How to boost immune system against COVID-19, other viruses
*Iwu takes drug to US for clinical trials, now helping Anambra, Imo
Despite the high morbidity and mortality associated with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, several studies have shown that persons with strong immune systems are more likely not to be infected with the virus or even if they get infected, they have higher chances of surviving the scourge.
So, how can Nigerians strengthen their immune systems against COVID-19 and other deadly viral infections including Lassa fever, Dengue fever, cancer, cerebrospinal meningitis, chicken pox, measles, monkey pox, tuberculosis, Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), Ebola and other haemorrhagic fevers?
Immune boosting herbs
Until now, several local herbs have been shown to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Although there are no cures for the flu viruses including coronavirus, researchers suggest many natural remedies can ease the symptoms. They have been shown to provide relief and prevent viral infections.
Top on the list is gin-garlic. It has been touted as the most potent herbal combination in the world. It has been used to treat from heart diseases to tuberculosis. A cocktail of ginger and garlic has been shown to be effective in bursting the cold and influenza viruses.
The spices include: pepper fruit; African pepper; scent leaf; thyme; onion; garlic; nutmeg; Benin pepper; black pepper; wild pepper; curry leaf; chilli pepper; red pepper; grains of paradise/alligator pepper; and ginger.
A study by Ndukwu B.C and Ben-Nwadibia N.B of the Department of Plant Science and Biotechnology, University of Port Harcourt titled “Etnomedicinal aspects of plants used as spices and condiments in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria” found 23 local spices to have varying therapeutic applications by the local communities.
Their uses in ethno-medicine include acting as stimulants, antiseptic carminatives, expectorants, laxatives, purgatives, anticonvulsant, antihelmintic, and sedatives to the treatment of diarrhoea, malaria, rheumatism, asthma, catarrh and bronchitis.
The study observed that the indigenous people value the plants more for their ethno-medicinal uses than for spicing foods. For instance, ginger is more valued for its treatment of coughs, asthma, colds and hypertension than as condiment.
Meanwhile, Prof. Maurice Iwu told The Guardian on Monday that clinical trials on the active ingredient in his novel product for COVID-19 has started in the United States. Iwu said that apart from all the other physical precautions like regular washing of hands with soap and water, using sanitisers, face masks and social distancing, Nigerians can prevent the virus by boosting their immune systems with herbal teas.
The professor of pharmacognosy, however, refused to disclose the active ingredient in his product but said he can only do that when the results of the clinical trials are published. He, however, said that the active ingredient in his novel product is contained in Immunovit-IHP and IHP Detox Tea.
Immunovit-IHP a disease-fighting supplement, designed to boost immunity against a wide variety of ailments, was crafted to combine the health restoring benefits of Ganoderma mushroom, the antioxidant properties of pomegranate fruits and the adaptogenic/immune enhancing effects of Korean ginseng root extract.
IHP Detox tea is a unique blend of seed and leafs which are rich in flavonoids, polyphenols, and iterpenoid lactones which are responsible for the activities; general body cleansing, detoxifier, enhance immunity and other health benefits.
It could be recalled that Iwu had about two months ago presented the drug to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and some other ministers who promised to do further research with the purpose of using it to prevent and treat the virus.
Iwu said that he is now in Awka, Anambra State working with the Nnamdi Azikiwe University researchers to further develop the product. He said that he is now working with the governments of Anambra and Imo States on how to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, a recent study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology has validated immune boosting herbs.The study by Prof. Olukemi A. Odukoya, S.I. Inya-Agha and O.O. Ilori evaluated the in vitro antioxidant activity of aqueous extracts of Phyllantus amarus (Euphorbiaceae), Sida acuta (Malvaceae), Sida cordifolia (Malvaceae) and Xylopia aethiopica (Annonaceae) used in traditional medicine in Nigeria as immune stimulants to strengthen and harmonise degenerative body systems and assists the immune system in its fight against invading antigens (bacteria and viruses). Oxidative stress was accessed by quantifying the ability of different concentrations of plant extract to suppress iron (Fe2+) induced lipid peroxidation in rat liver homogenates and results were compared with that of vitamin E a known natural antioxidant.
