Immune behaviour during COVID-19 – friend or foe?

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Q: We have recently been talking about supporting and strengthening the immune system but if it is out of balance, it seems to kill us?

The immune system protects us with T cells and NK or natural killer cells and other specialised white blood cells like macrophages or neutrophils. As a team, they detect and attack pathogens that we may inhale, touch or swallow. Virally infected cells produce and release small proteins called interferons - another anti-viral immune response that inhibits their ability to replicate within an infected cell. This is what a well programmed; well maintained primary immune system does on a continuous basis. When functioning perfectly we are not even aware of these activities. But if we neglect our diet, (our Vitamin A, D and C etc.) and have too much stress, too much radiation (cell phones and Wi-Fi) or too little sleep the immune system is compromised.

When primary immune responses fail to cope with a pathogen, the secondary stage kicks in. The alarms go off. Cytokines derived from leucocytes to coordinate the body’s response against infection trigger inflammation. Certain cytokines, including interleukins and chemokines, are immune regulators to control the period of inflammation. However, the mechanism by which certain viruses dysregulate the immune system is not clearly understood. The body commonly releases pro-inflammatory proteins in response to viral infections to eliminate them.

But in some patients, especially those with immune-related disorders - even after the pathogen is eliminated, more cytokines are released resulting in hyper-inflammation. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, fast breathing, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, seizures, headache, confusion, delirium, hallucinations, tremor, and loss of coordination. This can seriously harm or even kill the patient. Now called a cytokine storm, this is a common complication of flu and other types of respiratory diseases or black mould allergies.

Body composition: 90% of our bulk comes from bacteria and viruses, as opposed to only 10% of human cells. We talk about friendly bacteria - the gut flora or 80% of our immune system but we also have beneficial viruses called phages that infect and kill bacteria. They are very active in mucous membranes and can protect the lungs with bacterial infections that attack the respiratory system. (One wonders if anti-vital medications given to patients with flu may contribute to the risk of developing pneumonia and tuberculosis.)

Q: We often talk about looking after our gut bacteria by eating fermented foods and taking probiotics. But how do gut flora affect immunity - how can probiotics prevent the flu?

Beneficial bacteria also thrive in the secretions that line the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract where they help to fight harmful viruses and the pathogenic bacteria we inhale into the lungs on a constant basis. It does not matter what type of flu – if the mucous membrane, as part of the immune team, kicks in you don’t get flu. The immune system does not discriminate against the type of virus - or the latest mutation or patented version of the strain. It detects, destroys and eliminates it along with any other pathogens that may cause diseases. We also develop antibodies to these invaders with the help of the immune system.

Mucosal defence is a critical immune factor in the gut as well as the lungs against the invasion of pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach destroys most the pathogens we ingest – or the mucous we swallow. We have colonies of “good” bacteria in the gut and we need to maintain the right balance to keep this part of the immune system functioning. The gastrointestinal immune cells are known as “Peyer’s patches” and protect the mucous membranes of the small intestines against infection by releasing white blood cells (T-cells and B-cells).

Boosting the action of these immune cells are certain strains of gut flora (probiotics) that also help to prevent pathogens from being absorbed into our bodies. The gut has to deal with the pathogens coming in from everything one ingests – as well as the infected mucous we swallow (and hopefully never spit on the ground like the Chinese do)! Once in the stomach, pathogens are automatically killed by stomach acid, providing it has a low enough pH, below 2. The body has several means of getting rid of inhaled particles. In the airways, an accumulation of secretions (mucus) coats particles so that they can be coughed up more easily. Additionally, cells lining the airways have tiny filaments called cilia that stick out into the airways. These filaments can brush inhaled particles upward, out of the lungs. In the small air sacs of the lungs (alveoli), special scavenger cells (macrophages) engulf most particles and render them harmless. We need to have an effective immune system in place to ward off attacks to prevent illness and stop the re-entry of pathogens from what we call a leaky gut.

Q: We hear about a leaky gut and know that people who suffer from it are more vulnerable to viruses and are constantly having autoimmune-related problems. What causes a leaky gut?

