Thanks to the mainstream media and our healthcare professionals, very few people understand some basic facts about the human immune system. In general, the misconceptions include thinking of our body as a dumb and helpless machine that needs help from doctors and drugs to fight off bacteria and viruses.
We don’t appreciate the amazingly efficient and complex immune system that protects us from all kinds of pathogens and even cancer/tumor cells every moment of every day.
Did you know that your body can make trillions of antibodies??? In fact, recent studies estimate that your body can make 1 million-trillion different kinds of antibodies. Thus, theoretically, we can fight off any monstrous bacteria or virus! So, why are so many people unable to fight off COVID or even flu and common cold?
Well, it’s because a lot of people have not-so-perfect immune system due to reasons such as poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, problems in gut microbiome, chronic inflammation, autoimmune disorders etc.
The good news is that most people can reverse this and strengthen their immune systems. At an individual level, you can boost your immunity naturally.
But that’s a different blog. Here, let’s take a moment to understand the awesome immune system, which is like a sophisticated military that can destroy anything from the cold virus to SARS-COV-2.
There are two main parts to the immune system: Adaptive and Innate.
Adaptive Immune system
Most people have a general idea about adaptive immunity. This is what happens with vaccines. The body meets a pathogen or a piece of the pathogen (like the spike protein of the COVID virus) and then does two things: (1) Make antibodies to neutralize the antigen, and (2) Remember the antigen, for future infections.
The adaptive immune system has two main cells: T-cells and B-cells. The T cells do a lot of things like killing cancer cells or cells that have been infected by a virus. B-cells, on the other hand, act as factories of antibodies.
The adaptive immunity takes a couple of days to get started after the infection. And it usually kills off the pathogens in a couple of weeks. This is why your cold or flu will typically last a week or two.
Does that seem like a long time? Well, think of it this way: Drug companies need a decade and billions of dollars to produce the right drug for a pathogen. Your body, on the other hand, just takes two weeks to (1) Identify the right antigen (2) Figure out the right protein – antibody – to neutralize the antigen, and (3) Create billions of B-cells to produce that specific antibody.
Here’s a nice chart from the WHO depicting the timeline of the two immune systems:
As for the antibodies for COVID19, there are two main classes: (1) IgA that is found in the respiratory tract, and (2) IgM and IgG that are found in the blood. Both natural infection and vaccines induce production of IgG/IgM.
However, as explained in the previous blog, natural COVID infection results in IgA, while the mRNA vaccines do not stimulate production of IgA.
For infectious diseases, IgA is the most pivotal in preventing infections. This is why vaccinated people keep testing positive for new variants. Many studies have also shown that immunity through infection is much better than vaccine-induced immunity — in fact 27 times better according to a study in Israel.
Innate Immune System
But … there is another facet of the immune system that is not well understood. This is the army of always-on soldiers who start defending your body within minutes of an invasion. And they can neutralize brand new bacterium and viruses that have never been encountered before.
There are numerous different types of innate immune cells, which have a plethora of strategies to slow down and kill the pathogens, such as:
- Gobbling up bacteria and viral particles in the blood and the tissues. (This is called “phagocytosis“)
- Releasing special enzymes and toxic chemicals to attack the pathogens
- Throwing “nets” to capture pathogens
- Identify infected cells, drill a hole (!), pump in cytotoxic chemicals, and kill them (along with the viruses inside them)
- Release biochemicals (“interferon“) to warn healthy cells about the invasion and even shut down some functions of healthy cells that could be hijacked by the virus
- Recruit more immune soldiers to the sites of infection (by using cytokines and chemokines)
- Extract unique proteins from pathogens and present them to the adaptive immune system
Some of the important cells are neutrophils, macrophages, Natural Killer (NK) cells, and dendritic cells.
Every day, your bone marrow manufactures billions of neutrophils, which make up more than half of all the white blood cells. These neutrophils hunt down and swallow pathogens in the blood; and can also release 1000+ proteins to kill pathogens.
The Natural Killer cells identify cells that have been invaded and compromised by viral infections. Inside each infected cell, there could be 1000s of virus ready to escape and invade more healthy cells. Oh, NK cells can also kill cancer cells.
Then there are macrophages, which swallow microbes. The dendritic cells extract unique antigens from microbes and present it to the adaptive immune system, which produce antibodies.
Thus, we have to appreciate and trust our natural immunity more. We don’t appreciate it because we forget that for every war our immune system loses, it has won thousands of wars. Also, as seen in the previous blog, immunity from infections are better than the ones from vaccines.
COVID-19 and Immune System
Now, let’s take a look how this discussion applies to covid. While the world seems to be caught up in hysteria, 40% of covid patients have no symptoms at all — i.e., they are asymptomatic! Why? Their innate immune system takes care of most of the job, and then the adaptive immunity just wraps up the war.
For those with weak immunity — especially people aged 50+, who make up 90% of covid deaths — the SARS-Cov-2 virus multiplies faster than the immune system can eliminate the virus. Thus, the virus versus human battles continue and the body (especially lungs) become highly inflamed. Both the virus and the inflammatory process (remember all the toxic chemicals produced by neutrophils and macrophages?) wreak havoc on the lung tissues.
However, this is still a rare event. Consider that about 150 million Americans have contracted covid so far and 800,000 have died. That’s a case fatality rate of 0.5%. And that is half the fatality rate of measles. So, not bad in the bigger picture of infectious diseases.
Also, if you look at the younger population (below the age of 40), the mortality rate is very tiny for COVID — about 0.006% per year.
Thus, it’s all about the immune system.
Here are a couple of important things to remember:
- We don’t have to be so germaphobic. Trust the body to fight the bad microbes. (There are also good or neutral microbes — like those in our gut microbiome or our skin — that our body has learned to coexist with)
- Antibiotics and vaccines are great, but they are not the only solution. As a society, we have to learn to decouple a bit from pharmaceuticals and quick fixes.
- The key is to keep the immune system in a great shape. This primarily involves diet — after all, think about all the complex biochemicals and immune cells that need to work seamlessly. They need lots of raw materials, which come from our food. Sleep, exercise, absence of stress etc. also boost the immunity.
- As for diet, Vitamins A, C, and D play crucial roles in boosting immunity. Zinc is also important. Mushrooms, garlic, onion, apple, and tea are all excellent as well. Other herbs like sage, oregano, and turmeric are amazing. Asian plants like ginseng and astragalus are also popular and can be added to tea. Dietary fiber is a linchpin for immunity, since fiber equals happy gut microbiome, which equals a robust immune system. Don’t forget that 70% of your body’s immune system is located along the digestive tract.
We have a strange corporate system where our immune systems are under constant attack from ultra-processed food, junk food, and sugary drinks. Then, the same corporate system offers draconian and expensive “solutions” to the problems that it created. For your own sake, it’s good to be a little skeptical about Big Pharma and figure out an independent path to keep yourself healthy.
If you’re too trusting of the “science” from the government and the corporations, you will be taken down the path of absolute misinformation and harmful propaganda. Like this incredible ad in London:
—– Chris Kanthan