“We think if we can make our immune systems stronger, we’ll be better able to fight off this coronavirus, as well as other viral and bacterial pathogens”
A large portion of research into this virus is focused on the immune system’s role in those who became seriously ill. One of the emerging theories suggests that the immune system works so hard at fighting off this virus that it can result in fatal organ damage, particularly in the lungs.
Researchers from Washington University St.Louis are pointing to another theory that is getting overlooked which suggests that patients become ill because their immune system is not able to do enough to protect them from the virus, and as such the team is suggesting that boosting the immune system could be a potential treatment strategy. The team has also been investigating a similar approach with sepsis, according to a release.
“People around the world have been treating patients seriously ill with COVID-19 using drugs that do very different things,” said Richard S. Hotchkiss, professor of anesthesiology, of medicine and of surgery. “Some drugs tamp down the immune response, while others enhance it. Everybody seems to be throwing the kitchen sink at the illness. It may be true that some people die from a hyperinflammatory response, but it appears more likely to us that if you block the immune system too much, you’re not going to be able to control the virus.”
Autopsy studies were used to show large amounts of the virus present in the organs of those who had lost their battle with the virus, which suggests that their immune system was not working well enough to fight the virus off leading to death.
“But when we actually looked closely at these patients, we found that their tires, so to speak, were underinflated or immune-suppressed,” said Kenneth Remy, assistant professor of pediatrics, of medicine and of anesthesiology at WashU. “To go and poke holes in them with anti-inflammatory drugs because you think they are hyperinflated or hyperinflamed will only make the suppression and the disease worse.”
Blood samples were gathered from 20 COVID-19 patients to test the activity of immune cells in the blood; the team compared those samples with blood of 26 hospitalized sepsis patients and 18 others who were very ill but did not have sepsis or COVID-19. Those with COVID-19 were found to have far fewer circulating immune cells than what is typical and the immune cells present did not secrete normal levels of cytokines. Cytokine molecules are suspected to be the cause of organ damage in death in COVID-19 patients.
Similar trials and studies focused on boosting immunity are underway in Europe and America which includes Washington University. According to the team finding ways to boost immune responses should help COVID-19 patients, and should also be helpful in avoiding another similar pandemic.
“We should have been geared up and more ready when this pathogen appeared,” said Hotchkiss. “But what Ken [Remy] and I and our colleagues are working on now is finding ways to boost the immune system that may help people during future pandemics. We think if we can make our immune systems stronger, we’ll be better able to fight off this coronavirus, as well as other viral and bacterial pathogens that may be unleashed in the future.“
For anyone interested in boosting your immune system, while it is not guaranteed to prevent you from becoming ill, it could help to give you a better chance of recovery. According to Harvard Health the first line of defense when it comes to the immune system is choosing a health lifestyle. Every part of the body functions better when it is protected from environmental assaults and is bolstered by healthy living strategies, such as what is promoted by here at WHN and the A4M.
Healthy lifestyle choices include:
- Not smoking
- Getting enough sleep
- Keep levels of stress in check/minimized
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding being sedentary
- Going outside more
- Eating a healthy balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables
- Avoiding processed foods
- Regular exercise
- Avoiding alcohol, and if you drink only do it in moderation
- Being socially active face to face in person when possible
- Proper hygiene
- Thoroughly cooking meats
- Limiting added sugars
- Staying hydrated
- Supplementing wisely as needed
Sandra Darling, DO who is a preventive medicine physician and wellness expert at the Cleveland Clinic says that while there is no magic pill, there are tried and true ways to take your immunity up a notch:
“Let’s start with the basics: Wash your hands for 20 seconds, don’t touch your face and take distancing seriously,” says Dr. Darling. “If you only do these three things, you’ll be well on your way to staying healthy.”
Dr. Darling prescribes 4 stay healthy strategies. “I believe in the power of immune-boosting foods,” says Dr. Darling. “Choosing whole, unprocessed foods does wonders for overall health.” She recommends garlic, prebiotics, vitamin C rich foods, antioxidants and natural immunity aids as immunity boosters in the focus on food.
She also recommends simple lifestyle improvements like managing stress, getting enough sleep, meditation, and exercise. “Exercise increases your resilience so you can fight off infection,” says Dr. Darling. “Our bodies function better when we’re physically active every day.”
Like many others Dr. Darling also suggests that a positive mindset is key to health and well being. Positive thoughts have been shown to reduce stress and inflammation while increasing resilience to infection. “The COVID-19 pandemic is scary, so it’s easy to spiral down in negative thoughts,” says Dr. Darling. “The story we tell ourselves is crucial. Change it from ‘It’s not going to be OK’ to ‘I am safe at home with the people I love.’ Start your day with a positive thought or even a mantra such as, ‘I am well.’”
“A lot of people are deficient (or low) in vitamin D, and a deficiency may increase your susceptibility to infection,” says Dr. Darling. “Get outside for fresh air and sunshine, but I also recommend taking a daily supplement of 1,000 to 2,000 IUs of vitamin D.”
According to healthline some studies indicate the following supplements may help to strengthen the body’s general immune response: vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, elderberry, echinacea, and garlic.
- According to a review in over 11,000 people, taking 1,000–2,000 mg of vitamin C per day reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children. Yet, supplementing did not prevent the cold to begin with.
- Vitamin D deficiency may increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementing may counteract this effect.
- In a review in 575 people with the common cold, supplementing with more than 75 mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the cold by 33%.
- One small review found that elderberries could reduce the symptoms of viral upper respiratory infections, but more research is needed.
- A study in over 700 people found that those who took echinacea recovered from colds slightly more quickly than those who received a placebo or no treatment.
- A high quality, 12-week study in 146 people found that supplementing with garlic reduced the incidence of the common cold by about 30%. However, more research is needed.