Lets face it, if you weren't too fussed about the function of your immune system, with the recent COVID-19 pandemic wrecking everything from your health, our social fabric to the global economy, it would seem that immune support has grabbed the public attention - and rightly so.
Immune function is a complex business. How we go about supporting it can depend on factors such as your age, current health status, existing medical conditions, medications you are currently on, pregnancy and more.
This article is not definitive or prescriptive, nor do I pretend that it is.
But what this article will give you, is a brief overview of the different types of immunity, what practical things you can do to support your immunity, then specifically information regarding COVID-19.
This will all be evidence based. Sources will be provided, so that you can follow up and do your own research. There will be no fairy tales, pixie dust, or conspiracy theories. Just solid, quality information.
Keeping it simple
Whole Body Defence
You immune system is a complex series of physiological mechanisms, it involves each system in the body to ensure, swift, appropriate, and effective response - but sometimes this defence system can become a little over zealous, or dysfunctional leading to auto-immune conditions, inflammatory conditions and allergies.
Your immune response has a varied arsenal to deal with any attack. It's response will depend on various factors, including whether the attack is a bacteria or virus, versus a parasite or allergen.
Essentially there are three lines of defence, as outlined below.
First Line of Defence:
Physical Barriers - This includes skin and mucous membranes of the gut and respiratory tract.
Second Line of Defence
Innate Immunity - detects and neutralises pathogens, initiates an inflammatory response. Communicates with the 3rd Line of Defence.
Third Line of Defence
Adaptive Immunity - Provides a specific, tailored response. Stores a strategic plan to battle pathogen should it arise again.
First Line of Defence - Skin and Mucous Membrane
These provide a physical, connective tissue barrier, to help prevent antigens entering through the skin, through inhalation or ingestion.
Antigens often first make contact through this first line of defence, triggering a network of immune cells and signalling molecules to interact and launch an attack.
Mucosal immunity is provided by Mucosa Associated Lymphatic Tissue (MALT) and Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue (MALT).
Second Line of Defence - Innate Immunity
Think of innate immunity like the Army and specifically ground troops. A range of cells and proteins are deployed to neutralise or destroy pathogens. Well trained, they have a broad range of skills and weapons to utilise.
Macrophages - these have developed from monocytes made in bone marrow, migrated from blood to tissue. They essentially rough up invaders and then destroy them. They can also recruit other immune cells for back up.
Neutrophils - these guys are fast -acting "trigger happy" phargocytes ("phargo" - to eat or devour "cyte" - meaning cell).
They travel the blood stream probing vessels for signs of inflammation so they can deal with the matter. They are your primary immune cell defence against bacterial infection.
Sneaky and resourceful little chaps, they can also team up with other proteins to form traps for pathogens outside of cells. These traps are known as NET's (Neutrophil Extracellular Traps).
NK cells - large, fast acting bad boys, immune cells that can kill abnormal cells. No messing.
There are many more involved, but these are some some of the key players.
Third Line of Defence - Adaptive Immune System
If the second Line of defence is the regular army, think of this line of defence as the Special Forces. These are your Marines, The Navy..(you get the idea).
The adaptive immune system is more specialised specific response unit, the main players in this squadron are your T and B cells.
T-cells mission is to carry out what is known as "cell-mediated" immunity (cells against cells). They react specifically and have receptors on their cell surface which correspond to a protein sequence on a specific antigen (the bad guys).
These assassins directly attack and destroy other cells with the same specific antigen presented, this is done through various mechanisms.
T-cells that have encountered an antigen once, stay in the system to enable a faster more effective response when challenged with the same antigen in the future.
B-Cells manufacture immunoglobulins, a form of specialised protein (glycoprotein) that circulate in the blood and binds to antigens.
There are different types of Immunoglobulins, they have a region which corresponds to a specific sequence of amino acids on a specific antigen (the "bad guys").
Immunity: Putting it All Together
Lets keep it simple.
Immune function overall depends on key nutrients, especially Vitamin A [Source:1A], Vitamin C [Source 1B], Zinc [Source 1C], and Iron [Source 1D], they are all key players in white blood cell proliferation, antioxidant activity and immune cell differentiation.
Your immune cell function is also highly dependent on vitamin D, receptors are present on immune cells such as B cells, T cells and antigen presenting cells.
Therefore Vitamin D plays a crucial role in your Innate Immunity (2nd Line of Defence) and Adaptive Immunity (3rd Line of Defence). A deficiency in vitamin D is associated with an increase susceptibility to infection [Source 2A].
Poor digestion or gut function can lead to a weakened 1st Line of Defence, impaired nutrient absorption. Poor fat digestion can also impair the utilisation of fat soluble vitamins D and A (important for immune function).
So when it comes to immune support the key nutrients to focus on depending on your health status are
If you do this, primarily through food, and careful supplementation, you are giving your body a winning chance. Probiotics to support gut function is also a good look.
Also remember that the following can lead to low immunity and impair your body's ability to fight back
I urge you to put things in place to help you manage these factors.
When it comes to COVID-19 there are many weird and wonderful recommendations out there.
I've found this Bio Care article the most sane, sensible and evidence based when it comes to providing information on how to protect yourself from infections in general. Definitely worth a read.
I got this message today,
"Just wanted to send a message and say I saw your video yesterday and was really moved. I've seen you post about your health struggles before and your brother, but of course I didn't know the full story, nor would I ever pry.
It's been fourteen years since my brother died.
When I was asked by Jimmy from The Human Aspect to be interviewed about the greatest challenge I have ever had to face, I knew the answer even before he had finished the sentence.
It was without doubt one of the most harrowing and forming experiences of my life - which in someways I am grateful for.
Now I know that may sound strange, but when you watch the video, you'll begin to understand what I mean.
It's not something I would wish on anyone, but I believe that we don't always get what we ask for, and its about how we deal with situations we are given that matters most.
The coping strategies that I used (which I share towards the end of the interview) are powerful, and in this time of global lock-down, uncertainty, fear and panic, being able to practically deal with these emotions are now more than ever, necessary.
Check out my interview and learn more about my story on The Human Aspect, and share with someone who needs to here that message right now.