Since everything has recently changed all around us I decided to do some posting on the subject of COVID19. What is known today has changed drastically since I went to medical school. What is a virus? How could something so simple be making us this sick? Why are some people getting sick and others not as much? The answers are simple, yet complex.
Two months ago I was driving my son to school and he had done a project on a virus. He had created a diorama of none other than the Corona -SARS2 virus. It was a simple model made from styrofoam with pipe-cleaner receptors attached to it. Inside the diorama was the genetic material for transport into our cells. Little did I know how that virus would be impacting us today. It was a great visual memory that I will not forget.
What is a virus?
Viruses are not essentially alive. They have a protein capsule coating loaded with information they can insert into our genes. They then can “hijack” the cell to making and replicating themselves. Viruses access our cells by creating a protein marker (see the spikes on the virus above?) that acts like a key to enter our cells. For Covid-19 or SARS2 this protein binds to target the angiotensin receptors on some of our tissues. These receptors are located in several organs including the lung, heart and gut.
Once the virus inserts itself through these angiotensin channels, it replicates itself. Sometimes our immune system can recognize the cell as infected, but other times our immune cells do not notice this virally infected cell. The replication causes the cells to rupture spilling more virus and causes damage to our cells and tissue. The damage triggers an immune system response that can be overwhelming for some. Damage to our tissues causes the release of cytokines, molecular chemical messengers for our cells. Cytokines can either amplify our immune output or turn it down to regulate it. Scientists are still learning about what these messengers do in our systems and how they cause regulation or dysfunction. These cytokine messengers can cause intense inflammation and fluid to come into the tissue. In our lungs, if this gets out of control, we lose the ability to oxygenate our blood. If the virus has replicated and infected many cells before it was identified then significant damage has been done and more cytokines are called, hence more immune activity, more inflammation.
With viruses we want our “innate” immune systems to be strong. This is the part of our immune systems that identify invaders like virally infected cells. If they are able to attack these protein capsids then the fight does not get so severe. If the virus is able to replicate undetected then death of our own cells causes damage and intense inflammation and cytokine storms to occur.
How to control this is still being figured out. Best case scenario is to prevent contact and exposure. But what can you do to protect your immune system?
Improving immune health
I think of our immune system as being like a symphony. Each section has a vital role in the overall picture and health of our system. Regulation, balance and control are so important to our immune systems just like they are to the quality of sound in a symphonic performance. Another way to look at it is the military. In general we want the military to be aggressive only at the right times with the right invaders. The same can be true of the immune system. We want it to identify unfriendly molecules immediately and then shut down quickly to prevent damage to our own tissue. The immune system uses powerful chemicals to attempt to kill invaders. Things like hydrochloric acid, peroxides etc. that can cause damage to our own tissue. It is not something that we want in excess. Therefore it is important to make sure that any other immune reactions are at a minimum to prevent the system from becoming overactive.
Immune System Regulation:
Immune systems can get out of balance and run away like a freight train out of control in certain situations. I want to address some of the reasons for that here. If we have an infection in any of our tissues getting rid of that can help our immune system to fight what it needs to. Unhealthy bacteria and yeast in our mouth and gut can lead to an overwhelmed and confused immune response that further amplifies that particular response. If the invader is not eliminated the damage goes unchecked and the immune response continues to amplify creating damage to our own tissue in the process. This is what happens in sepsis. The cytokines that are released in response to the invader cause significant debilitating consequences to our systems. So a first step is to replace harmful bacteria with ones that we tolerate and live in symbiosis with us. These are things like probiotic bacteria lacto-bacillus and bifido-bacillus. These bacteria are ignored and help us with reactions to protect us. Antibiotics, harsh chemicals will kill these “good” bacteria and perhaps let unhealthy ones overgrow.
Internal Barrier protection:
Think of your exposure sites: the gut, the mucous membranes and eyes. You want these sites to be protecting you as much as possible in the event of exposure. Acid in the stomach will help to break down this protein coated virus and is good to break down other proteins also. Enzymes in the stomach can be suppressed during stress and these can further help with breakdown of these viral proteins. Keep your stress low to help with digestion and the production of stomach acid and enzymes. Keep your membranes healthy and moist to prevent irritation and decrease potential exposure.
Decreasing unnecessary immune reactions:
Of course the best way not to have to deal with this situation is to not get exposed in the first place. This means staying in an environment that does not contain the virus. This virus seems to be more stable and resistant to cleaning agents etc. Heat does seem to dissolve and inactivate this virus. Best to not go into environments containing the virus, which is carried by people and spread through respiratory droplets. It is very difficult to know where the virus is located in the environments as it can live on surfaces that others have touched.
When going out:
1. Avoid touching items as much as you can. Do not touch your face or eat anything while in a store.
2. Go in and out quickly. Make a list of what you need to spend as little time inside as possible.
3. Wear a mask if you have one and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
4. When you arrive home take your shoes off at the door without touching them. Immediately wash your hands. You want your home to be safe for you.
5. Anything that has touched someone at the store may well indeed contain viral particles. These can infect if still intact. Place the bags of groceries on a surface you may clean. Remember the virus can live for up to 3 days on metal surfaces and 24 hours on cardboard. The protein may be washed off with soap and water. Antibacterial soaps are not necessary and can be harmful to the environment.
Immune System Balance:
Immune dysfunction happens for many reasons including exposure to other toxins and immune triggers, stress, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies and lastly (yes, I believe lastly) our genes. We can impact our environments to help with regulation but we cannot change our genes. Some people may have a different combination of issues that contributes to their ability to react in a useful and helpful way. Here are some suggestions that I would recommend for most people:
1. Diversified mostly plant based diet with as few toxins as possible. Buy organic if possible and avoid GMO’s. Toxins can cause impaired regulation of our immune systems.
2. Take a good quality multi-vitamin.
3. Adequate vitamin D and A which help regulate the immune function.
4. Good quality probiotic in addition to food sources containing fiber for breakdown into short chain fatty acids like butyrate which help to regulate immune response.
5. Vitamin C, Glutathione and NAC to help with innate immune function and natural killer cell activity.
6. Avoid stress and minimize stressful type activities.
7. Exercise at the RIGHT amount to not create too much stress on the body.
8. Eat healthy food to maintain your blood glucose to decrease cortisol response.
9. GET GOOD QUALITY SLEEP. Turn off wifi and remove all devices from your sleeping space. Your cells can feel this radiation and they do not like it!
10. Make sure you are well hydrated with good quality water.
As things evolve, the recommendations will change. One thing has been certain with this virus is that we have not seen anything like this previously. We should learn alot from this situation to help us with finding solutions.
Be well and take care of your family and yourself. Enjoy this pause in time in some way. This is part of our journey.
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Immune Responses In COVID-19: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32105090
Exercise and NK function : https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1471-4914(16)30041-7
Vitamin D and immunity: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0960-0760(19)30609-0
Innate immunity and NK cells: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmid/31354734/
CDC and COVID 19: https://www.coronavirus.gov/
NIH on COVID 19: https://www.nih.gov/coronavirus.