When the epithelial lining, made of a barrier or layers of tightly bonded cells, that insulates the gut is damaged it can lead to a “leaky gut”. This means that “foreign invaders” like undigested food, toxins, parasites, gluten, bacteria or viruses can leak out of the gut and enter the bloodstream. The most common culprit seems to be the Giardia parasite but many other factors are at play. Inflammation is a major problem, coming from many sources that include stress, toxins and pollution.  Harmful vibrations from cell phone radiation, 5G towers especially. ELF and regular medical ionizing rays (X rays, oncology) can also make gaps between endothelial cells in gut, brain and lung membranes. When foreign particles flow out into the bloodstream the viruses, bacteria and other microbes are detected by the immune team. The T-cells that have been programmed by the thymus, the neutrophils, the macrophages and the natural killer cells are then ready and waiting. The fight begins and the enemy’s antigens (surface proteins) are tagged. Within the frenzied activity some of our own cells may also be tagged as foreign invaders and are attacked. This is how gluten and other allergens can cause a number of autoimmune diseases. A gluten-sensitive mother can also transfer this reaction to her unborn child by eating gluten. This is how the immune system turns on us and attacks our own pancreatic, thyroid, adrenal or joint tissue. With rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus, the lungs are also affected.

Q: It true that one can also get leaky lungs?

Yes, the lungs have a similar watertight germ-protective membrane that gets damaged. These days the favourite whipping boys are 5G or glyphosates and GMO. But even so, allergens – especially gluten, autoimmune disease, stress and the constant use of a regular cell phone and inhaling polluted air have done sufficient damage to make most of us very vulnerable to viruses and other respiratory infections. Living in confined spaces during lockdown without much fresh air or sunshine makes matters worse. A primary lung antagonist is black mould (aspergillus) from damp buildings, dirty, musty cupboards, sinks and bathrooms. When it invades the lungs, it gives off CO2 and is a known catalyst to the rapid outbreak of colds and flu. Airborne allergens as we know, contribute to chronic problems especially for people with asthma or those who develop an allergy to black mould, pollen, pet hair, dust and so on.

Q: What symptoms of mould inhalation/infection are similar to coronavirus?

Mould toxicity causes breathing difficulty and coughing or chest pain. An immune reaction to mould and its harmful toxins and gasses include: inflammation, swelling, allergies (sneezing, mucous), asthma, sinus infections, joint and stomach pain and body fatigue. Mould exposure increases inflammation and damages the endothelial lining – causing leaky lungs. Mould infestation not only exposes one to harmful mycotoxins, but also to the increased carbon dioxide that it expels. Breathing becomes difficult. This is similar to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder). If acute, it can cause a respiratory crisis. People with damaged lungs need to expel mucous, rather than trap it because it can cause a “dry” cough – now said to be a typical (but not exclusive) symptom of a Covid-19 infection. Autopsies of early Chinese Covid-19 victims showed that all their swollen, inflamed lungs were also congested with a lot of sticky mucous. Mycotoxins are potent immunosuppressive agents that directly affect immune cells and also modify immune responses (cytokine storm) in other parts of the body as a consequence of tissue damage.

Q: So we have leaky guts and leaky lungs – what about a leaky brain?

We talk about brain fog – it may me a symptom of a leaky brain as is depression, ADD/ADHD, chronic pain, autism, mental illnesses or seizures. Here again, there are many causes but inflammation as a result of an infection may open the blood brain barrier (BBB) or the tight bonds between endothelial cells. The brain is then exposed to larger particles such as MSG or GABA that interfere with neurotransmission. Other disruptors of the BBB are: blood sugar imbalances, gluten, stress, autoimmune problems and the leaky gut/membrane syndrome in general. Alarming too, are the effects of RF-EMF since the head is close to mobile phones during mobile communication. Mobile phones and wireless gadgets cause an alteration in neurotransmitters, (excitotoxicity if the BBB is permeable), changes in calcium homeostasis (hyper stimulation), synapse plasticity and additional blood-brain barrier damage. A leaky brain is associated with cognitive disorders which may affect behaviour.

The GABA test for a leaky brain: If you feel drowsy or sleepy several hours after taking 1,000 mg of GABA, this means your blood-brain barrier is leaky enough to let the GABA through. We normally make this inhibitory neurotransmitter out of glutamate that excites a dopamine receptor and then converts to GABA. However, no MSG is normally allowed into the brain – it is an excitatory. Instead, glutamine is stored inside glial cells and during a synapse it is temporarily converted to glutamate. You can read my article about MSG and excitotoxicity for an in depth explanation. MSG is glutamine + a salt atom and providing you don’t have a leaky brain there is nothing to fear about the glutamine/glutamate family because we make 10g of our own endogenous MSG for daily use.

Q: It seems that an underactive immune system causes as many problems as an overactive immune system. Is there a simple one-stop herbal remedy that can help us address these problems?

