Exactly What Is A Virus?
Viruses are microscopic organisms that exist almost everywhere on earth. They can infect animals, plants, fungi, and even bacteria. They are considered the most abundant biological entity on the planet.
Viruses are tiny, ranging in size from about 20 to 400 nanometers in diameter (see page 9). Billions can fit on the head of a pin. Some are rod shaped; others are round and 20 sided; and yet others have fanciful forms, with multisided “heads” and cylindrical “tails.”
It surprises many people to learn that viruses “live” in us but aren’t technically alive. Viruses can replicate only inside the cells of their host. This makes them totally dependent on their host. They are the only type of microorganism that cannot reproduce without a host cell.
Viruses vary in complexity. They consist of genetic material, RNA or DNA, surrounded by a coat of protein, lipid (fat), or glycoprotein. After contacting a host cell, a virus will insert genetic material into the host and take over that host’s functions. When a virus infects a cell, it sends that cell a simple message: Make more viruses.
A virus exists only to reproduce. When it reproduces, its offspring spread to new cells and new hosts. It can spread through:
- exchanges of saliva, coughing, or sneezing
- sexual contact
- contaminated food or water
- insects that carry them from one person to another
Some viruses can live on an object for some time, so if a person touches an item with the virus on their hands, the next person can pick up that virus by touching the same object.
As the virus replicates in the body, it starts to affect the host. After a period known as the incubation period, symptoms may start to show.
The body can rid itself of many viruses on its own. Other viruses may present too big a challenge. Medicines to treat viruses exist. They are called antivirals and work in different ways. Some, for example, block the entry of a virus into a host cell. Others interrupt the virus as it attempts to copy itself. In general, viruses can be hard to treat. That’s because they live inside your cells, which shelter them from medicines. It’s also important to note that antibiotics don’t work on viruses.
You may learn more about viruses here.
What Makes You Sick
Infection does not necessarily lead to disease. Infection occurs when viruses, bacteria, or other pathogens enter your body and begin to multiply. Disease, which typically happens in a small proportion of infected people, occurs when the cells in your body are damaged as a result of infection, and signs and symptoms of an illness appear.
In response to infection, your immune system springs into action. White blood cells, antibodies, and other mechanisms go to work to rid your body of the foreign invader. Indeed, many of the symptoms that make a person suffer during an infection—fever, malaise, headache, rash—result from the activities of the immune system trying to eliminate the infection from the body.
So, the immune system is a double-edged sword. We need it to protect ourselves from infections, but it makes us miserable when it works.
Best Defense Is Offense
The job of your immune system is to protect your body from infections. The immune system mobilize a defense network like the military power of a country to eliminate pathogens through multi-level, progressive defense channels. It protects you in three different ways:
- It creates a barrier that prevents bacteria and viruses from entering your body.
- If a bacteria or virus does get into the body, the immune system tries to detect and eliminate it before it can make itself at home and reproduce.
- If the virus or bacteria is able to reproduce and start causing problems, your immune system is in charge of eliminating it.
To understand immunity, let’s examine the following example. In a room where the new coronavirus was evenly distributed, 20 people entered the room and they were exposed to the virus for the same amount of time. It was observed that 10 people had no symptoms and 10 had symptoms. Further, among the affected people, 5 had mild symptoms, 3 had moderate symptoms and 2 had severe symptoms.
Since the number of viruses entering each individual is the same, then why are 10 people not getting sick and 10 people getting sick, and some of them are mild and some are severe?
This ability to defend and control virus invasion in the body is called immunity.
Obviously, among the above-mentioned population, those who do not have the disease have stronger immunity than those who have the disease, and those with mild symptoms have better immunity than those with severe symptoms.
Therefore, the so-called “immunity” means immunity from bacterial, viral and other infections.
Innate And Adaptive Immunity
There are two types of immunity: innate and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is basically the first line of defense of a host against an infectious agent. Because it is so basic, it includes such minimal defenses as the skin and mucous membranes, proteins that non-specifically degrade foreign cells, and a giant “Beware of Dog” sign. Obviously, this defense is not well tailored to stopping a virus infection.
On the other hand, the adaptive immune system is a branch of immunity evolved in mammals that is like “smart bomb” technology. We are exposed to a pathogen that makes us sick, then our adaptive immunity “remembers” this, so the next time we see that pathogen, it disposes of it like week old fish sticks.
The adaptive immunity has two important cells: B and T cells (B means cells that mature in the bone marrow, while T cells develop in the thymus). B cells make antibodies, and are not as useful in defending against virus infection as T cells. T cells are highly important in the immune response to virus infection because they do a few things:
- Kill virus-infected cells
- Activate interferon that inhibits virus replication
- Activate cells that kills virus-infected cells
You may learn more about how the immune system fights viruses here.
How Does Your Body Know How to Respond?
Pretty much every cell in the body can detect invading pathogens through what’s known as pattern recognition receptors (PRRs). These receptors can recognize the difference in molecular patterns found on the surface of invaders but are not found in the body’s own cells other than when cancer is present.
The key here is that activation of PRRs triggers the production and release of interferons, cytokines, chemokines, and antimicrobial peptides which initiate your body’s innate and adaptive immune response–calling all of your defenses to rush to the site of infection. The overall response of your defenses against COVID-19, for example, as well as their ability to rush to your lungs, are determined by two things:
- The degree of PRR activation throughout the respiratory tract–in other words, how strong is the call to action for your immune system.
- The “readiness” of your immune system to respond, which ultimately determines the strength of its response. In other words, a strong call to a strong immune system elicits a strong response, whereas a weak call to a weak system or a strong call to a weak system sends you to the hospital.
