Taking vitamins, consuming garlic, gargling saline, etc. are not the best ways to prevent infectious diseases. Should we strengthen our immune systems?
"The concept of immune system improvement does not have any scientific meaning." Professor Akiko Iwasaki pointed out, to have a robust immune system, we only need to get enough sleep, exercise frequently, have a balanced diet, and try not to be stressed out.
Nervously looking for approaches to prevent Covid-19, many people try to consume much food and medicament, such as vitamin C, garlic, saline in order to better their immune system. Those actions could backfire!!!
To understand this matter, we need to understand the context of our body which can be told as a story like this:
Our body is quite the same as a fully operating nation; All types of bacteria, viruses, risk factors are called the enemies trying to enter to sabotage the peaceful nation.
The serene nation needs to operate normally and stay balanced. In the border, there are border guards while in the core, the reconnaissance units are casually checking, monitoring the situation. Other combat units are practising to protect the country at all costs with the its capability.
Suddenly, you are worried and request to reinforce the maximum power of border guards. You activate the defence system even though the enemies have not passed the borderlines yet. Did not stop there, you bring all-new weapons: vitamin C, wine-soaked garlic, saline, etc. So all of the new weapons are activated even though your army does not need those. The whole system is chaotic, with many types of panic since they do not understand why they have to activate entirely. Imagine having an enormous armoury, but the soldiers are not trained to use them.
Meanwhile, the nation need funds to produce goods for the demand but now the funds are forced to use to prepare for the war that may never happen. But if the weapons are not used, the costs to demolish are even higher, not to mention it can pollute the environment and cause arson. Furthermore, seeing other nations fighting wars, you invest in buying atomic weapons and backfiring yourself because to store them, it costs too much money. In the worst case, it could cause radioactive contamination, or if you somehow let it activate itself, then you lose everything.
Akiko Iwasaki is a Professor of Department of Immunobiology and Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale University (founded in 1701, Connecticut, Yale is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the United States of America, following Harvard University) states: In fact, the concept of immune system improvement does not have any scientific meaning.
The truth is our immune systems are born with a 3-layer defence system to prevent the infection of diseases.
- The first layer is the anatomical barrier that does not let pathogens infect our body such as skin, respiration and mucous membranes, etc.
- Once the virus passes the first layer, the body will trigger an "innate" immune response. This reaction includes many chemicals and existing cells to reinforce alarming and start being against any intruder.
- When those are not enough, the body will initiate adaptive immune system. This system includes new cellulars and protein and antibodies which take several days or weeks to form. More importantly, adaptive immune system can only target specific diseases. For example, the cellular T which kills Covid-19, won't be able to do the same to flu or bacteria. Therefore, for the last infected cases, the activation of adaptive immune system happens slowly. Then, it is necessary to inject the vaccine into the body to let the body face weak or dead bacteria or just a part of the bacteria. This helps the body to target the right enemies when they appear again.
When our bodies start getting sick, we need medicine to suppress the immune system.
Let's have a look at the symptoms of a simple cold; there are body aches, fever, being dizzy, sneezing and having phlegm. Actually, those symptoms are not originated from the virus. Instead, it is our body activating on purpose: it is a part of the innate immune response.
All mucus and chemical reactions are parts of inflammation, which is the foundation of a healthy immune response. When the immune system generates too much cytokine, then the doctor will reduce the fever and improve its side effects which can even lead to death.
When we get a fever or an inflammation by allergy to allergens, etc. which can be harmless elements like flowers' pollen, cat hair, etc., doctors will let us have medicine to suppress the immune system.
As you can see, we do not need to strengthen our immune system if we live the way we do every day.
If you are sick, then you can come to the clinic or hospital so the doctor can examine and give you the best treatment. Therefore, improving the immune system by food or medicament does not really make sense
Is there any shortcut to have a robust immune system?
There are rumours on the internet that some medicine or super luxurious food or the habit of taking vitamin C, eating garlic, gargling saline, etc. can be the shortcuts to improve the immune system. Those can be really dangerous if we see the following research.
