There are things that everyone of us can do to strengthen immune system and try to reduce the risks of getting sick in time when countries around the world are stepping up efforts to tackle a new coronavirus that originated in China.
The Chinese coronavirus, or officially 2019-nCoV, is indeed a previously unknown type of coronavirus, but you should not panic because of this. This is far from the first and certainly not the last case of the discovery of a new type of virus. The concept of “coronavirus” appeared in the mid-60s.
Today, many factors indicate that 2019-nCoV will not destroy humanity. Or any other virus for this matter.
All living creatures in this world have the goal of prolonging
their existence through their offspring. Viruses have the same task. The
infection is not intended to destroy us, it wants to progress and for this it
adapts to the qualities of the host body. The causative agents of infection are
parasites and they survive only in a living host. If they kill the host, they
will kill themselves.
World Health Organization reports 3.4% mortality rate as of March 3, 2020, however, their figures were calculated by dividing the number of deaths by the number of officially confirmed cases. We have to consider that there are many mild cases that do not get counted because they don't get to the hospital, so that fact would bring the mortality rate significantly down.
A large study in China found that about 80% of confirmed cases had fairly mild symptoms (defined as no significant infection in the lungs). Deaths are highest in the elderly people above 80 years old, and they are very low among younger people.
How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary. Some viruses are highly contagious (spread easily), like measles, while other viruses do not spread as easily. Another factor is whether the spread is sustained, spreading continually without stopping.
The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in some affected geographic areas.
Despite the fact that the apocalyptic mood is greatly
inflated, the measures that are being taken around the world to counter the
virus are correct. It is better to play it safe and be on the alert.
Can we intervene in the immune system and make it stronger? Will special nutrition, intake of vitamins and supplements, as well as physical activity help to strengthen immune system? Scientists from the Harvard Medical School studied these questions extensively, and Healthy Dietpedia have translated their position, complementing it with other scientific sources.
Please note that the information below reflects the main directions on this topic, which are still being actively studied.
Our immune system is a network made up of cells, tissues and organs that work together to prevent the entry of infections and reduce their effects on our body.
Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells play an important role in the mechanism of the immune system. It is the lymphocytes that determine the specificity of immune responses to foreign microorganisms. Lymphocytes are concentrated both in the general circulation system and in the central lymphoid organs and tissues, such as the spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes, where the initial immune reactions are triggered.
The two main types of lymphocytes are B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes, or, as they are also called, B-cells and T-cells. Both types of these cells come from bone marrow stem cells. Some lymphocytes migrate to the thymus (thymus gland), where they mature to T cells; others remain in the bone marrow, and develop to B cells.
The immune system can distinguish healthy cells from virus-infected cells by recognizing signals that pose a threat to the body. Cells can be "unhealthy" due to infections or cell damage caused by non-infectious agents like sunburn or cancer.
Infectious microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria cause a chain of signals that are recognized by the immune system. When the system recognizes these signals, it triggers responses to solve the problem. If with a sufficient level of threat the response cannot be activated, problems arise, such as an infection, due to which we become ill.
The idea to strengthen immune system is very attractive, but for several reasons it cannot be implemented to the extent that we would like. First, the immune system is a complex system, not a separate organ. Secondly, science still is not fully aware of all the interconnections and subtleties of immune reactions to provide with the definite advice on how to strengthen immune system.
To date, the direct connection between lifestyle and the health of the immune system has not been proven by science. However, this does not mean that lifestyle does not affect the immune function of our body. According to Harvard experts, a large number of studies are currently being conducted that examine how nutrition, physical activity, supplements, stress, and other factors affect our immunity. And although there are noteworthy research results, so far they can only be considered as preliminary.
According to scientists, the very concept of strengthening immune function is meaningless, since science does not know a single method that would really strengthen immune system of the body.
Attempts to stimulate the cells of the immune system to increase their efficiency are especially complicated, since in fact there are many types of immune cells that respond to many types of microbes in different ways.
What kind of immune cells needs to be strengthened, and how much?
Medicine does not have a clear answer to this question.
Medicine knows that our body constantly produces immune cells. It is proven that the body produces much more lymphocytes than it can use. Excess immune cells get rid of themselves in a natural process called apoptosis (cell death). At the same time, it is not known exactly how many cells and what type is necessary for the body's immune function to perform its work at the optimal level.
Scientists are well aware of the lower limits of the necessary production of immune cells. When the number of T-cells in patients with HIV / AIDS falls below a certain level, they become ill, because the immune system does not have enough of these T-cells to fight the infection. But then again, what is the optimal number of T cells to be produced, and would it be better if they are produced even more than the undetermined optimal number? The question still remains.
According to some studies, the deficiency of certain micronutrients - zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, as well as vitamins A, B6, C and E - negatively affects the immune response in animals. At the same time, science has yet to study whether a deficiency of these micronutrients causes the same changes in humans. However, scientists already note that the data available on this subject look promising and will provide answers on how to strengthen immune system in humans.