To help you visualize everything we’ve talked about so far, click on Jon Barron’s flow chart.
Virally infected cells produce and release small proteins called interferons, which play a role in immune protection against viruses. Interferons prevent replication of viruses, by directly interfering with their ability to replicate within an infected cell. They also act as signaling molecules that allow infected cells to warn nearby cells of a viral presence – this signal makes neighboring cells increase the numbers of MHC class I molecules upon their surfaces, so that T cells surveying the area can identify and eliminate the viral infection as described above.
What interferon does in the presence of viruses is astounding:
- It draws your immune defenses to the site of infection.
- It causes hundreds of interferon stimulated genes, which primarily serve to limit further virus spread and infection, to activate.
- It directly stimulates phagocytosis and dendritic cell maturation.
- It stimulates the production of more interferon, which further increases your immune system’s response, which releases more interferon…etc. And of course, if this process fails to trigger its own shut off–which it normally does–that’s what’s known as a cytokine storm, in which the immune system goes out of control and starts destroying lung tissue in a self-annihilating frenzy.
Best Defense: Nurture Your Immune System
Having a strong immune system is one of your best defenses against viruses like COVID-19 and the flu. And scientists have known for years that it is possible to improve the functioning of both your innate and adaptive immune system. According to Jon Barron, “the conventional medical approach has been to use expensive, proprietary drugs, including concentrated cytokines such as interleukin and interferon. Unfortunately, that lacks the subtlety and second-by-second regulation of your body’s own interferon production, which can lead to serious side effects.”
Functional Health practitioners, on the other hand, have adopted a different approach incorporating diet and lifestyle modifications as well as natural substances to:
- Stimulate and strengthen the immune system.
- Fight infection.
- Complement the action of your body’s own interferon and interleukin-1.
- Assist the cell-mediated immune response.
Diet and lifestyle modifications that are elementary to boosting the immune system are:
- Hydrating correctly and consistently.
- Safely exposing yourself to sunlight and maintaining your serum vitamin D at ideal range.
- Eliminating gluten from your diet.
- Eliminating added sugar, refined carbs, and as much processed foods as possible.
- Consuming organic, Non-GMO foods and eating a balanced diet rich in fresh, whole foods, veggies, herbs, fruits, and high quality fat and animal protein.
- Maintaining sleep hygiene.
- Exercising 3-4 times a week.
- Managing stress through daily meditation and breathing exercises.
- Staying centered in gratitude and positive outlook.
When you follow such a lifestyle, you are actually removing a multitude of interferences that increase inflammation and over-stimulate or suppress your immunity. Thus, attaining a stronger, focused, ready-to-act immune system.
Second Best Defense: Supplement Your Immune System
Natural remedies for strengthening your immune system include vitamins C and D, herbal supplements, essential oils and eating healthy. Try the following five natural immune boosters to help your body step up to the plate (click here to visit Dr. Russ Skinner’s full article):
1. Vitamin C (500-1,000 mg)
Research shows that vitamin C has shortened the duration of colds and can decrease the number of colds in physically active people.
For maintenance, take 500-1,000 mg buffered vitamin C daily. During acute conditions, take up to 4,000 mg a day until symptoms resolve.
2. Vitamin D3 (2,000 IU daily)
Vitamin D is produced in the body by sunlight and regulates the expression of over 2,000 genes, including those of the immune system. Recent research shows that low vitamin D levels are linked to higher rates of cold, flu and respiratory infections. Unfortunately, up to 90 percent of people are deficient in vitamin D.
For maintenance, take 2,000 IU vitamin D daily.
3. Garlic (600-1,200 mg daily)
Garlic is a natural antibiotic as well as antifungal and antiviral agent. If you often get sick with a cold or flu, eating garlic can help reduce your symptoms or prevent your illness entirely.
For maintenance, eat 2 to 3 freshly crushed or sliced garlic cloves daily. If you choose to cook with garlic, remember that crushing garlic and allowing it to stand for 10 minutes before cooking can help prevent the loss of its medicinal properties. Supplement doses range from 600 to 1,200 mg per day. High intakes of garlic supplements can be toxic, so don’t exceed the dosage recommendations.
Ginger’s natural antibiotic property helps prevent and treat many health problems caused by bacteria. Fresh ginger has an antibiotic effect against food-borne pathogens like salmonella. It also has an antibacterial effect on respiratory and periodontal infections.
For maintenance, drink ginger tea daily. Grate 1 inch of fresh ginger and boil it in about 1½ cups of water for 10 minutes. Strain, add honey and lemon juice for taste and drink it. Also, include dry or fresh ginger in your cooking.
5. Astragalus Root
Astragalus root is a powerful antiviral herb. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to boost the body’s immune system. Scientific studies have shown that astragalus has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system, suggesting that it may help enhance your immune system to prevent and fight bacterial and viral infections, including the common cold. Astragalus also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and it is used on the skin for wound care. It’s also an adaptogen herb which means it may help the body handle stress more effectively.
There is not a standardized dosage for astragalus, but you can work with your health practitioner to determine how much you should take and how often.
Take Home Message
The immune system is made up of many different kinds of cells that protect the body from germs, viruses and other invaders. These cells need to co-exist in a certain balance for good health to be maintained. Many factors, including diet, lifestyle, and exercise can tip this balance, creating immune cells that can harm, rather than protect, our bodies. It is possible, and highly recommended, to boost your immunity and thereby to positively affect your body’s capacity to get rid of pathogens naturally and smoothly.