“The random scattered errors (noise) in our judgments are at least as damaging and common as the predictable, non-random errors (bias) in them, and the same may be applied to how our immune system is capable of responding to Sars-Cov-2”.
Humans are unreliable decision makers; their judgments are strongly influenced by irrelevant factors, such as their current mood, the time since their last meal, their social experiences, inherited patterns of analysis and the weather. The immune system is also subject to noise; time of the day, body mass, nutrition, medication, inflammation, oxidation, trauma, stress, environment, age etc.
The result of too much immunological noise can be the generation of autoimmunity. A state of dysfunction generated by a variety of factors creating a hyper-stimulated state of the immune system. It is well established that viruses, and related noise, are a substantial component of the environmental factors that contribute to the production of autoimmune antibodies, as well as autoimmune diseases. Viruses including the Sars-Cov-2 virus can hijack a number of mechanistic pathways including molecular mimicry, epitope spreading, bystander activation, and immortalization of infected B cells.
Theoretically, autoimmunity can be triggered by vaccines, including the current Sars-Cov-2 vaccines. The same immune mechanisms are involved in both anti-infectious immune response and autoreactivity. To date the only review published on this concludes that, although vaccine administration has been associated with autoimmune manifestations in certain genetically predisposed individuals, it was demonstrated that vaccinations do not pose a more prominent danger than natural infections themselves.
Autoimmune inflammatory diseases (AIID) represent a heterogeneous group of over eighty inflammatory disorders with an aberrant immune response to self, characterised by the existence of autoantibodies and perpetuated inflammatory reactions due to the loss of immune tolerance and dysregulated immune system, leading to organ damage and malfunction. Strikingly, almost 80% of autoimmune diseases occur in women. Essentially the interaction over time of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors (i.e., autoimmune ecology) increases or decreases the risk an individual would have to develop or recover from an AIID depending on the misbalance between risk and protective effects. Therefore, enhancing protective effects over risk choice makes sense not just from an autoimmune risk, but also infection risk.
Possible Action Steps
It is generally understood that to date four major approaches are being employed or considered to augment or strengthen the immune system, to reduce adverse effects of Sars Cov-2 exposure.
The first three approaches focus mainly on augmenting the immune system and are based on the concept that pandemics/outbreaks can be controlled/prevented while maintaining the immune-degrading lifestyles followed by much of the global population.
The fourth approach is based on identifying and introducing measures aimed at intrinsically strengthening the immune system to minimise future pandemics/outbreaks and improve the global health matrix.
Specifically, the four measures are:
1) restricting exposure to virus;
2) providing reactive/tactical treatments to reduce viral load;
3) developing vaccines to prevent, or at least attenuate, the infection;
4) strengthening the immune system intrinsically, by
- identifying and removing those factors that contribute to degrading the immune system as comprehensively, thoroughly, and rapidly as possible, and
- replacing the eliminated factors with immune-strengthening factors.
Lifestyle Interventions for Autoimmunity Prevention/Resolution
Westernised or modern lifestyle practices have favoured sedentary, calorie dense, nutrient poor foods, increased environmental toxin exposure and emotional disconnect from our place in the natural world. Life expectancy is projected to decline for the first time ever. It is likely that this downward trend will accelerate as a result of the detrimental effects of the Western lifestyle on the health of the current generation of children. Hence, the extension of healthy life by the promotion of effective preventive measures as well as novel treatments for non-communicable diseases should be urgent goals of public and personal health efforts.
Several clinical trials (such as PREDIMED, the Indo-Mediterranean Diet study and others) have provided encouraging results showing that alleviation and therapy of lifestyle-related chronic inflammatory diseases are conceivable. However, the largest effect on disease could be reached with prevention strategies. This has proved effective in approaches that rely on the ability of an individual to adhere to a low-risk lifestyle, guided by an experienced practitioner, either individually or in group settings.
But important coordinated actions do not need to await new research discoveries and results; there is enough data and epidemiological evidence to warrant comprehensive actions now. New policies are needed to encourage the use of high-quality proteins, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and other whole foods.
National and Global Solutions
New reforms to make nutritious foods more accessible and affordable should involve taxes for harmful food products and processes, along with subsidies for beneficial commodities. Global initiatives like sugar taxes have proved remarkably effective in encouraging healthy innovation in food and drink. Children need to be protected from predatory advertisements for unhealthy products and parents need to limit their exposure to poor quality diets and encourage physical activity. Health education can be an effective strategy, as has been demonstrated for sex education and the HIV crisis.
More comprehensive health education should include emerging information on the risks associated with Western lifestyles, and a coordinated effort to address vulnerable populations, such as children and low-income households, is needed. It is time to fund and foster disease prevention and this should be complemented by the development of novel therapies to support this programme, including lifestyle and functional medicine. A clearer commitment to investing in a healthier society should be one of the pandemic’s legacies.
Looking at a more focussed approach to autoimmune risk management, much of the evidence suggests a very similar approach to immune optimisation strategies, previously discussed in relation to Sars-Cov-2 risk mitigation and typically focusses on inflammation management, and related oxidation and immune response sequelae all of which can be mitigated or reversed using nutritional therapy. If you are seeking further qualifications on how your diet, digestive health and autoimmunity are linked, these two articles are worth your review. Published in Alternative and Complementary Therapies in Aug 2020 Part 1 and Part 2 provide substantive explanations and useful diagrams.