I think of our immune system like our Ego – it is here simply to make sure We, in all our glory, survive. It is comprised of an army, a complex web of scouts and communication, front line fighters, strategists, and targeted weapons.
It’s a complex system, and how it is activated depends on what type of invader we have.
I’ll use a virus, for the moment, let’s say COVID 19..
SARS viruses, such as COVID 19, produce a double-membrane shield that hides it from the first step in the immune response, the pattern sensor (PRR). It also modifies its genetic material to make it look more like human RNA.
Once it has evaded the policing PRR it uses its spike protein to dock onto our human cell, gaining entry into the cell like a burgler. Now inside it co-opts our cellular machinery to make copies of itself. Our infected cell calls for help, sending out two signals (type 1 interferon and cytokines) to alert its neighbors and the rest of the system to come help destroy the invaders (in doing so it would be sacrificing itself for the good of the whole – what a role model!).
Many of these viruses have gotten smart, however, and are able to escape the next step (the MHC class 1). This response, when active, takes a piece of the foreign viral protein that is now rapidly being made inside the infected cell and presents it on the surface of the cell – this signals our T cells to come and destroy the virus-infected cell. But smart viruses disable this response, and the virus continues to replicate itself inside our cell until the cell explodes and releases more of itself to infect an ever-greater number of cells.
But our valiant immune system has back up. When there is no MHC response we activate what are called Natural Killer cells (NK cells).
NK cells act at about 3 days post-infection. They recognize the signals from stressed cells when the other signaling mechanism has been tricked or shut down.
NK cells kill by releasing toxic granules near the infected cell that form holes in the membrane of the targeted cell, inducing cell death (apoptosis). They also secrete substances that activate other immune system cells to come clear up the wreckage.
Now it gets complex but suffice to say our adaptive immunity starts to kick in. B cells and T cells are the main players here; there are multiple types but the thing to know is that ultimately they “learn” that this protein is an invader, and remember.
This is how our bodies create antibodies.
Antibodies are why we are able to recognize the infection immediately the next time it infects us and kill it immediately – they give us immunity to the virus – we can’t be infected again as long as our immune systems are working.
Those are the basics. The problem with COVID 19 is that there are multiple strains, and it is also mutating – and with different enough versions of the virus our immune systems will have to re-learn. We have no idea how fast this will happen.
Eventually this is not only possible but likely – COVID 19 is a more infectious version of the original SARS.
I say this not to frighten but to highlight that we need to have very strong initial macrophage and NK cell response – our first lines of defense – to keep from getting ill again.
And here is how you do that.
Immune Boosting with Natural Products
Mushrooms are the cornerstone of any immune enhancement regimen – they have beta-glucans that interact directly with receptors on our immune system cells. Here are the best along with some of their many great properties:
How the mushroom properties are extracted has a big influence on how they effect the immune system. If you are looking for immune enhancement then use water-extraction or simply powdered mycelium and fruiting body.
Chaga “King Healer” – stimulates NK cells and macrophage production through significant effect on bone marrow. (Also has highest level of antioxidants on the planet). Chaga stimulates both th1 and th2 cytokines – however in researching its cumulative effect on microvasculature, which is where a concern is here with COVID 19, I find that chaga actually reduces microvasculature inflammation.
Shiitake – directly increases NK cells by 2x and gamma delta T cells 60% as well as increasing their functionality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25866155
Reishi – stimulates macrophages, stimulates TNF alpha for tumor suppression, stimulates production of all immune system cells in bone marrow
Turkey Tail – increases Natural Killer cell activity against viral infection
Lion’s Mane – stimulates nerve growth Factor (NGF) to grow neurons, immune cells also have NGF receptors to stimulate proliferation of B and T cells and the production of antibodies. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/imm.12717
Maitake – Stimulates immune cell production – specifically macrophages, NK cells and T cells.
Cordyceps – Interrupts RNA and DNA synthesis (how viruses replicate) especially in the lung (where many viruses including CoVid 19 enter our system).
Cytokines are immune system signaling molecules that both intensify and regulate the immune response.
Though some mushrooms do induce production of cytokines, they do not produce any damage – so they are ideal for prevention and treatment of most cases of this current virus.
