We are all concerned about the coronavirus pandemic. But when thinking about an ancient virus—based on the concept that viruses are the most ancient form of virus—you also begin to think about the innate immune system—the most ancient form of immunity. Even single-celled bacteria have a form of innate immunity to the viruses that infect bacteria. Every living organism has a form of innate immunity—a basic defense system against viruses and other infectious agents.
The Innate Immune System
The human innate immune system is the “first line of defense” against infectious agents. It is like a hammer or a scatter gun because it is non-specific and just tries to smash an invasion of any infectious agent—a bacteria, fungus, parasite or virus—enters the body. The hammer of the innate immune system occurs immediately after an infection and uses a variety of cells and cellular products (cytokines) to protect against the infection.
The cells involved in the innate immune system can include natural killer cells (NK cells), dendritic cells, macrophages and neutrophils. These cells destroy (NK cells) and literally eat the invading pathogen.
The cellular products—the complement system, histamine, prostaglandins, interferons, interleukins, tumor necrosis factor, transfer factor, lysozyme, lactoferrin, and other products such as beta-glucan as well as components found in colostrum—work in different ways to help support the innate immune system.
What do we Know About Immunity to the Coronavirus?
The quick answer is—not all that much, because it is a virus that just months ago seems to have crossed over from. We do know that most people (~80%) have a mild-moderate form of infection, that there are many who are asymptomatic or unknowing carriers—and that older people, those with underlying chronic disease and those with immune-compromised systems are at higher risk for hospitalization and death. We also seem to be learning that while people do seem to mount an immune response, just as with most infectious diseases, some people’s immune system —but we don’t know the how’s and why’s of this response.
Coronaviruses cause some cases of “the common cold”, the croup and lower respiratory tract infections as well as the more serious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle (MERS-CoV).
They are called coronaviruses because the envelope proteins surrounding the viral RNA have spikes that look like the sun’s corona or halo under an electron microscope.
Because this is a new type of coronavirus, there is currently no known treatment. So, the question becomes, is there a rational way to protect yourself from a coronavirus infection? Understanding that there are no clinical studies and this is a theoretical discussion, the answer is—maybe. It may be that harnessing the non-specific, yet effective factors of the innate immune system may be protective.
Which Ingredients May be Useful to Support the Innate Immune System?
There are several ingredients that may support the innate immune system.
- Colostrum does not contain antibodies to coronavirus, colostrum is a nutrient-dense liquid that contains several non-specific (innate) immune modulators like lactadherin, various mucins and bile salt stimulating lipase (BSSL).
- Lactoferrin acts as a non-specific antiviral agent. In 2011, a paper was published in one of the world’s premier scientific journals, PLOS One, indicating that lactoferrin prevented the entry of the SARS coronavirus into cells. The paper also discussed previous findings that lactoferrin increased both NK cell activity and neutrophil activity against the SARS coronavirus.
- Lactadherin has been shown to be effective against rotavirus infections and can act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Mucins in colostrum can also protect against infection—studies have shown that mucins can inhibit viruses like the one causing HIV-AIDS.
- Bile salts and the various anti-viral and anti-inflammatory cytokines that are found in colostrum may provide a “boost” to an individual’s response to any viral infection.
Probiotics—the healthy bacteria that reside in your digestive tract—have long been seen as vital to a healthy immune response. While in the early stages, probiotics such as those found in ImmunoBiotics appear to be useful in treating respiratory infections as well.
Products such as ImmunoCillin which contain lysozyme may also be helpful in viral infections. Lysozyme physically breaks apart the protein envelope that surrounds viruses like the coronavirus, limiting the virus’ ability to infect cells. ImmunoCillin also contains lactoferrin and olive leaf extract, both shown to help support a healthy immune response.
- TF can increase the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines which may help reduce viral infections.
- TF activates immune regulatory T cells and a group of receptors—the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) that play an important role in innate immunity.
While we often talk about specific immune responses, in the current situation, it is not unreasonable to think that a non-specific boost to the immune response may be beneficial as well. There are no guarantees, but supporting your innate immune system appears to be a rational and evidence-based approach during this pandemic.