According to the study, P. amarus was the most potent of the individual plant extracts. While S. cordifolia was more active compared to the other specie S. acuta and X. eathiopica had the least activity. However, a mixture of all the plant extracts showed greater activity than the individual plant extracts. The mixture with S. cordifolia was more active than the mixture with S. acuta. This may be as a result of additive effects, related to synergism and/or the contribution of other antioxidants. The inhibition value of the standard, vitamin E was higher than that of the extracts.
The researchers concluded: “In vitro antioxidant activity of aqueous extracts was assessed by lipid peroxidation (LPO) and reduced glutathione content (GSH). Inhibition of peroxidation and GSH oxidation in all concentrations was dose-dependent.
“The reduction in oxidative stress, by the antioxidant effect of these plant extracts and inhibition of GSH oxidation could slow down the cellular aging process and boost the immune system thus explaining the underlying mechanism for using these herbs as immune-stimulants in immune mediated disease conditions in Nigeria.”
Xylopia aethiopica, commonly called African pepper or Guinea pepper belongs to the family Annonaceae. In Nigerian, it is called kyimba in Arabic, kumba in Arabic-Shuwa, kenya in Bokyi, akada in Degema, unie in Edo, ata in Efik, kimbaahre in Fula-Fulfulde, kimbaa in Hausa, ata in Ibibio, uda in Ibo, tsunfyanya in Nupe, kimbill in Tera, eeru in Yoruba.
Phyllanthus amarus is similar to Phyllanthus niruri, which is commonly called stonebreaker, also known as ‘Chanca piedra.’ It belongs to the family Euphorbiaceae. Phyllanthus amarus, in Nigeria, it is called enyikwonwa and ngwu in the Ibo, oyomokeso amanke edem in Efik, geeron-tsuntsaayee (bird’s millet) in Hausa, and ehin olobe and yin-olobe in Yoruba.
Commonly called Broom weed, Sida acuta belongs to the plant family Malvaceae. It is called aihenmmwin in Edo, udo in Igbo, isepotu in Yoruba. Sida cordifolia (bala, country mallow, heart-leaf sida or flannel weed) is a perennial sub-shrub of the mallow family Malvaceae.
P. amarus has a long history of use as a supportive herb, assisting with circulatory, digestive and skeletal system function. Infusion of the leaves is used for hemorrhoids, veneral diseases, tachycardia and female sterility. In addition, P. amarus is considered one of the best herbs for treating liver disorders. It harnesses the ability to block DNA polymerase, the enzyme needed for the hepatitis B virus to reproduce. The main constituents in P. amarus include: lignans (phyllanthine and hypophyllanthine), alkaloids, bioflavonoids (quercetin) and repandusinic acid. Repandusinic acid has been shown to have anti-viral properties in vitro, inhibiting HIV and HTLV-I replication; this agent also has HIV reverse transcriptase activity.
S. cordifolia grows as wasteland weed. The plant is tonic, astringent, emollient and useful in blood, throat, respiratory and urinary system related infections, piles and aphrodisiac. Both S. cordifolia and S. acuta (synonym S. carpinifolia) are referred to locally as Osonkotu/Isankotu among the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. They are interchangeably used in traditional medicine for the same ailment. S. cordifolia is an erect, perennial undershrub, up to one metre tall with ovate leaves and yellow flowers in axillary peduncles. S. acuta is a much branched undershrub one to two metre tall with lanceolate leaves and pale yellow ciliated flowers. Decoction of the leaves is used for hookworm, diarrhoea, parasitic skin diseases, catarrh, dysentery and nephritis.
