COVID – Targeting the cytokine storm with natural immune support

The Cytokine Storm

The Immune system prevents foreign particles from doing damage to the body, but people’s immune systems seem to respond differently to the new COVID virus. The most common response is the normal upregulation of the immune system in coordination, and the resulting recovery due to the body’s natural defenses. There are some individuals whose immune system responds in a dysfunctional way, increasing morbidity and mortality rates. Studies reveal that this dysfunction may be the release of large quantities of chemokines and cytokines. Under normal circumstances, these chemokines and cytokines are beneficial if regulated appropriately, but somehow the regulation dysfunctions and the cytokines create a “cytokine storm.”  Targeting the cytokine storm is a new approach to treating the dysregulation and is being studied to complement existing treatments. These include natural immuno-suppressants such as turmeric, quercetin and resveratrol, among others. 

How the Virus Infects

COVID, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Co-V2 infects the body through either droplets in the air or on hands that are transferred into the body via nose, eyes or orally. The virus affects people in very different ways. Some have mild to no outward reaction, some recover after fairly mild symptoms and a third group suffer severe symptoms. The WHO declared COVID a pandemic in 2020. The virus has mutated into 4 different strains that affect humans. The spike protein on the outside that is targeted by the vaccines, helps the virus to enter the host cell. Once inside, the RNA is read by the cell and replicated into new virons. Once the cell is damaged beyond repair, the viruses spill out into the surrounding area to infect new host cells. 

In a peer-reviewed article in January 2021, “Calming the Storm: Natural Immunosuppressants as Adjuvants to Target the Cytokine Storm in COVID-19,” several natural immunomodulatory agents had positive effects. While none of these were shown to prevent or treat COVID, they complemented the vaccine and pharmaceuticals by supporting the immune system. This unique approach is not foreign to alternative practitioners such as chiropractors. Many practitioners believe the best self-defense against any infection is strengthening our own innate immune systems. 

Allicin (Garlic)

One such natural adjuvant is allicin, which has been shown to: “possess antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-diabetic properties.”1  Allicin inhibits cytokine and chemokine production which helps to reduce the cytokine storm and inflammation. Garlic and onions contain large amounts of allicin. Garlic and onions are generally safe and studies are needed to evaluate safety with pharmaceutical drugs. 

Andrographis

“Andrographalide is a substance found in Andrographis and has a wide range of therapeutic properties; anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-platelet aggregation, antineoplastic, anti-HIV and hepatoprotective activity.”1 This herb stimulates the immune system, helps to regulate the NK cells and cytokines helping regulate inflammation. This herb also had no adverse effects and no interaction with the pharmaceuticals used for COVID.

Curcumin

Curcumin is a bright yellow pigment from the Curcuma longa, commonly known as turmeric. It is a natural antioxidant, possesses anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and hepatoprotective activity, and also inhibits tumor cell proliferation. Curcumin is also an immunomodulator. Being a natural spice, it is used extensively in food, cosmetics, and is shown to be safe with low toxicity.  “All these properties motivate further clinical investigations for the use of curcumin as an immunomodulatory adjuvant to mitigate the cytokine storm, harmful inflammation and respiratory distress sometimes observed as a result of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”1

Eugenol (Clove Oil)

Eugenol is an aromatic oil, also called clove oil as it is the main component of clove buds. Clove oil possesses multiple beneficial properties. “It is a potent antioxidant, analgesic, antimicrobial, anticonvulsant and anticancer agent. Additionally it possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties and is an immunomodulatory agent.”1 In a study, eugenol inhibited the production of cytokines. This compound is found in herbs like cloves, cinnamon, thyme, basil, turmeric, ginger, marjoram and nutmeg.

Gallic acid

Gallic acid is available in many plants including  blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, plums, grapes, mango, cashew nut, hazelnut, walnut, tea, wine; in the bark, wood, leaf, fruit, root and seeds. It is a natural antioxidant that also has anticancer, antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. This suggests that gallic acid can be used as an immunosuppressive adjuvant to suppress pro-inflammatory cytokines thus targeting the cytokine storm observed in SARS-CoV-2 patients without negatively affecting the ability of the host to mount a defense.1

Gingerol

A constituent of fresh ginger, gingerol possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-metastatic, anti-angiogenic, anti-diabetic, analgesic and antipyretic activity. Additionally, gingerol is also known to possess immunomodulatory properties and anti-allergic activity. Gingerol was “found to exert an inhibitory effect on the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β, IL-12, TNFα in LPS-stimulated macrophages.”1 Gingerol is a natural agent that may help modulate the immune system and help regulate the cytokine storm observed in COVID-19 when used with standard antiviral therapy. The Zingiber species (ginger, turmeric and cardamom) contain gingerol in the rhizomes.

Luteolin

A naturally occurring flavonoid, “luteolin is found in many vegetables (celery, parsley, broccoli, carrots, peppers, and cabbages); fruits (apple skins); flowers (chrysanthemum) and in medicinal herbs.”1 It is a potent antioxidant, inhibits tumor cells, is anti-inflammatory and immune system modulatory.  Further clinical trials are recommended to ascertain the safety, efficacy and dosage for COVID-19 treatment in conjunction with antiviral drugs.

Melatonin

“Melatonin is found in the roots of Huang-qin, curcuma (turmeric) leaves and flowers of St. John’s wort, leaves of Tanacetum parthenium (L.), black pepper; seeds of corn, rice, black mustard, white mustard, wolf berry, fennel, sunflower, fenugreek, barley, almonds, coriander, celery, anise, poppy, flax, and in the bean of coffee.”1 It down-regulates the pro-inflammatory cytokines and inflammation. “This down-regulation and consequent anti-inflammatory activity of melatonin is because it suppresses the activation of NF-κB, a key transcription factor involved in the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.”1

Quercetin

Quercetin is a flavonoid found in “many plants including broccoli, red onions, eggplant, potatoes and green leafy vegetables including celery, lettuce; fruits including apples, citrus fruits, red grapes, tomatoes; berries including cranberries and raspberries.”2 Oral quercetin is used for prevention and treatment of inflammation associated with heart disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and cancer. “Supplementation with quercetin treatment is shown to be relatively safe, with a few interactions with other medications, and modulates the levels of cytokines, helping the immune system in complement with currently used interventions in treating COVID-19.”2 

Resveratrol

Found in foods such as “grapes, cranberry, blueberry, mulberry, peanuts, jackfruit, soy and wine, resveratrol is known to possess a number of beneficial health effects; it is has antioxidant, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-aging and life-prolonging effects.”1 Resveratrol modulates the immune system, regulating the pro-inflammatory cytokines and genes that regulate the immune system. “Resveratrol can be an adjunctive agent to consider for SARS-CoV-2 infection, to mitigate the cytokine storm and consequently reduce inflammation.”1

Foods that help, not harm

If these agents are helpful in immune system support for COVID patients, how helpful do you think they would be for your immune system? 

  • Turmeric, ginger, garlic, grapes, cranberries, blueberries, mulberries, wine (red), eggplant, broccoli, greens, celery, lettuce, black pepper, black mustard, collards, kale, onions, spinach, andrographis, oregano, rosemary, fennel, fenugreek, flax, coffee, coriander.

References:

“Frontiers in Pharmacology”  Calming the Storm: Natural Immunosuppressants as Adjuvants to Target the Cytokine Storm in COVID-19  Front. Pharmacol., 27 January 2021|doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2020.583777  www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2020.583777/full

“Quercetin” Mount Sinai, www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/quercetin

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