Among the most studied trace elements that have the highest potential to strengthen immune system, science notes:
Surprisingly, scientists have not yet studied how vitamin C is associated with immune function. Most studies have only evaluated the effect of vitamin C on the body as a whole. Scientists suggest that vitamin C can have beneficial effects that strengthen immune system only in combination with other micronutrients.
For many years, medicine has known that sunlight has a beneficial effect on people who suffer from tuberculosis, but only recently have scientists learned why. Researchers have found that vitamin D, which is produced by the skin under the influence of the sun, triggers antimicrobial reactions against the bacteria responsible for the development of tuberculosis - mycobacterium tuberculosis. Whether vitamin D has the same ability to fight other diseases or directly strengthen immune system is unknown.
Some studies suggest that individuals with selenium deficiency are more at risk for cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, and prostate and may strengthen immune system with this supplement.
Scientists have long known that vitamin A plays an important role in resisting infections and maintaining the mucous membranes by acting on certain types of T-cells, B-cells and cytokines (regulators of growth, development and interaction between immune cells). Vitamin A deficiency is associated with impaired immune function and an increased risk of infectious diseases. On the other hand, according to one study, taking vitamin A as an additive in the absence of deficiency does not affect the level of T cells in healthy people.
There is evidence that vitamin B2 increases the resistance to bacterial infections in mice, which is great, however how this ultimately affects the increase in immune responses is still unknown.
According to some studies, scientists suggest that a deficiency of vitamin B6 can reduce the immune response, namely, the ability of lymphocytes to mature into T and B cells. Supplementation with moderate doses of vitamin B6 helps eliminate deficiency of immune function and strengthen immune system.
In a study of subjects aged 65 and over, it was found that an increase in vitamin E intake from 30 mg to 300 mg caused a more significant antibody response in response to hepatitis B virus and tetanus after vaccination. However, the same increased reaction of the immune system in response to the introduction of diphtheria and pneumococcal vaccines was not observed.
Zinc is an indispensable micromineral for immunity, and its deficiency negatively affects the ability of cells of the immune system to do its job. At the same time, scientists caution that although it is very important to provide your body with enough zinc (15-25 mg per day), an excess of this mineral can disrupt the function of the immune system.
If you suspect that your current diet does not provide the body with all the necessary micronutrients (as is the case with limited calorie intake), taking a complex of vitamins and minerals can help strengthen immune system and fight agains viruses including the coronavirus. At the same time, experts note that taking high doses of trace elements is not justified, because more is not always better.
Go to any dietary supplement store or local pharmacy and you will see dozens of products that claim to strengthen immune system. Some of these supplements do have substances that can improve immune function indeed. However, today there is no evidence that these products actually strengthen immune system to the extent that a person is better protected from infections and diseases.
For example, scientists do not know whether any drug that increases the level of antibodies in the blood affects the immune system of the body as a whole.
Scientists are considering a number of supplements in terms of their potential effects on the immune system. However, many studies had flaws, which is why further experiments are needed to obtain objective data, which will confirm or disprove the previously obtained results.
Among the plants and additives that attract special attention of scientists, are noted:
Lets talk about each one of them in more details.
There is currently no evidence that aloe may affect the body's immune responses. Due to the fact that different compounds and compositions were used during the studies, different data were obtained as a result.
However, there is evidence that topical application of aloe helps with minor burns, wounds or frostbite. Aloe has also been shown to be effective in treating skin inflammations, but only in combination with hydrocortisone (an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic drug).
Astragalus root, which has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine to strengthen immune system and fight cancer, it touted as a stimulant of the immune system. However, some studies indicates that the immune stimulating effect of astragalus is weak. Moreover, taking this supplement without consulting with your doctor can be dangerous.
On the issue of the effectiveness of Echinacea regarding its effect on immunity the opinions of scientists were divided.
Experts from Examine.com emphasize that there is a clear discrepancy in the results of experiments regarding the effectiveness of echinacea in strengthening immunity. At the same time, it is noted that in 2007 a group of scientists from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies, which showed that taking echinacea reduces the likelihood of developing colds by 58%, and also shortens their duration by 1.4 days compared to taking a placebo.
On thee other hand, a team of doctors from Harvard Medical School emphasizes that studies that examined the ability of Echinacea to prevent or reduce the likelihood of developing colds were conducted with significant flaws in their planning and implementation.
One well-designed study by pediatricians at the University of Washington found that Echinacea had no effect on the duration of the common cold and the severity of symptoms in a group of children. Moreover, a study in 437 volunteers conducted in 2005 also found that echinacea did not reduce the severity of symptoms, did not affect the progression of the disease, and did not shorten its duration.