X. aethiopica is a tropical West African evergreen tree bearing pungent aromatic seeds used as a condiment. The fruits decoction is used in the treatment of bronchitis, asthma and rheumatism. They are also used in many traditional herbal preparations to produce xylopic acid, a substance which has been found to have antimicrobial effects.
Also, a herbal preparation made with local plants: Seamus indica (sesame), Saccharum officinarum (sugar cane), Vernonia amygdalina (bitter leaf); and Aloe barbadensis (Aloe vera) has been shown to boost the body’s immunity against Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), tuberculosis, malaria, infertility, cancer, pain, stomach ulcer and sickle cell disease.
Also, a combination of local herbs including bitter leaf, bitter kola, lemon, lemon grass, Moringa, Gardonema mushroom and Neem tree may provide the elusive cure for HIV/AIDS because they have shown antiviral properties and could be used to boost immunity against not just HIV but cancer and other immune-compromised conditions.
Nigerian researchers have found that water-based extract of bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina) could be used as adjuvant in the management of people living with HIVAIDS. Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have endorsed some herbs and spices that have shown promise in treating the opportunistic infections associated with the viral infections without side effects.
They have verified the efficacy of garlic (Allium sativum), ginger (Zingiber officinarum), cloves (Syzigium aromaticum), thyme, cayenne, basil, Aloe vera, Neem tree (Dogonyaro/Azadiratcha indica), lemon (Citrus limon), lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) in the treatment of opportunistic infections associated with the HIV/AIDS.
A Neem-based product has received United States (U.S.) patent, US 20070275085 A1, as compositions and methods for the cure of HIV/AIDS.Also, Nigerian researchers have demonstrated how an herbal therapy could reduce the viral loads and increase CD4 counts of HIV/AIDS patients.
A CD4 count measures the number of CD4 cells in your blood. It is used to check the immune system function in people with HIV.According to the study by researchers from the Department of Plant Science and Technology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Jos, and OLA Hospital Laboratory, Jos, Plateau State, the herbal treatments were effective in managing opportunistic infections and other complications in persons living with HIV/AIDS.
The researchers, which include: M. K. Elujoba, C. I. C. Ogbonna, F. Chinyere, F. O. Elujoba, E. Ayanda and E. Newton, concluded: “The present study showed that combined herbal therapy could bring the reduction in the viral load and increase CD4 counts of HIV/AIDS patients. It similarly expresses good antioxidant activities in vitro when compared to the commercial reference Butylated hydroxyl toluene (BHT).
“Herbal treatment should be encouraged. It should act as the supplementary treatment for patients and should not replace the conventional Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) therapy. Increases in adherence rate should also be advocated for a better response as non adherence to the treatment regime may present a decrease in CD4 count and an increase in viral load.”
The study titled “The Effects of a Mixture of Extracts from Indigenous Herbs on HIV/AIDS Patients Employing CD4+ T Lymphocyte Counts and Viral Load Reductions as Assessment Indices” was published in the May 2018 edition of the journal International STD Research & Reviews.
The herbal preparation, according to the researchers, include combination of fresh Ananas comosus (pineapple) juice (500 millilitres/ml), Citrullus lanatus (watermelon) juice (2.2 litres/L) and Citrus medica (lemon) juice (200 ml) were extracted using a blender (Model BL330, Kenwood, Hong Kong, China suspended in coconut oil (250 ml).
Aqueous extracts of Zobo (Hibiscus sabdariffa) was prepared by extracting 100 gramme in 500 ml of distilled water from which 200ml was mixed in the previous preparation.
Garlic (7000mg), Moringa oligofera (250g) and Artemisia annua leaves (250 g) were mixed with the whole preparation and then suspended in 1L of Tualing Honey. The herbal combination was dispensed in sterile plastic containers and refrigerated.
The volunteers were asked to take two tablespoons thrice daily (approximately 10 ml).Garlic has been found to be effective against the opportunistic infections of HIV/AIDS patients. Such opportunistic diseases include herpes, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections.