* THERE ARE NO MEDICAMENTS FOR STRENGTHENING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Vitamin C and other vitamin supplements usually do not take effects on a healthy human, and even leave some side effects.
Some research has found that the low amount of vitamin C can lead to the high risk of respiratory infection and more severe symptoms. However, vitamin C is also one of the main factors contributing to some autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin C is known for strengthening the humans' immune system. The health effects of this antioxidant had always been a secret until the 2-Nobel-prize winner Linus Pauling was obsessed with its ability to cure a common cold.
After many years of researching this vitamin, he finally took 18,000 mg every day, which is 300 times more than the recommended amount today.
Nevertheless, there is no evidence supporting the reputation of vitamin C in helping us fight the common cold and other respiratory diseases.
A research in 2013 of Cochrane, a research organization that is famous for its integrity, found out that, for a fully grown human, after seeing the symptoms of a common cold, a high amount of vitamin C has prescribed as a treatment. It left no effects and did not ameliorate any symptoms of the cold.
Fact: The lack of any vitamin is not beneficial for the immune system. Vice versa, the abundance of vitamin also leads to some harms for the system.
* THERE ARE NO SUCH BENEFICIAL BACTERIA STRENGTHENING IMMUNE SYSTEM
An evaluation in 2015 showed that beneficial bacteria, a type of bacteria contained in food, drinks or medicine, has reduced the number of respiratory infection cases and improved them.
The researchers went into the conclusion that beneficial bacteria may give better results than placebo treatment. Still, they also stated that the quality of the existing evidence is deficient.
What they want to say is there is no evidence showing any bacteria can protect us from Covid-19.
* ANTIOXIDANTS DO NOT IMPROVE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
In an inflammatory response, white blood cells relieved oxygen compounds that destroy bacteria, virus and prevent it from duplicating. This is a double-edged sword since it can harm even the healthy, beneficial cells, which can lead to cancer and ageing and impairing the immune system.
To prevent this, our body depends on antioxidants. Those chemicals can control the oxygen compounds and keep our healthy cells safe.
Therefore, we can increase the amount of these chemicals by consuming food. Fruit, vegetables and seasonings that have bright colours such as carrot, blueberry, eggplant, turmeric, etc. tend to contain more antioxidants since they have vivid pigments.
At the moment, there is an experiment on using antioxidants for people infected with COVID-19 to recover. Nevertheless, this is one in hundreds of researches in potential treatments for Covid-19 patients.
In fact, in many years of research, no one has ever found any evidence proving that high amounts of antioxidants can "strengthen" immune system or treat or prevent people from viruses.
SO HOW SHOULD WE PREPARE FOR THE PANDEMIC?
Hippocrate, the father of medicine used to say: "Everyone has a doctor in him or her".
Marcus Aurelius, borned in 121, the king who was famous for his wiseness of the Roman Empire which was located from Syria to England, he was also the first historian. In his work of Stoic philosophy named "Meditationes", he wrote: "Mỗi khi bệnh ta phải nghĩ xem phải làm sao để tâm trí mình tránh xa mọi căng thẳng và vẫn sở hữu được trạng thái vui vẻ phù hợp. Đừng dại dột lắng nghe một cách hồ đồ trước lời thuyết giảng của những người không có hiểu biết (về y học)…"
Professor Akiko Iwasaki advised: "Don't use your blood money on controlling the immune system. Remember to: Sleep enough, do exercise, have a balanced diet and try not to be under pressure. If you cannot work on those, there is a way to make sure you have the immunity to certain kinds of diseases: vaccine.
Akiko Iwasaki is a Professor of Department of Immunobiology and Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale University.
Professor Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist, teaches in the Department of Immunology and at the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell and Development at Yale University.
"Don't throw your sweat and sweat coins away to control your immune system. Just: get enough sleep, exercise, a balanced diet and try not to be stressed."