By Dr. Erin Stefanacci DC CFMP
Many of us are living in a world we have never witnessed before. If you live in Buncombe County, we have been under “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders since March 26th, with many individuals voluntarily staying at home long before the order was in place.
Back in February, I explained how to conquer the coronavirus and recommend you visit this link if you haven’t yet, all of what is mentioned in that blog is still relevant. In the weeks that have passed, more information about the virus has surfaced and I have some additional explanations and recommendations to keep you and your family safe.
Immune System Basics
You have two arms of the immune system - the innate and adaptive immune systems. Although both are there to protect you against infection, they work in different ways.
The innate immune system is the first line of defense against all pathogens and is also known as non-specific immunity. Non-specific in the sense that this arm of the immune system recognizes virtually any invading pathogen and acts upon it. Innate immunity is composed of mucous membranes, which are always working to keep pathogens out, but also many, many cells. Cells such as macrophages, monocytes, neutrophils, basophils and natural killer cells (just to name a few) play a huge role in helping to keep pathogens at bay. Innate immunity is present at birth and works quickly against foreign invaders.
The adaptive immune system is also known as the specific immune system. And you may guess, specific in the sense that this arm of the immune system is highly capable of recognizing different pathogens and have the capacity to remember them, should the body encounter them again in the future. Adaptive immunity is primarily driven by B and T-lymphocytes. Adaptive immunity is activated with exposure to an antigen and is typically slower to work, think 1-2 weeks.
Coronavirus Disease & Your Immune System
I’ve included a diagram of the virus above in an attempt to make understanding this complex subject more palatable.
It has been found that SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes coronavirus disease) is an RNA virus and uses specific receptors to enter the body. The receptors that have shown key in this particular virus are the spike protein (S-Protein), membrane protein (M-Protein) and Nucleocapsid protein.
The S-Protein binds with something called an angiotensin-converting enzyme II, you may have heard this referred to as an ACE2 receptor. ACE2 receptors are found on the outer surfaces of cells in the lungs, heart, kidneys and intestines. Once the S-protein attaches to an ACE2 receptor it is able to enter the body.
It’s In The Body, Now What?
Many things happen once the virus is in the body. First off, it stimulates a number of different receptors important for fighting off the invader. One receptor that is important in SARS-CoV-2 is called NLRP3. Once the NLRP3 receptor is activated it results in the release of interleukin 1 beta (IL-1B) to start fighting off the virus.
You’ve heard the phrase, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Well, the same goes for the immune system. There needs to be enough activation of receptors and other cell signals to fight off the infection but too much can be damaging. We want our immune system to function well but when it overdoes it, that’s when people experience a cytokine storm. Think people with SEVERE food allergies here, the anaphylactic shock kind, this is exactly what happens to them.
In fact, it has been shown that there are key differences in patients ending up in ICU versus ones who don’t. The ones ending up in ICU have very high levels of several cytokines (small proteins important for proper cell signaling) associated with Th17 (proinflammatory cell) responses.
Okay… What Does All This Mean?
At this point, everyone knows that some people are getting extremely ill and others are not. The question is WHY are some getting gravely ill? There is no good answer to that. Is it the fact that the immune system is not optimal, too much viral load or is it the strain? The answer is just not known yet.
What is known is that the better your immune system can function and the less the inflammatory load on the body, the better the outcome will be. It is also known that NLRP3 is what drives the cytokine storm.
Now the question(s) become, how can we support our immune system to fight this and how can we push back on the NLRP3 inflammasome biology? There are LOTS of options!
Natural Immune Support & NLRP3 Inhibitors
I want to start off by saying at the core optimal health and natural immune support is quality sleep, proper stress management and optimal blood sugar regulation. You are in a good place if these things are going well for you.
Supplements and Nutrition
Resveratrol: Resveratrol is a polyphenol-rich in antioxidants and is found in red wine, blueberries and dark chocolate. It has been shown that resveratrol preserves mitochondrial integrity thereby inhibiting NLRP3 activation. It is recommended to get 200-400mg twice to three times daily.
Sulforaphane: Sulforaphane has gained attention for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer chemoprotective properties. But there are a number of things that sulforaphane does to support a healthy outcome if exposed to SARS-CoV-2. It has been shown to block NLRP3, attenuate the priming step of NLRP3 inflammasome and inhibit the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS, the drivers of oxidative stress, think DNA damage). Sulforaphane is obtained from cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage. Two things that are very high in the precursor to sulforaphane are broccoli sprouts and cauliflower. It is recommended to get 200mg twice to three times a day.
Quercetin: Quercetin is a flavonoid and one of my favorite antioxidants because it does so many cool things for the body. It extends the life of resveratrol (mentioned above), decreases histamine (think seasonal allergies and inflammatory immune response) and it helps zinc enter the cell body (important for killing viral pathogens inside the cell). Quercetin is a natural pigment found in many fruits and veggies. Specifically, onions, asparagus, green peppers, apples and the list goes on. Basically, if you are eating your veggies, you are doing yourself a favor. The recommended dose is 500mg three to four times daily.
Curcumin: Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric. Similar to resveratrol, curcumin is another polyphenol-rich in antioxidants. This reduces the amount of oxidative stress thereby decreasing the inflammation that goes along with it. Curcumin should be taken with piperine (the bioactive compound in pepper) to help with increased absorption. The recommended dose is 500mg three to four times daily.
Natural Killer (NK) Cell Support: Natural killer cells are cells that seek out cancer cells or other cells that have the potential to harm the body. It has been shown that Astragalus, Andrographis and Reishi are all great supporters of NK cell production. NK cells also have a great anti-inflammatory effect on the body and regulate Th17 immune response. Remember when I mentioned that the patients ending up in ICU had high levels of cytokines relating to Th17 responses? The optimal dose is 500mg twice to three times daily.
Melatonin: Have difficulty sleeping? You may want to try melatonin. Sleep stimulates the Th1 immune response in the body meaning a healthier response to illness for you. There is also research showing that melatonin may actually help fight COVID-19. The recommended dose is 5-20mg per night.
Berberine: Blood sugar regulation issues? Berberine may be the thing for you. Not only has berberine been proven to decrease A1C but it has also been shown to reduce NLRP3 inflammasome activation. Win-win! The recommended dose is 500mg twice to three times daily.
Being physically active can help your body flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways as well as generally improve your overall lung function. Yet, being active at home can be challenging. Read our blog to learn more about with the help of local businesses, you can stay active.
Be well and know that Carolina Holistic Health is here for you!
**Reminder: This is an educational article that does not constitute medical advice. It is always recommended to speak with your healthcare provider before implementing any of the above recommendations, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are taking medications.