Moringa leaf has been identified as a valuable nutritional component, which enhances the immune system.Moringa leaves have also been reported to possess powerful anti-oxidants that can help prevent or delay some complications arising from AIDS.
Artemisia annua improves the general condition of the patients living with HIV/AIDS, improving their appetite, weight gain, and healing of opportunistic infections associated with AIDS.
The study was edited by Jose Eduardo Serrao, Professor, Department of General Biology, Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil and reviewed by: Ashok Pandey, Child Sight Foundation Global, Bangladesh; Hendra Van Zyl, South Africa; Bora Ekinci, Turkey; and Johnstone J. Kumwenda, Malawi.
Meanwhile, the importance of building a strong, healthy immune system has received much attention lately. Many illnesses so prevalent in the world today, such as cancer, Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), candidiasis and chronic intestinal infections are now believed to be immune-related disorders.
Imbalances or a severe disruption of the immune function can result in a vast array of diseases. T-cell defects are associated with recurrent viral infections, as well as fungal infections such as candidiasis. So when the defense system is weakened, not only do infections occur more frequently, but there is the danger of drastic health problems arising. In the condition of AIDS, it is the T- and B-cell systems that function inadequately.
Some of the factors leading to a weakened immune system include stress, exposure to environmental toxins, faulty diet, sedentary lifestyle, inadequate sleep, alcohol and tobacco abuse, malabsorption, antibiotics, chemotherapy, birth control pills, cortisone and other drug therapies.
The immune system is subject to free radical damage which will suppress their activity. Ability of antioxidants to destroy free radicals protects the structural integrity of cells and tissues. Traditional medical practitioners in Nigeria know that certain herbs make the body more resistant to diseases. According to medical researchers, it is quite possible that some cases of diabetes and infertility, chronic hepatitis, atopic dermatitis, some cases of asthma and many other inflammatory and several degenerative disorders with no other known causes may also be autoimmune problems.
Oxygen Free Radicals (OFRs) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of an increasing number of diseases and inflammatory states. They may cause cell and tissue damage by their chemical modification of proteins, carbohydrates, nucleotides, lipids of cell membranes and Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material. As a result, they can easily initiate the peroxidation of the membrane lipids. The harmful activities of free radicals are associated with damage to membranes, enzymes and DNA. Under physiological conditions, OFRs are part of normal regulatory circuits and are neutralized by antioxidants. Infections are one cause of increased OFR production. The ability of antioxidants to destroy free radicals protects the structural integrity of cells and tissues.
Recent clinical trials have found that antioxidant supplementation can significantly improve certain immune responses. Antioxidant vitamins C, E, A or beta-carotene protect immune responses in individuals exposed to certain environmental sources of free radicals. Supplementation with glutathione or antioxidants may also improve immunologic and virologic indexes in HIV-infected persons and decrease morbidity and mortality associated with measles infections in children.
Most herbs for the immune system are general immunostimulants. They increase the activity of the immune system by mobilizing effector cells which act against all foreign particles, rather than just one specific type. Echinacea is the best known and one of the most researched of immunostimulants. Astragalus extract may also restore immunocompetence; potentially for cancer as well as AIDS patients. Low levels of glutathione in the body are almost always a sign of illness, especially of poor immune function. A number of other herbs are powerful tonics which strengthen the immune system. They have been known to support T-cell function, activate macrophages and help rebuild bone marrow reserves.
Oxidative stress can be assessed by measuring lipid peroxidation in the body. The lipid peroxidation process is initiated by a free radical attack on a polyunsaturated fatty acid. A lipid radical is formed that reacts with oxygen, leading to formation of a peroxyl radical that may further react with other lipids and produce a new lipid radical. Thereby a propagation reaction starts and is maintained, until a termination reaction occurs including for example chain breaking antioxidant.
What else can you do to boost your immune system?
Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, herbs and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand.