Adaptogens are plants or substances that create stimulating or repressive responses in our bodies, depending on what is needed to get us back into homeostasis. Mushrooms fall in to this category.
Adaptogens all increase endurance, reduce fatigue, and stimulate the immune system indirectly through increasing adrenal function and oxygen use, as well as directly by stimulating immune cell production.
This is why they are so important with COVID 19: part of the way viruses kill people is through a hyper-immune response – in end-stage disease, often with sepsis, the body releases so many damaging cytokines that they microdamage the blood vessels and cause bleeding (not to freak you out but in the severe cases this happens not only in the lungs but in every solid organ). Adaptogens are not considered immune stimulants as much as modulators of the immune system response, keeping it balanced. This balance between enough immune response and too much is how adaptogens help us in both prevention and treatment.
Glycyrrhiza – powerful anti-viral – inhibits viral gene expression and replication. One of the top herbs used in anti-viral formulas against COVID 19. This is now under clinical trial in combination with vitamin C for COVID 19.
Ashwaganda – a master regulator and immune cell stimulator. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19388865
It is important to differentiate between prevention and treatment. Prevention is generally the same for all, but treatment can differ based on symptoms and the individual response. The following are two great adaptogens, both of which stimulate cytokines. I would never use them in someone who is having a hyper immune response, but I would use them for prevention and part of treatment in most cases.
Astragalus – Stimulation of cell-mediated immune mechanisms (phagocyte and inflammatory response), stimulates telomerase to lengthen telomeres. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1534735403256419 – astragalus raises th1- skewing cytokines, stimulating anti-viral macrophages and lymphocytes.
Ginseng – enhances antibody response and NK cell activity, reduces fatigue; directly anti-viral. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5052424/ – stimulates both th1 and th2 cytokines. Ginseng in this case is best used for recovery, or in more severe cases.
Keep in mind also that cytokine response is worse in those with a more acidic extracellular environment. Low pH (6.0 to 6.5) has been shown to induce the activation of the inflammasome, and inhibit NK cells and T cells. So – keep alkaline!
Adaptogens and mushrooms both supply highly concentrated nutrients.
Basic complete nutrition cannot be overlooked, and is the foundation of a successful immune response. Our immune system needs a supply of energy, as well as all vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to build the enzymes and immune system cells to man the army.
The necessity for energy is also key – if our bodies are busy trying to deal with other issues (chronic conditions, nutritional deficiency, other infections, even just being too cold for too long) then the energy won’t be available to power our immune system.
- Supplementation with vitamin C appears to be able to both help prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections, and contributes to immune defense by supporting multiple cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19263912
- Vitamin D is deeply entwined in all aspects of immunity. Our immune system will not function without it. A majority of Americans are consistently deficient in vitamin D according to the US government, among others. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738984
Gut health is a must – gut-associated lymphoid tissue represents about 70% of the entire immune system, and the healthy bacteria there keep things functioning. So if you have gastrointestinal issues you must find the support you need to improve this.
And – Sleep! Tightly regulated by the circadian rhythm, our body’s master timekeeper, it is during sleep that our immune system produces the naive T cell army it will need to fight invaders. Immunological memory is also partially encoded during sleep, and it is during sleep that the lymphocytes, toxins, and the carnage of the battle fill the lymph nodes, to be carried out of the temple – your body.
Lastly, for now, is music and meditation. How frequency (and intent) affects the immune system is a whole book in itself, and though this will likely not cure COVID 19 here is a guided meditation to create inner awareness from teacher and physicist Theresa Bullard, and solfeggio sound bath for focused healing meditation.
We need to consider not only the virus but the environment the virus is in. Multiple studies have looked at surfaces (environments) the virus lives on – but what about the environment it expands in – our bodies?
This is what priming immunity is about – the immune environment the virus finds itself in either helps us or hurts us in the fight.
There are other considerations in addition to immunity that are specific to coronaviruses/COVID 19.
First is pH. This virus docks onto our cells with a mechanism that is pH-dependent. This means the lysosome’s internal environment is at a specific pH, and this allows the docking – and therefore infection – to happen. One of the major investigations in creating a vaccine is looking at how to change that environment. (See below for natural substances that appear to interfere with the docking of this virus.)
