COVID-19 Update: T-Cells and Immunity – InVite Health Podcast, Episode 178

COVID-19 Update: T-Cells and Immunity – InVite Health Podcast, Episode 178

Invite Health Podcast, Episode hosted by Jerry Hickey. Ph

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Even if you have not been exposed to the Coronavirus, you may have some level of immunity to it. Immunologists are trying to decipher what exactly this means for us. Immunologists have a different understanding of immunity than reporters have. To immunologists, immunity can have different levels and different perceptions; it can be good or bad. To reporters, immunity is always good.  In some studies up to 50% of the people in the study are somewhat resistant to the coronavirus, even though they have not been exposed to it.

The current scary virus is dubbed SARS-COV-2. It is in the coronavirus family of viruses, which contains many viruses, some of which just cause the common cold. The infection SARS-COV-2 causes is called COVID-19. This is important to note because it may relate to this resistance to the current coronavirus. Researchers have noticed that some people have a layer of immunity to COVID-19 because they experienced previous infections to less serious coronaviruses. 

There are 4 coronaviruses that are very common, including types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1, that frequently cause upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold. In fact, 20% of all common colds are caused by these coronaviruses. Most people are infected by one or more of these less serious coronaviruses at some point in their lives.

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What are T-Cells and What Do They Do?

Studies have shown that lots of people who have never had COVID-19 have T-cells in their blood that respond to COVID-19. Immunologists call this cross reactivity. Once a T-cell – a type of very important immune cell – has been exposed to a virus, they will recognize and attack other viruses that are similar but not identical. In this case, it is a common cold coronavirus triggering a reaction to COVID-19.

When we think of immunity, we usually think of the type of immunity triggered by a flu shot. In response to the shot, our body makes antibodies. These antibodies are made and delivered by B-cells in the immune system. This COVID-19 immunity is different. It is T-cell immunity. T-cells are lymphocytes – types of smart immune cells that are educated in what they must do. Some T-cells speed up the formation of antibodies, which can take a week or more. Other T-cells directly attach to infectious cells and kill them. Still, other T-cells organize and control the fight against infection, while others return things to normal after the infection is gone so we don’t have persistent inflammation. Chronic inflammation is harmful for our heart, kidneys, brain, and other organs and tissues.

More than 90% of us have been exposed to at least one coronavirus that causes the common cold, so some of our T-cells that have been trained to attack those milder coronaviruses will recognize COVID-19 and attack it. This may also indicate that T-cells may mount a quicker defense against COVID19 to protect us better. This is what immunologists are trying to decipher. In any event, you want to be well-rested and well-nourished to fight off infections this season. We may have the perfect storm brewing for maximizing the dangers of viral infection. 

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Environmental Factors That Impact Our Immunity

On the West Coast, the massive fires are layering the atmosphere with toxic tiny particles called fine particulate matter. When you inhale these particles, they inflame the lungs and enter into your blood, also inflaming your heart. The heart then pumps these inflammation-causing particles all over the body. This can cause damage to the kidneys and brain, fatty liver, asthma, and even the onset of dementia. The incidence of strokes and asthma are already skyrocketing in these affected states. That dust cloud has already reached the east coast and if it affects the air quality, inhaling these tiny particles will inflame us. COVID-19 will add to this inflammation resulting in what seems to be a bradykinin storm that can destroy our lungs, heart, kidneys, and other organs. Of course, this is also worse in aging people who have become frail, as well as in obese people, who are pre-inflamed.  