According to a report by Harvard Medical School on how to boost the immune system, one’s first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step one can take toward naturally keeping the immune system strong and healthy. Every part of the body, including the immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these: do not smoke; eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables; exercise regularly; maintain a healthy weight; if you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation; get adequate sleep; take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly; try to minimize stress; and increase immunity the healthy way.
Many products on store shelves claim to boost or support immunity. But the concept of boosting immunity actually makes little sense scientifically. In fact, boosting the number of cells in your body — immune cells or others — is not necessarily a good thing. For example, athletes who engage in “blood doping” — pumping blood into their systems to boost their number of blood cells and enhance their performance — run the risk of strokes.
Immune system and age
According to the Harvard Medical School report, as we age, our immune response capability becomes reduced, which in turn contributes to more infections and more cancer. As life expectancy in developed countries has increased, so too has the incidence of age-related conditions.
While some people age healthily, the conclusion of many studies is that, compared with younger people, the elderly are more likely to contract infectious diseases and, even more importantly, more likely to die from them. Respiratory infections, influenza, and particularly pneumonia are a leading cause of death in people over 65 worldwide. No one knows for sure why this happens, but some scientists observe that this increased risk correlates with a decrease in T cells, possibly from the thymus atrophying with age and producing fewer T cells to fight off infection. Whether this decrease in thymus function explains the drop in T cells or whether other changes play a role is not fully understood. Others are interested in whether the bone marrow becomes less efficient at producing the stem cells that give rise to the cells of the immune system.
A reduction in immune response to infections has been demonstrated by older people’s response to vaccines. For example, studies of influenza vaccines have shown that for people over age 65, the vaccine is much less effective compared to healthy children (over age two). But despite the reduction in efficacy, vaccinations for influenza and S. pneumoniae have significantly lowered the rates of sickness and death in older people when compared with no vaccination.
There appears to be a connection between nutrition and immunity in the elderly. A form of malnutrition that is surprisingly common even in affluent countries is known as “micronutrient malnutrition.” Micronutrient malnutrition, in which a person is deficient in some essential vitamins and trace minerals that are obtained from or supplemented by diet, can be common in the elderly. Older people tend to eat less and often have less variety in their diets. One important question is whether dietary supplements may help older people maintain a healthier immune system. Older people should discuss this question with a physician who is well versed in geriatric nutrition, because while some dietary supplementation may be beneficial for older people, even small changes can have serious repercussions in this age group.
Diet and your immune system
Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. Scientists have long recognized that people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Whether the increased rate of disease is caused by malnutrition’s effect on the immune system, however, is not certain. There are still relatively few studies of the effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans, and even fewer studies that tie the effects of nutrition directly to the development (versus the treatment) of diseases.
There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies — for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses in animals, as measured in the test tube. However, the impact of these immune system changes on the health of animals is less clear, and the effect of similar deficiencies on the human immune response has yet to be assessed.
So what can you do? If you suspect your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs — maybe, for instance, you don’t like vegetables — taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may bring other health benefits, beyond any possibly beneficial effects on the immune system. Taking megadoses of a single vitamin does not. More is not necessarily better.
Improve immunity with herbs and supplements?
Walk into a store, and you will find bottles of pills and herbal preparations that claim to “support immunity” or otherwise boost the health of your immune system. Although some preparations have been found to alter some components of immune function, thus far there is no evidence that they actually bolster immunity to the point where you are better protected against infection and disease. Demonstrating whether an herb — or any substance, for that matter — can enhance immunity is, as yet, a highly complicated matter. Scientists don’t know, for example, whether an herb that seems to raise the levels of antibodies in the blood is actually doing anything beneficial for overall immunity.
Stress and immune function
Modern medicine has come to appreciate the closely linked relationship of mind and body. A wide variety of maladies, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Despite the challenges, scientists are actively studying the relationship between stress and immune function.
