the health of the host cell.

What Is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a novel virus. Novel means that this is a virus previously unknown to immune system, and therefore the human population has no immunity against it. The causative agent of COVID-19 is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2. This may sound familiar to you because of the previous 2002 to 2004 SARS pandemic. Both of these viruses are a SARS coronavirus. These SARS viruses, in some individuals, can lead to a "cytokine storm" in the alveoli of the lungs. This is what causes the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

What Is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome?

The alveoli of the lungs are the small grape-like structures that fill up like balloons at the end the bronchioles. The cytokine storm in these air exchange structures cause them to fill up with fluid instead of air, creating a shortness of breath. (see Five Important Factors of COVID-19 and Your Immune System). This new SARS-CoV-2 actually shares 79.5% of its genome with the previous SARS virus designated as SARS-CoV. However, the 20.5% difference makes this a completely new virus for the human immune system to handle.

Why There Is No Cure For COVID-19

Because it’s a brand-new virus to our human immune system we lack immunity to it, as previous stated. Because it’s brand-new there is very little research on it. Therefore, no one can tell you that a certain supplement will prevent or cure COVID-19, there just isn’t the research available. However, there is a great deal of solid information on what can improve our immune systems and help us prevent viral infections. Furthermore, since the previous 2002 SARS pandemic there has been a tremendous amount of research in nutrients and botanicals that can have an effect on this SARS coronavirus., which may be helpful in dealing with SARS-CoV-2.

However, make no mistake, SARS-CoV-2 is different than the first SARS-CoV and must be taken much more seriously. Just take a look at the statistics. Globally, WHO received reports of SARS from 29 countries and regions: 8,096 persons with probable SARS resulting in 774 deaths. As of March 29th, 2020 Covid-19 had already caused 720,415 cases and 33,908 Deaths worldwide and 141,125 cases 2,458 deaths in the U.S. The infectivity of the SARS-CoV-2 is much more severe than SARS-CoV.

What Can You Do To Protect Yourself And Your Family?

First and foremost, you must follow all CDC guidelines carefully, especially social distancing and proper hygiene. Again, there is no known cure for COVID-19, but there are ways you can improve your immune function. This is important because not everyone who is exposed to SARS-CoV-2 develops COVID-19. In fact, most studies show 80% of those who are exposed to SARS-CoV-2 have only mild to moderate symptoms. While as many as 5% suffer severe breathing problems that require intensive care. Why the difference? Because in 80% of the population their immune systems were able to defeat this virus.

How To Bolster Your Immune System To Defend Against Is Virus?

First, you must eat a nutrient dense healthy diet. Number one cut out all sugars. Numerous studies have shown that as blood sugar levels rise immune function declines. This happens even at moderate levels of post meal glucose levels rising over 120 mg/dl. I have my patients follow their post meal glucose levels, and in general they have to eat a low carb diet to maintain a post meal glucose level under 120 mg/dL. Number two, fill up on vegetables, they have the micronutrients that you need. Keep your levels of fruit intake down because they contain a lot of sugar. Get adequate levels of protein through moderate intake of meat. If you need to snack use nuts and seeds high in micronutrients.

The Role Of Vitamin D And C

Vitamin D enhances your monocytes and macrophages to fight pathogens and decreases hyper inflammatory response. It’s vital to know your vitamin D level, abnormally low vitamin D levels can lead to increased risk for upper respiratory tract infections, including the flu. Dosing of vitamin D3 really depends on your present blood level, you do not want to overdose. I like to have my patients keep a healthy blood vitamin D level of between 60 to 80 ng/mL and never go above 100 ng/mL. Depending where you are starting from daily dosage can be anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 I.U.

Of course, you may want to consider vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant and helps reduce oxidative stress in your tissues. Oxidative stress is an accumulation of free radicals in your tissues which will definitely reduce immune health and is linked to numerous diseases. Viruses increase oxidative stress in the alveoli, which can lead to a cytokine storm. I like to have my patients maintain a minimum of 2,000 mg of vitamin C per day. When they are coming down with a respiratory infection, I will have them take a liposomal vitamin C at higher levels, usually to bowel tolerance.

The Role Of Zinc

Zinc is another important immune support nutrient. Zinc is a vital nutrient for immune cell development and decreases oxidative stress and decreases the generation of inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-alpha and IL-1beta in elderly individuals. This could be vital to an individual developing a cytokine storm in a SARS reaction. I test all my patients to see if they have adequate zinc levels in their blood, ideal levels are between 90 to 150 mcg/dL. Without knowing your zinc levels, I would set the upper limit to about 40 mg of elemental zinc per day. Too much zinc can decrease your copper levels. If you are pushing that 40 mg of elemental zinc per day you may want to add 2 mg of copper per day. Again, I test all my patients’ zinc and copper levels to know exactly where they are at and where they need to go.

The Antiviral Role Of Flavonoids

There is a family of natural compounds found in foods called flavonoids, one prime example is that of quercetin. Flavonoids such as quercetin has been shown to exhibit antiviral effects. In one study quercetin was shown to inhibit the entry of the SARS-CoV into the cell. Quercetin exhibits a great deal of other benefits, and I utilize it a great deal in my practice and personally myself. Dosage usually runs around 500 mg to a 1,000 mg per day.

The Role Of Medicinal Mushrooms and Herbal Medicines

There are so many other factors that can be utilized in support of immune system. Medicinal mushrooms are a huge benefit to the immune system and have been used for thousands of years. Mushroom extracts such as that from Turkey tail, Rishi, Shiitake, Cordyceps and Lyons Mane all have been shown to benefit immune health. One supplement that I like to utilize for myself and patients is an extract of mushrooms called AHCC which improves the innate immune system. Human and preclinical studies have shown AHCC increases the number and/or activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells, which help the body fight off infections.

There are Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicines that have been shown to fight SARS CoV and therefore they may have some benefit against SARS-CoV-2. One of these are herbs, Astragalus is used in many traditional Chinese formulas created to improve immune function and fight infection. Another one is Andrographis an herb containing andrographolide, a compound shown to have antiviral effects against respiratory viruses such as influenza A. A 2003 Lancet study found Glycyrrhizin extract from licorice has been shown to inhibit viral absorption and the penetration of the SARS-CoV virus. The study concluded: "Of all the compounds, glycyrrhizin was the most active in inhibiting replication of the SARS-associated virus."

These herbal strategies and more will be discussed in further detail with dosing in my next posting on COVID-19 and Your Immune System. I will also focus on the role of the cytokine storm in the alveoli in COVID-19 and what can be done to hopefully reduce its occurrence. Again, this is a novel virus and there is no available research showing that any substance can prevent or treat COVID-19, but why not do all you can to improve your immune function and give yourself a fighting chance?

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