Nutrients That Support Immunity

On top of this fire and COVID-19, we are going into the flu and cold season. That is why we have to focus on building our immune defenses and improving our T-cell function and control.  Aside from exercising and eating antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, blackberries, broccoli and spinach and amino acid-rich proteins, here are some other nutrients that can help with this goal, according to clinical research:

Zinc is required in many ways for immune system activity. It is required to create all kinds of immune cells, especially T-cells. In a study of people with HIV, giving them Zinc improved the formation of CD4+ T helper cells, which guide the immune system. Researchers found that this reversed immunological failure by 76%. Elderly people and people in nursing homes are commonly low in Zinc. A randomized, placebo controlled study in people over the age of 65 found that giving a 25mg Zinc supplement for three months increased blood concentrations of helper T-cells and cytotoxic T-cells, which kill viruses. Another trial shows that nursing home residents who received 30mg of Zinc a day had improved levels of circulating T-cells. In the same study a lower dose of 5mg had no effect. Older people often have difficulty absorbing Zinc from food, so they really do need a Zinc supplement.†

Vitamin D affects many aspects of immunity, but Vitamin D needs to be activated for it to work. The B-cells that make antibodies and the T-cells that trigger antibody response can actually convert Vitamin D into its active form. We once thought that only the kidneys could activate Vitamin D, but the fact that immune cells can also metabolize it indicates just how important the nutrient is to the immune system.†

Both Zinc and Vitamin D are needed to activate the immune system but also to control it, so it attacks the virus and doesn’t attack us. Our immune systems are extremely powerful, especially our acquired immune systems, so if our killer cells are not steered properly towards viruses and infections, they can attack our bodies instead. Whether the damage to our body connected to COVID-19 comes from a cytokine storm, as originally thought, or, according to new evidence, a bradykinin storm, each represents an out of control immune system activity. These nutrients help suppress these dangerous immune system malfunctions.†

Vitamin C is needed for the early part of the immune system. Many early responder cells, such as dendritic, macrophage, and neutrophil cells, require it for chemotaxis, which is the ability of cells to move towards an infection. This is extremely important to ensure that the immune cells are attacking the coronavirus and preventing it from getting dangerous. Cells also need Vitamin C to perform respiratory burst, which is the ability of the immune cells to release their arsenal of weapons to kill the virus. When a virus infects us our cells release interferons, which cause nearby immune cells to increase their antiviral activity. Vitamin C influences the production of interferons, while also promoting the maturation of T-cells. If T-cells don’t mature, they don’t work.† 

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Melatonin is known as the nighttime sleep hormone, but it has many other crucial activities. We once thought that only a small gland in the brain, known as the pineal gland, would release melatonin for sleep and awake cycles. We now know it is also found in the digestive tract and cells in the intestines. Melatonin has been found to be beneficial for digestive concerns. It has also been discovered that our immune cells can manufacture melatonin. It is required for the acquired immune system response. This is the more advanced part of the immune system that learns how to deal with different infections. The cells in the acquired immune system are T-cells, B-cells, and Natural Killer cells. In older people where the immune system typically falters, a process known as immunosenescence, melatonin restores the strength of these cells.†

Other Nutrients Required For Immunity In The Body

Here are some nutrients that the body needs to perform immune functions:

  • Selenium, which contains a protective antioxidant†
  • Vitamin A, especially for the skin and digestive tract†
  • Natural Beta-carotene, which can be taken in place of Vitamin A†
  • Natural Vitamin E, supports cellular life cycles†
  • Various B-Complex Vitamins, which energize immune cells† 
  • Probiotic Bacteria, certain strains of which restore immunity in aging people† 

Here are some nutrients that are not required for everyday function, but help boost immune system activity

  • Nucleotides, which helps with growth and developing the immune system†
  • Mushrooms, which contain beta glucans that stimulate the immune system† 
  • Sambucus nigra (black elderberry), which has an antiviral effect†
  • Euglena gracilis algae, which contains protein to help create immune cells and beta glucans to stimulate cells†

For more recommendations of how to support your immune system, make sure to tune into the full podcast episode! Thank you for tuning in to the Invite Health Podcast. You can find all of our episodes for free wherever you listen to podcasts or by visiting Make sure you subscribe and leave us a review! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at Invite Health today. We’ll see you next time on another episode of the Invite Health Podcast.

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