No doctor could say yes to this question as they use a number of medications to treat immune deficiency and they generally give cortisone to suppress the immune system if there is inflammation or give drugs that have dangerous if not fatal side effects. For a cytokine storm, patients are immediately hospital. Islamic medicine claims that kalonjie (Nigella Sativa/Black cumin) can cure all diseases. (“I heard the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) saying: “There is healing in Black Cumin for all diseases except death.”) (Sahih Bukhari 7:71:592)

The use of Nigella Sativa is a challenge, especially if symptoms seem to contradict each other. The Chinese doctors used herbal concoctions for Covid-19, some containing 17 ingredients, with wet / dry, cold / hot effects and things that could expel or suppress mucous to support the use of chloroquine, Advoril and some other anti-viral drugs. Yet according to some very recent reports, using the Nigella Sativa oil exclusively for flu patients gave additional benefits. These seeds contain thymoquinone, a superior chemical to the chloroquine anti-malarial remedy they recommend for the coronavirus. Thymoquinone is also anti-malarial but is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, anti-cancer, and immune-supporting / regulating properties. As a supporter of the immune system, it supports the development of white blood cells, and especially interferon an immune function that destroys viruses that invade our cells.

Over the years Nigella Sativa has demonstrated strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic and anti-microbial effects. It kills moulds and can be used to treat candidiasis. A teaspoon of kalonjie oil a day is also used to treat diabetes (similar action to metformin) and is beneficial for cardiovascular health. No side effects have been reported so far (although the oil tastes terrible) and it has been used to great effect for thousands of years. It costs about R100 per 100ml and is available from Dis-Chem or can be purchased online.

Q: How does kalonjie help us to treat inflammation, hyper-inflammation or a cytokine storm?

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, are used commonly to treat mild to moderate inflammation, but have not demonstrated the ability to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines. We are warned about using Tylenol for Covid-19 symptoms, so Paracetamol seems to be the safest alternative. Corticosteroids are not recommended either, for treating severe influenza symptoms due to the increased risk of hospital-acquired infections and death. An antioxidant drug that reduces inflammation as well as supports and modifies the immune system that is a natural herb would be a great help.. Nigella Sativa is a rich source of pure, unadulterated cannabinoids (CBD) to support our endogenous cannabinoids. These chemicals regulate the inflammatory response. They inhibit the production of pro inflammatory cytokines and increase the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines throughout the inflammatory response. For controlling cytokine storms, Nigella Sativa is a viable option.

Q: Were people initially vaccinated in 1918 to prevent the “Spanish Flu” pandemic?

The 1918 Spanish flu actually came from Kentucky in America. During the First World War in 1918 the American troops who set off to Europe. Some were already infected with the virus, others were immunised but only against pneumonia and there was no evidence of its efficacy. On board, the crowds of soldiers infected each other. By the time they reached Europe, the flu spread like wildfire and within a year it had infected the entire globe. It is now known as the 1918 flu pandemic that claimed over 50 000 000 lives. We know that more American soldiers were killed and hospitalized by influenza (63,114) than in combat (53,402). An estimated 340,000 American troops were hospitalized with influenza/pneumonia, compared with 227,000 hospitalized by Germans attacks.

It hit South Africans very hard when our returning soldiers came home and the virus (and pneumonia and tuberculosis) spread across Africa. According to one of the historians, it was as if “the colonial transportation network had been planned in preparation for the pandemic”. Today, during the first two weeks of the 2020 Covid-19 (or whatever) lockdown, 13 people have died from “the virus” - mostly elderly people who were already suffering from respiratory diseases. Fortunately, as a result of the lockdown and the ubiquitous policing of public areas, fewer people are being murdered by gangs, saving the lives of hundreds of people. Road deaths are at an all-time low.

Q: Is history repeating itself as we see in this 1918 report about Cape Town?

Cape Town 1918: “Paralysis, or at very least acute disruption of all routine activities, followed in the wake of the pandemic as it struck down person after person, family after family. In many towns and villages shops, banks and businesses struggled to remain open for want of staff; public transport, schooling, church services and court proceedings were curtailed; mines, factories and workshops suspended operations; even the provision of basic services like sanitary removal, mail delivery and policing faltered. Cape Town’s main streets “are almost deserted in the middle of the day”, noted an awed journalist. “Business has become quite a secondary consideration, and sight-seeing and amusements have lost all attractions. Cape Town is like a city of mourning... and nothing is talked of or thought about other than Influenza.”

WRITTEN BY Sue Visser, healthcare researcher and co-owner,



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