Immune System Boosters. Part I

While we are faced with the present COVID-19 pandemic, it makes sense to do what we can to prevent infection, transmission and our ability to fight the disease should we become infected.

With the 2019 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to understand that no supplement, diet, or other lifestyle modification other than physical distancing (also known as social distancing), and proper hygiene and cross infection control practices can protect adequately from COVID-19.

Currently, no research supports the use of any supplement to protect against COVID-19 specifically. No supplement will cure or prevent disease, but it makes good sense to do what we can to bolster our body’s health, especially the immune system where possible.

The “immune system” is a complex and interwoven network relying on the overall body’s health not just a certain organ and tissues. It is impacted by physical, mental and physiologic parameters, to name but a few.

IMMUNE RESPONSE

The immune response is how your body recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, and substances that appear foreign and harmful.

Your immune system per se however, consists of a complex collection of cells, processes, and chemicals that constantly defends your body against invading pathogens, including viruses, toxins, and bacteria.

The immune system protects the body from possibly harmful substances by recognizing and responding  to antigens. These  are substances (usually proteins) on the surface of cells, viruses, fungi, or bacteria.

The immune system

ANTIGENS

Nonliving substances such as  toxins, chemicals, drugs, and foreign particles (such as a splinter) can also be antigens. A virus can be considered as non-living outside the host cell yet living when inside the host cell.

The immune system recognizes and destroys, or tries to destroy, substances that contain or is coated by antigens.

The body’s cells have proteins that are antigens. These include a group of antigens called  HLA antigens. The immune system learns to recognise these antigens as normal and usually does not react against them.

A histocompatibility antigen blood test looks at proteins called human leukocyte antigens (HLAs). These are found on the surface of almost all cells in the human body. HLAs are found in large amounts on the surface of white blood cells. They help the immune system tell the difference between body tissue and substances that are not from your own body.

INNATE IMMUNITY

Innate, or nonspecific, immunity is the defense system with which you are born. It protects against all antigens. Innate immunity involves barriers that keep harmful materials from entering your body. These barriers form the first line of defense in the immune response

ACQUIRED IMMUNITY

Acquired immunity is immunity that develops with exposure to various antigens, usually during childhood. Your immune system builds a defense against that specific antigens.

PASSIVE IMMUNITY

Passive immunity is due to antibodies that are produced in a body other than your own, (including viruses). Infants have passive immunity because they are born with antibodies that are transferred through the placenta from their mother. These antibodies disappear between ages 6 and 12 months.

A different type of immunity, called passive immunity, results when someone is given another’s antibodies. When these antibodies are introduced into the person’s body, the “acquired” antibodies help prevent or fight certain infectious diseases. The protection offered by passive immunization is short-lived however, usually lasting only a few weeks or months. But it helps protect right away.

HERD IMMUNITY

This arises when a high percentage of the population is protected through vaccination or prior infection against a virus or bacteria, making it difficult for a disease to spread because there are so few susceptible people left to infect.

This can effectively stop the spread of disease in the community. It is particularly crucial for protecting people who cannot be vaccinated. These include children who are too young to be vaccinated, people with compromised immune systems, and those who are too ill to receive vaccines (such as some cancer patients).

The proportion of the population which must be immunized in order to achieve herd immunity varies for each disease but the underlying idea is simple: once enough people are protected, they help to protect vulnerable members of their communities by reducing the spread of the disease. This however is not unlike physical distancing.

However, when immunisation rates fall, herd immunity can break down leading to an increase in the number of new cases. When a vaccine is not available, herd immunity can occur as enough people become infected, but the cost in terms of illness can be significant. We see this approach in Sweden in the present pandemic of COVID-19 to which there is, at present, no vaccine.

Herd immunity was recognized as a naturally occurring phenomenon in the 1930s when it was observed that after a significant number of children had become immune to measles the number of new infections temporarily decreased.

An introduction to immunology and immuno-pathology

COVID-19 – NO VACCINE

Mass vaccination to induce herd immunity has since become common and proved successful in preventing the spread of many infective diseases. Controversy and resistance against vaccination can present a a challenge to herd immunity, allowing preventable diseases to persist in or return to communities that have inadequate vaccination rates.

VACCINATION

Vaccination or immunisation is a way to trigger the immune response. Small doses of an antigen, such as dead or weakened live viruses, are given to activate immune system “memory” (activated B cells and sensitized T cells). Memory allows your body to react quickly and efficiently to future exposures. They basically “teach” your body how to defend itself when viruses or bacteria appear, to invade it.

Passive immunization may also be due to injection of antiserum, which contains antibodies that are formed by another person or animal. It provides immediate protection against an antigen but again, does not provide long-lasting protection.

Immune serum globulin (given for hepatitis exposure) and tetanus antitoxin are examples of passive immunization.

Keeping your immune system optimized year-round is important in preventing and managing infection and disease. Making healthy lifestyle choices by consuming nutritious foods and getting enough sleep and exercise are important ways to strengthen your immune system.

This emphasizes the importance of a “holistic” approach – various systems should be viewed as an entirety, not merely as a collection of parts. First termed by Jan Smuts, “Holistic” appeared with his 1926.

In addition, research has shown that supplementing with certain vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other substances may improve immune response and potentially protect against illness.

However, as with all health and wellness approaches, it should always be remembered that supplements can interact with prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, as well as “natural” or alternative medicines.  Some may not be appropriate for some people with certain health conditions. Be sure to talk with your physician,  pharmacist or other healthcare professional before starting or changing any supplement regimens.

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D: Effect on Haematopoiesis and Immune System and Clinical Applications

Vitamin D is a fat soluble nutrient essential to the health and functioning of your immune system. It is found in some fish such as tuna (hence the picture), salmon and sardines.

Vitamin D enhances the effects of monocytes and macrophages (WBC — white blood cells) against antigens that are important parts of your immune defense.

Many people are deficient in this vitamin which may negatively affect immune function, as low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections, including influenza and allergic asthma.

Some studies show that supplementing with vitamin D may improve immune response. In fact, recent research suggests that taking this vitamin may protect against respiratory tract infections too.

A recent review of randomized control studies showed that supplementing Vitamin D significantly decreased the risk of respiratory infections in people deficient in this vitamin and lowered infection risk in those with adequate vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D Supplementation to Prevent Acute Respiratory Infections

This suggests an overall protective effect.

Other studies note that vitamin D supplements may improve response to antiviral treatments in people with certain infections, including hepatitis C and HIV.

Vitamin D Supplementation Improves Response to Antiviral Treatment for Recurrent Hepatitis C

Depending on blood levels, anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D per day is sufficient for most people, though those with more serious deficiencies often require much higher doses.

Vitamin D and Immune Function

SUMMARY

Vitamin D is essential for immune function. Healthy levels of this vitamin may help lower your risk of respiratory infections. Optimum levels are unlikely to be achieved from food alone. Supplementation is advised.

This article wouldn’t be complete without the mention of antioxidants which have been shown to strengthen the immune response.

Antioxidants which have been shown to strengthen the immune response

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