Is Natural Immunity Inviolable?
The ability of your immune system to respond, repel and return to homeostasis after insult has many influencing factors. Yet our long history of survival as a species indicates that our immune response is adaptive and sustaining, subject to its challenges being manageable. This incredible plasticity involves ‘immunological trade-offs’ and shapes disease outcomes at individual and population scales. These ‘trade-offs’ mainly exist at a cellular level and impact the survivability of every organism. They may also be intentional behaviours that impact daily decisions or carefully mediated, innate behaviours.
Whilst current focus is on the ‘insult’, others study the capability of the innate immune defences and the creation of a memory-based response triggered via exposure or vaccination. There is a large health generation opportunity understanding how all aspects can be manipulated in the sustainability of immunocompetence. For Immunocompetence depends on adequate protein energy nutrition as well as multiple micronutrients. Yet ensuring and sustaining immune defences has a cost.
These can be summarised into two main categories, representing the stage on which they act.
- The evolutionary costs involved in evolving an efficient immune system, and
- The costs of maintaining and using this immune system to successfully combat parasites, pathogens and environmental events that pose a significant threat to the integrity of self.
Due to the inherent biological costs in immunity, and variation between the adaptive value of a particular immune response, an optimal immune defence will vary both temporally and spatially. i.e it will wax and wane, with related benefits and risks to the host.
Immune responses vary significantly across individuals and are not solely determined by their genetics. A particular immune response will be genetically encoded to some degree (mainly in the innate immune responses), but will also be a product of such things as diet, gender, age, stress levels, and past or ongoing biotic interactions, including viruses, dysbiosis and parasites.
Implicit as a confounder around these factors are environmental influences, including the lived environment, the eaten or consumed elements, as well as the social and psychological experiences each person contends with. Medicine and science is increasingly taking a big picture approach to human health and over 230 medical journals published a matching editorial on the 6th September 2021 stating: Climate crisis is the “greatest” health threat. In effect elevating climate ahead of our current challenges with viral infection.
Post Covid-19 Immunity (natural or induced?)
Freely circulating viruses, especially coronaviruses and influenza viruses, which encode their genetic instructions using the molecule RNA, mutate frequently and randomly due to copying errors introduced as they replicate in their human host cells. This results in variants, and at the time of writing the most common variant of concern is Delta. This is unlikely to be the last but is currently estimated to be the most easily transmissible and most dangerous to health to date.
A recurring question is, does catching Sars-Cov-2 and surviving, confer a genuine immunological benefit that may provide long term resilience. A pre-paper published on Israeli data (on the medRxiv site) indicates that it does, indicating the remarkable capability of our immune system to adapt to insults.
Dr Eric Topol a well-respected physician-scientist at Scripps Research reported on the paper stating “We continue to underestimate the importance of natural infection immunity … especially when [infection] is recent”. “And when you bolster that with one dose of vaccine, you take it to levels you can’t possibly match with any vaccine in the world right now.”
For many infectious diseases, naturally acquired immunity is now known to be more powerful than vaccine-induced immunity and it often lasts a lifetime. Other coronaviruses that cause the serious human diseases severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome and endemic human coronaviruses trigger robust and persistent immune responses. But taking the decision to deliberately infect yourself and/or others is not proposed to be a rational use of limited resources, including immune and societal (as a higher infectiousness simply means a greater number will display symptoms).
Natural post infective and vaccine induced effectiveness are not monoliths. Staying safe from a pathogen depends on host and pathogen alike; a change in either can chip away at the barriers that separate the two without obliterating them, which to some extent is what we see with what are called breakthrough events, where the level of neutralising antibodies have declined. As the infectious threat passes, our immune response contracts; frontline B and T cells, no longer needed in their amped-up state, start to die off. All of these B cells can continue to broaden and intensify their virus-vanquishing powers for months after a vaccine or pathogen leaves the body, in a sped-up form of antibody evolution. Populations of memory T cells, can hide out for many months or years in tissues, waiting to strike again, acting as vital memory defences. Neutralising antibodies also have varied individual immune longevity and are part of the immune systems most effective response to subsequent exposure.
Neutralising antibodies are naturally occurring antibodies that play an important role in the immune system. They work alongside binding antibodies that signal the presence of a pathogen in the body so that white blood cells can locate and kill it. They are responsible for blocking the entry of a pathogen into a cell so that it is firstly unable to infect healthy cells, and secondly, it is unable to replicate and cause severe infection.
