The Immune System
We have already posted a web article about managing the threats COVID-19 may pose to our physical and mental health. This blog post is a distilled version of that article.
Vitamin E offers various benefits to the immune system and has been shown to enhance immune responses in animal and human models while offering protection against several infectious diseases. Supplementation of elderly individuals has been shown to enhance their immune response.
Vitamin E modulates T cell function through directly impacting T cell membrane integrity, signal transduction, and cell division. T cells are a type of immune cell that fight against intracellular pathogens. This includes virus-infected cells such as flu, HIV, herpes and cancer cells. Vitamin E also indirectly affects inflammatory mediators generated from other immune cells. Modulation of immune function in this way is significant because it affects host susceptibility to infectious diseases such as respiratory infections.
Vitamin D receptors are found in most immune cells. It helps maintain healthy immune cell development, differentiation and migration. Vitamin D is known to enhance the function of immune cells, including T-cells and macrophages, that protect your body against pathogens.
T cells are a type of white blood cell and are a component of the immune system and they rely on Vitamin D to become active. Carsten Geisler, of Copenhagen University’s Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology, proposes that when a T cell is exposed to a foreign harmful microorganisms, the T cell searches for Vitamin D. 
Adequate Vitamin D concentrations play an important role in protecting against upper and lower respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk and greater severity of infection, particularly of the respiratory tract. 
Studies have shown that Vitamin D deficiency may confer increased risk of influenza and respiratory tract infection. Cell culture experiments support the thesis that Vitamin D has direct antiviral effects particularly against enveloped viruses.  Enveloped viruses are wrapped in an outer coat that is made from a small piece of the cell’s membrane which can hide the virus from the immune system. All coronaviruses, including COVID-19, are enveloped viruses.
Diminishing zinc could be a major factor in the age-associated decline of immune function. Zinc deficiency adversely affects the growth and function of B cells and T cells (both a type of white blood cell).
You may have heard of a malaria drug named Chloroquine that can be potentially used as a treatment for COVID-19. Chloroquine has been approved by Chinese, South Korean and Italian health authorities for the experimental treatment of COVID-19. The mechanism for this treatment is that Chloroquine helps get Zinc into the cell. It enhances Zinc inside the cell and Zinc is effective at limiting the virus’s ability to replicate. The quercetin compound, which is found in capers, has also been said to help get Zinc into the cell.
Sleep and the circadian system exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions. People who are sleep deprived, either by quality or duration, are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep also affects how fast you recover. Complex feedback loops involving cytokines appear to play a role in the regulation of non-REM sleep.
Many of us will have more time now and this can be used to catch up on sleep missed over the years. Schedule naps during the day and make a point of resting when mentally or physically tired. Drink less coffee and pivot to herbal teas. Learn about healthy sleeping habits by watching talks by sleep expert Matthew Walker and take steps to improve the quality of your sleep.
Chronic stress suppresses the immune system. Stress, fear and worry raises our cortisol levels and cortisol inhibits white blood cell function. The endless stream of news stories and social media posts about COVID-19 and a vulnerable economy that has flooded our minds has a real impact on our stress levels. Images of hospital wards, coffins and animated graphics showing the rapid spreading of disease is alarming on many levels. It is important to both heed the warning that virus infections could be a real threat to your community while also being mindful that you must actively manage the stress that comes along with these stories and the way they are presented.
Social distancing itself, a major component of the strategy advocated by health authorities, can also be a source of stress. The feeling of being disconnected is stressful and especially when it comes as a result of a global mandate to be at a distance from others.
Staying active and productive can help cope with the added stress. Being proactive and taking action is incredibly effective in mitigating stress. This is also a great opportunity to practice mindfulness and meditation. Many people will experience slower days during the pandemic and adjusting to the new pace can be both difficult and rewarding. Use this opportunity to master ‘going slowly’ and proceed through the days while observing yourself and being purposeful in everything you do. Managing stress is good for your health in general as well as your longevity. The one common trait centenarians around the world have is their ability to cope well with stressful events.
In addition to taking measures to prevent infection of viruses we can also bolster our immune system to better resist the infection if we should get it. Immune function may be compromised by having nutritional deficiencies, lack of sleep and chronic stress. The following chart outlines the benefits of key nutrients, sleep and managed stress when it comes to strengthening the immune system, resisting viruses and supporting the respiratory system.
We want to prevent infection by avoiding the viruses and also protecting ourselves in instances where we may have come into contact with the viruses. We can, perhaps, avoid the COVID-19 virus by practicing social distancing, limit surface contact in public and wearing breathing masks. We can protect ourselves from the virus by washing hands regularly and after having contact with surfaces in public. We can also protect ourselves by getting iodine into our tissues and mucus. Finally, in the event we do contract the virus, we can be prepared by strengthening the immune system so it can provide the best resistance.
Regardless of your stance on the severity of the COVID-19 threat and the health authority recommendations it is worth taking the following steps to protect yourself and your family.
- Get Iodine into the Tissues
- Strengthen The Immune System
Health authorities openly acknowledge that the body fights the illness. This implies the immune system is paramount to surviving the illness. One may ask why these authorities do not recommend supplementation and other measures to bolster the immune system.
14) Lee, G. Y., & Han, S. N. (2018). The Role of Vitamin E in Immunity. Nutrients, 10(11), 1614. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10111614
15) Rall, L. C., Meydani, S.N. (1999). Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and Immune Response: Recent Advances. Military Strategies for Sustainment of Nutrition and Immune Function in the Field. Washington (DC), National Academies Press (US), 13.
16) Lewis, E.D., Meydani, S.N. & Wu, D. (2019). Regulatory role of vitamin E in the immune system and inflammation. IUBMB Life, 71, 487-494. https://doi.org/10.1002/iub.1976
17) von Essen, M.R., Kongsbak, M., Schjerling, P., Olgaard, K., Ødum, N., Geisler, C. (2010). Vitamin D controls T cell antigen receptor signaling and activation of human T cells. Nature Immunology, 11, 344–349. https:/doi.org/10.1038/ni.1851
18) Di Rosa, M., Malaguarnera, M., Nicoletti, F., & Malaguarnera, L. (2011). Vitamin D3: a helpful immuno-modulator. Immunology, 134(2), 123–139. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2567.2011.03482.x
19) Gunville, C. F., Mourani, P. M., & Ginde, A. A. (2013). The role of vitamin D in prevention and treatment of infection. Inflammation & allergy drug targets, 12(4), 239–245. https://doi.org/10.2174/18715281113129990046
20) Beard, J. A., Bearden, A., & Striker, R. (2011). Vitamin D and the anti-viral state. Journal of clinical virology : the official publication of the Pan American Society for Clinical Virology, 50(3), 194–200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcv.2010.12.006