For one thing, stress is difficult to define. What may appear to be a stressful situation for one person is not for another. When people are exposed to situations they regard as stressful, it is difficult for them to measure how much stress they feel, and difficult for the scientist to know if a person’s subjective impression of the amount of stress is accurate. The scientist can only measure things that may reflect stress, such as the number of times the heart beats each minute, but such measures also may reflect other factors.
Most scientists studying the relationship of stress and immune function, however, do not study a sudden, short-lived stressor; rather, they try to study more constant and frequent stressors known as chronic stress, such as that caused by relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, or sustained challenges to perform well at one’s work. Some scientists are investigating whether ongoing stress takes a toll on the immune system.
But it is hard to perform what scientists call “controlled experiments” in human beings. In a controlled experiment, the scientist can change one and only one factor, such as the amount of a particular chemical, and then measure the effect of that change on some other measurable phenomenon, such as the amount of antibodies produced by a particular type of immune system cell when it is exposed to the chemical. In a living animal, and especially in a human being, that kind of control is just not possible, since there are so many other things happening to the animal or person at the time that measurements are being taken.
Despite these inevitable difficulties in measuring the relationship of stress to immunity, scientists are making progress.
Does being cold give you a weak immune system?
Almost every mother has said it: “Wear a jacket or you’ll catch a cold!” Is she right? So far, researchers who are studying this question think that normal exposure to moderate cold doesn’t increase your susceptibility to infection. Most health experts agree that the reason winter is “cold and flu season” is not that people are cold, but that they spend more time indoors, in closer contact with other people who can pass on their germs.
But researchers remain interested in this question in different populations. Some experiments with mice suggest that cold exposure might reduce the ability to cope with infection. But what about humans? Scientists have dunked people in cold water and made others sit nude in subfreezing temperatures. They’ve studied people who lived in Antarctica and those on expeditions in the Canadian Rockies. The results have been mixed. For example, researchers documented an increase in upper respiratory infections in competitive cross-country skiers who exercise vigorously in the cold, but whether these infections are due to the cold or other factors — such as the intense exercise or the dryness of the air — is not known.
A group of Canadian researchers that has reviewed hundreds of medical studies on the subject and conducted some of its own research concludes that there’s no need to worry about moderate cold exposure — it has no detrimental effect on the human immune system. Should you bundle up when it’s cold outside? The answer is “yes” if you’re uncomfortable, or if you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period where such problems as frostbite and hypothermia are a risk. But don’t worry about immunity.
Exercise: Good or bad for immunity?
Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. But does it help to boost your immune system naturally and keep it healthy? Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
Some scientists are trying to take the next step to determine whether exercise directly affects a person’s susceptibility to infection. For example, some researchers are looking at whether extreme amounts of intensive exercise can cause athletes to get sick more often or somehow impairs their immune function. To do this sort of research, exercise scientists typically ask athletes to exercise intensively; the scientists test their blood and urine before and after the exercise to detect any changes in immune system components. While some changes have been recorded, immunologists do not yet know what these changes mean in terms of human immune response.
But these subjects are elite athletes undergoing intense physical exertion. What about moderate exercise for average people? Does it help keep the immune system healthy? For now, even though a direct beneficial link hasn’t been established, it’s reasonable to consider moderate regular exercise to be a beneficial arrow in the quiver of healthy living, a potentially important means for keeping your immune system healthy along with the rest of your body.
One approach that could help researchers get more complete answers about whether lifestyle factors such as exercise help improve immunity takes advantage of the sequencing of the human genome. This opportunity for research based on updated biomedical technology can be employed to give a more complete answer to this and similar questions about the immune system. For example, microarrays or “gene chips” based on the human genome allow scientists to look simultaneously at how thousands of gene sequences are turned on or off in response to specific physiological conditions — for example, blood cells from athletes before and after exercise. Researchers hope to use these tools to analyse patterns in order to better understand how the many pathways involved act at once.
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