COVID-19 has given us all pause to assess whether we have a strong enough immune system to fight it off. COVID-19 can render our red bloods cells less oxygenated as well as create a whole cascade of events creating a cytokine storm, which is overwhelming to the lungs to keep supplying us of oxygen. Throughout the pandemic we have discovered some interesting at-risk populations. Are you in one of them? The high-risk populations include patients with diabetes, hemoglobin disorders, liver disease, heart conditions, immune disorders, chronic kidney and lung disease, and obesity.
What makes these patients so susceptible to succumbing to this infection? It turns out that COVID-19 is not terribly unique of a virus. We have examples of coronaviruses throughout time which infect us for a few days as the common cold. Our innate immune systems attack the virus and we usually resume life as usual. Our innate immune system is a wonderful collaboration between cells and proteins that travel in the blood stream but will actually “talk” to each other in the lymph nodes and spleen. The cells’ main manufacturing site is in the bone marrow. Many stem cells are there which are the progenitor or beginning cells that will travel outside and become mature developed cells. We are born with a thymus gland which is rich in T cells that mature in this area after the bone marrow send them here.
Our tonsils and lymph nodes contain T and B cells. The liver helps make some of the protein messengers and cytokines for use. The spleen will hold, break down, renew cells. The T-cells are responsible for direct hand to hand combat, especially in a virus that is considered “novel” and not yet around enough in the population for us to work on antibodies to fight it. Therefore, this pandemic refers to a novel virus. We need to kill or repair the infected cells with our innate system. Since viruses live inside cells and hide out in there, T cells are the most responsible for viral attack. Of note not all viruses bad and we have a rich virome living within our DNA. Cytokines are the protein messengers, and most times with a virus, cytokines are released from the infected cell to let the T cell know that the virus is hiding in there.
There is a feverish rush to create a vaccine against COVID-19. How does a vaccine work? The answer is in our B-cells. These are the cells that make antibodies. I view them as soldiers who throw out their ammunition of antibodies to help the rest of the immune system recognize the foreigner. This foreigner, viral capsid or infected viral cell is now surrounded by these antibodies so other cells can destroy or neutralize it. An immunization is offering up those antibodies to make the fight against this or any pathogen easier and quicker. Those who are uninfected currently have no history and no antibodies with the COVID-19 virus. The fight is harder since we are only using the innate system for the attack.
You may now ask why these at-risk populations have a harder time with the COVID-19 battle. In diabetes the excess sugar is sticky, toxic, and inflammatory to red blood cells. This impairs the ability to carry oxygen to the tissue but also disrupts the immune system. In our immune compromised persons, this becomes obvious when the system has very few T cells (as in chemotherapy destroying them) or faulty ones (as in HIV infections). There are limited soldiers coming to battle. For those with chronic kidney disease there is significant difficulty removing toxins. The kidney is also in charge of secreting erythropoietin to make red blood cells, and if that is compromised so is the ability to carry oxygen to the body. Heart conditions and chronic lung diseases already incapacitate the body for maintaining good oxygen levels, and if COVID-19 wreaks its havoc to those organs, the loss of oxygenation can be devastating.
Obesity has been our surprise risk factor throughout this pandemic. Why is this? Obesity is inflammatory by nature as adipose (fat) is created to harbor our toxic debris from food. Obesity increases leptin and cuts down adiponectin. Fat cell expansion can cause a lot of stress on the inner clockwork of the cell. The stress inside the cell creates hypoxia and chemical chaos. If there is hypoxia to the fat cells, they release inflammatory genes to activate immune cells, especially is truncal or visceral fat. The immune system simply goes haywire and makes the obese patient so much more vulnerable to the cytokine storm.
So how do we supercharge our immune system? Until there is a viable safe way to vaccinate ourselves and supply us of antibodies, we must focus on building a powerful host immunity. This is possible and imperative since we have gained insight to the most endangered individuals. Universal precautions include handwashing and isolation. These recommendations are regardless of a pathogen. Hypochlorous acid is superior to alcohol-based sanitizers with viral contagion. High risk people should stay safe at home. During the infectious season try to maintain at least 2000 mg of vitamin C daily. Treatment doses will be much higher, but prevention is the focus of this article. Propolis and products with bee propolis in them help tremendously well as an anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, and anti-bacterial and anti-fungal immune modulator. Melatonin is a common sleep promoting supplement but lesser-known immune supporter. During an early battle up to 50 mg can be taken. It also has a topical delivery in addition to the well-known oral supplement. Zinc very powerfully tries to block the virus’ entrance into the cell and block it from getting to the nucleus. Vitamin D3 should be kept on the highest end of normal. Oxygenation (including supplemental oxygen as needed) and vigorous hydration is imperative to keep the immune system in optimal readiness. Astragalus, echinacea, and goldenseal, and elderberry are also some reasonable herbs and teas to consider.
Modifying lifestyle is never too late. Start now by stopping smoking. Any bit of weight loss is a journey in the right direction. Get adequate sleep. Lower stress. High amounts of stress very readily lower our immune system’s fighting capacity. Exercise regularly. This improves immune performance. Slow down on alcohol consumption and eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Your immunity is in your hands. Get ready for cold and flu season during our current pandemic!