Garlic is actually capable of resisting infections. In laboratory tests, scientists observed how effectively garlic copes with bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
According to scientists from Examine.com, it was found that the incidence of colds was reduced to 60-70% when people consumed garlic daily.
This is due to the action of the substance allicin, which is released after we chop the garlic before eating. The same effect can be achieved by taking a seasoned extract of garlic.
Aged garlic extract is a popular supplement, not only because it’s easier for a person to choose a dosage, but also because there is no smell of garlic from the mouth after taking it.
Science does not yet know whether ginseng root is able to influence immunity, although Asians believe that this plant is a miracle stimulant of immune function.
In most studies, liquorice was used in combination with other herbs, so it is impossible to come to an unambiguous conclusion whether any obtained effects were due to the use of liquorice. Scientists at Harvard Medical School do not recommend the use of liquorice because of the lack of data that would confirm its immune-stimulating effect.
Scientists at Examine.com note that glycyrrhizic acid in liquorice can lower testosterone levels and increase the level of stress hormone cortisol.
There are hundreds of varieties of bacteria in the digestive tract that do essential work — helping to digest food. Today, researchers, including Harvard experts, continue to find evidence that links “good” bacteria to the immune system. For example, today it is known that certain bacteria in the intestine can increase the number of T cells in case of their low production.
There is growing evidence that intestinal bacteria really strengthen immune system, and this suggests that the bigger the count of “good” bacteria, the better.
Probiotics (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) are the "good" bacteria that live safely in the intestines, benefiting our health. If you decide to take probiotics in moderation - it certainly won’t hurt, especially since science supports their effectiveness in stimulating immunity.
And lets not forget about Homeopathic medicine that also claim to strengthen immune system.
Homeopathic medicine do not simply stimulate the body’s immune system to treat ill people, for they can also calm it when this is necessary for the healing. An example of this latter effect was observed in a study of the homeopathic treatment of people with rheumatoid arthritis, a condition which is considered an autoimmune illness. People with auto-immune ailments suffer because their body’s immune system is over-active and it attacks the person’s own cells, not just bacteria, viruses, or foreign substances.
This study on 46 people with rheumatoid arthritis showed that those given an individualized choice of homeopathic medicine got considerably more relief than those given a placebo.2 A total of 82% of those people given a homeopathic medicine experienced relief of pain, while only 21% of those given a placebo got a similar degree of relief.
According to researchers from Ohio State University, psychological stress affects immunity, disrupting the relationship between the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. To maintain health, these three systems must work in close coordination, transmitting chemical messages to each other.
According to experts, prolonged stress releases a whole range of stress hormones - mainly glucocorticoids. These hormones negatively affect the thymus, where T-lymphocytes are produced, and also interfere with the production of cytokines and interleukins, substances that stimulate the production of white blood cells and regulate their activity.
It is difficult to imagine a healthy lifestyle without regular training as well as a balanced diet, physical activity contributes to maintaining and improving health, in which the immune system plays the key role. Training promotes good blood circulation, so that immune cells and other substances move freely through the bloodstream and do their job right.
Some scientists are trying to find out if regular exercise directly affects our susceptibility to infections. For example, researchers are investigating whether excessive amounts of intense training can impair immune function and cause frequent colds. During their experiments, scientists ask athletes to train intensively, while taking blood and urine samples from them before and after training sessions in order to detect any changes in the level of cytokines, white blood cells and antibodies.
Although scientists observe some changes in indicators, immunologists still do not understand how these changes ultimately appear on the reactions of the immune system. For example, no one knows if an increase in cytokines has any noticeable effect on the body's immune responses, and again, it is not known whether an increase in the level of white blood cells is a good or bad sign.
According to scientists, although there is no direct connection between exercise and immunity, it is advisable to consider regular training of moderate intensity as one of the potentially important tools to strengthen immune system.
Following the principles of healthy lifestyle is the main thing you can do to maintain health and strengthen the immune function of your body especially during the time of outbreak. Every organ and system in our body, including the immune system, functions better when stimulated by habits that include:
In addition to all of the above, you need to follow elementary tips that will reduce the likelihood of catching an infection:
o How to boost your immune system, Harvard Medical School of Harvard University
o Immune System and Disorders, U.S. National Library of Medicine
o Garlic, Licorice, Echinacea, Scientific review on usage, dosage, side effects, Examine.com
o Overview of the Immune System, The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
o Lymphocyte, Encyclopedia Britannica
o J. Foster, The functions of cytokines and their uses in toxicology, Int J Exp Pathol. 2001 Jun; 82(3)
o Shah S.A., Sander S., Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis, Lancet Infect Dis. 2007 Jul;7(7):473-80
o Astragalus, The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
o Does Cold Weather Cause the Cold or Flu, About.com
o Good Hygiene Practices – Reducing the Spread of Infections and Viruses, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
o CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
o Homeopathic Family Medicine
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