That’s why post-infective and post vaccine infections, when they do happen, tend to be milder, shorter, and less likely to spread to other people. It also means that the concepts of infection and disease need to be viewed individually.
For whilst it is normal for immune responses to wane, those who have had either a vaccine, have recovered from infection or both, are far more able to respond to future exposures with reduced risk of serious outcomes. Neither makes us impervious, they just ensure a better equipped ability to mount an immune response. There may also be a subsequent development when prior infected people receive a vaccination, known as “hybrid vigor immunity”. Overall, hybrid immunity to SARS-CoV-2 appears to be impressively potent. The synergy is primarily observed for the antibody response more so than the T cell response after vaccination, although the enhanced antibody response depends on memory T cells.
But as explained, immune responses both pre and post infection of vaccination:
(i) do vary in nature, (ii) can be costly, (iii) optimality of immunity will rarely be achieved and only transiently, and (iv) observed immune defences will depend on both historical and contemporary factors (in particular nutrition status) within an individual’s environment.
Non-Pharma Option Update
Two interesting articles appeared in the early part of September 2021. The first published in the proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed whether any existing medication or allied therapeutic may confer effectiveness against Sars-Cov-2. Various drugs were tested to see if they may induce the death of the Sars-Cov-2 virus. Interestingly the authors reported the following.
Most noteworthy, the screening identified bovine lactoferrin, a safe and widely available dietary supplement, with multimodal efficacy in multiple cell systems, including non-transformed and physiologically relevant iAEC2s. Our study is the only repurposing discovery effort that included several proteins (like lactoferrin), as conventional high-throughput screening is generally limited to small molecules in DMSO. Lactoferrin gene expression was shown to be highly up-regulated in response to SARS-CoV-1 infection, and in addition to enhancing natural killer cell and neutrophil activity, lactoferrin blocks SARS-CoV-1 attachment through binding to heparan sulphate proteoglycans.
First, it strongly inhibited cellular binding of SARS-CoV-2 to cells via competition with heparan sulphate.
Second, it modulated host cell innate immune responses through increased expression of interferon-stimulated genes and TNFα. Through heightening the innate immune response of host cells, orally administered lactoferrin could be effective in resolving the GI symptoms that are present in COVID-19 patients with a mechanism similar to norovirus infection.
Third, in addition, lactoferrin was previously shown to decrease the production of IL-6, which is one of the key players of the “cytokine storm” produced by SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Bovine lactoferrin, widely available as 250-mg gelatine capsules for oral administration, may represent a promising therapy for preexposure and postexposure prophylaxis.
The other paper as a pre-published article, sought to qualify various discussions around whether wearing a suitable mask, correctly, offers advantages to the wearer and or anyone nearby. There have been various studies conducted to see if a clear picture can be determined.
Out on the 1st September 2021 A Cluster-Randomized Trial in Bangladesh which tracked more than 340,000 adults across 600 villages in rural Bangladesh, is by far the largest randomised study supporting the effectiveness of masks at limiting the spread of coronavirus infections. Offering the best evidence yet that widespread wearing of surgical masks can limit the spread of the coronavirus in communities.
The randomly assigned pro-masking policy reduced the number of confirmed, symptomatic COVID-19 cases in the intervention group by nearly 10 percent, relative to the control group. That might not sound like a huge effect. But the intervention increased masking from 14 percent to only 43 percent; 100 percent masking would have likely had a much larger effect. The discussions will no doubt continue. But community-wide usage of surgical masks clearly reduces the spread of the coronavirus, especially in the unventilated indoor environments where it seems to spread most efficiently.
The Power of Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes
It is hard for a well-informed person to appreciate the depth of someone else’s ignorance. You see there is a ‘curse of knowledge’. Lots of us have expertise in particular areas. Becoming an expert in something means not simply that we understand more, but that we become more and more fascinated by nuance and complexity. That’s when the curse of knowledge kicks in, and we start to forget what it’s like not to know what we know.
Try to keep that in mind when people state that nutrition is irrelevant for immunity, or that natural immunity is inviolable.
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Working Paper. September 01, 2021
 Largest study of masks yet details their importance in fighting Covid-19 By Denise Chow Sept 2, 2021 NBC News
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