While cases of Covid-19 are on the rise, not every case is symptomatic. Social distancing sequesters those who are ill with the virus, and protects each of us from those who are unwitting carriers. Their immune systems protect the thousands who test positive for Covid-19, but are not ill. It is our body’s armed forces, or you could say, our “Natural Guard.” And we can take steps to empower our immunity soldiers, especially in times such as this. But first, a little about the fascinating immune system.
The Innate Immune System
Our “innate” immune system is the body’s first line of defense.  This system includes physical barriers, like the skin, so frequent hand washing is vital. The body also ejects the enemy with coughing and sneezing. Next, chemical secretions in the mouth, nose and airway contain enzymes that kill invaders entering your nose or mouth. Finally, your stomach acid will annihilate microbes you may have swallowed.
Immune system cells create inflammation (a good kind) to bring fighter cells to keep the enemy walled off and contained, kill invaders, and dispose of their bodies. These cells, called phagocytes (“phago” = eat) include neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, and mast cells. White blood cells release interferon which interferes with virus infections and trigger other immune cells to do battle, such as natural killer cells (NK cells). NK cells are so smart they can distinguish between normal and abnormal cells. And that’s just the first wave of defense.
The Adaptive Immune System
Moving on to the effects of vaccination, or acquired immunity, we encounter the “adaptive” immune system. This system holds memories of what it destroyed in the past, the better to vanquish it now. It includes three kinds of T cells, as well as B cells, all of which wage a brilliant defense specific to what is trying to invade your body.
How We Can Support our Armed Forces
If you aren’t asleep by now, I want to set the stage for why and how we can take steps to ramp up our immune systems. Very simply put, our immune system is greatly influenced by the bacteria in our guts. Just below our gut lining, is a layer of immune cells that receive signals from the bacteria to turn on or turn off defenses. And the good news is, we can influence our all- important “microbiome” — our gut bacteria — to trigger everything I just wrote about. What we eat, therefore, directly effects our immune system.
How to Feed the “Natural Guard”
According to Dr. William Li, in his book, Eat to Beat Disease, some of the old adages are true. Good old chicken soup does reduce inflammatory response, so you feel less miserable. Also, “Feed a cold, starve a fever” is not that hokey. Cycles of fasting can help the body eliminate worn out immune cells and regenerate fresh stem cells ready for battle.
And here’s a list of immune boosting foods that promote some element of the immune system, whether it’s building up NK cells, antibodies, or influencing T cells, etc.
- Mushrooms (especially button and Shitake), garlic, onions, extra virgin olive oil, chestnuts, berries, walnuts, fruits, grape juice, cranberry juice, chile peppers, even licorice.
According to Dr. Greger, mushrooms especially are powerful immune boosters, but do not negatively affect people with autoimmune disease. In fact, ‘schrooms are good for everybody!
Here’s another great link for more info. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/how-to-boost-immune-system/. You will find even more immune boosting foods there. Just as some foods harm the body (too much sugar, fat, salt), other foods build up the body. Hippocrates wrote “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
And If you want to delve even deeper, visit this site and follow the links. https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/medicinal-foods-and-beverages-protect-against-coronavirus-research-suggests
Life in These Times
There have been pandemics before, but never have governments and world health organizations instituted such draconian measures to stem the tide of illness and death. Isolating the ill and distancing ourselves from each other has forced a “time out” on all of us. It allows us to step off our treadmills, rest (whether we want to or not), get caught up, reconnect with each other on deeper levels, and maybe realize that what matters most may not be what we have been pursuing the most.
Knowing the power of food, and now having the time to prepare it, will empower us and boost our immune systems when we most need to. May the Lord be with us all as we take this journey together. I pray that at the end of this road, a kinder, more connected world awaits us.
 Dr. William Li, MD “Eat to Beat Disease” ©2019 Grand Central Publishing, NY, Boston pp 82-93 and pp 222-235