This raises the question of overall body pH. We know scientifically that an acidic extracellular environment increases immune response – given that an acidic environment itself is a signal that the body is out of balance. Unfortunately it is not a balanced immune response, and can create an even more dangerous environment. In fact, acidic pH shows inhibition of respiratory activity.
Respiratory problems – as we all know now – are the focal point in severe cases of COVID 19 – whether you can get enough oxygen or not to survive.
You can test your pH with pH strips, and alkalinize your extracellular space with nutrition.
Another thought is nitric oxide (NO). This is a signaling molecule produced by your body, and in the inner lining of blood vessels it signals the surrounding smooth muscle to relax, thereby increasing blood flow. In doing so it lowers blood pressure and increases oxygen.
When my mother had difficulty breathing this week due to symptoms we increased her NO and her oxygen saturation increased 1-2 points.
A third concept is hydrogen. In 2007 a paper was published in Nature Medicine about the antioxidant capacity of hydrogen and its potential applications as a cytokine regulator. Since then continuing research has shown hydrogen to greatly reduce damage – in fact protect – organs from oxidative stress/inflammatory damage. There is a lot of research on lung injury, and this is especially pertinent given the severe cases of Covid 19.
A recent paper details the use of hydrogen in sepsis, and a Chinese medical team in dealing with the severe cases of Covid 19 has recommended use of 66.6% H2 / 33.3% O2 for inhalation for treatment of COVID-19 patients in the 7th edition of new coronavirus pneumonia guidelines translated by the World Health Organization as a treatment for cytokine storms/organ protection.
I use a molecular hydrogen tablet that drops into a bottle of water – I use aqua H2 (I have no association with any products, this is the one I happen to have). This will contribute to alkalization of your body, a plus against cytokine injury.
My current anti-COVID 19 regimen
Boil chaga then simmer for at least 1 hour (up to 8!) in water. Strain out chaga keep the rich liquid and add reishi mushroom powder, turkey tail and cordyceps, or any mushroom powder you have.
Boil honeyed glycyrrhiza root (zhi gan cao) in water then simmer for 30 minutes, strain out root to make watery syrup.
In a glass use 2 fingers of mushroom and 1/2 – 1 finger of glycyrrhiza.
Add 1-2 tsp of Anandamide from Sun Potion (I love this product) – OR powdered astragalus, ashwaganda and cocoa.
Mix. Add hot water to taste. It will be sweet from the honeyed glycyrrhiza root.
Vitamin C at least 500mg/day. The body can only use 500mg at a time so if you take more spread it out.
Vitamin D – a lot of us will spend a lot less time outside – so supplementing is going to be important. My vitamin D status is 59 – which is ideal — it has taken me years to achieve this because of faulty genetics. I maintain by taking 5000 IU 2-3x/week. Everyone processes D differently because there are many genes involved so many potential mutations. Test your vitamin D status, and your D genetics to know your dose.
Substances/supplements: these nutritional substances were found to be the most effective natural substances to directly interfere with the molecular docking of Covid 19. These target the same mechanism a successful pharmaceutical would – the main protease.
PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinine) – a form of quinine necessary for immune function; hydroxychloroquine used to treat malaria has been found to be one of the best pharmaceutical interventions for COVID 19 because it changes the pH the lysosome, interfering with binding in the pH-dependent mechanism.
Seaweed soup – Dashi provides a strong base of all trace minerals – in ratio proper to the human body – vital to immune function. Add shiitake mushrooms for immunity.
Anti-Viral herbs – herbs are concentrated nutrition as well as factors that promote immunity (reishi mushroom, Cordyceps and ginseng are Chinese herbs, for example); many of them also provide factors that treat either viral or bacterial infection or both.
The Nobel Prize 2015 in Medicine was awarded for artemisinin’s effects on malaria, highlighting the profound effects of herbs on infection.
There was much work done in understanding an herbal approach to assist with the SARS outbreak, and this has been applied and updated for COVID 19.
These herbal formulas are effective for prevention, lessening intensity of infection and shortening infection time. They were mandated in Chinese State hospitals during this current outbreak, and these formulas were made available through the World Health Organization (WHO). For more information see my Apothecary page.
I wish you all Godspeed. Please contact me if you or your loved ones need help with immunity, nutrition, or anti-viral herbal medicine. I am here to help.