“The Immunity Fix: Strengthen Your Immune System, Fight Off Infections, Reverse Chronic Disease and Live a Healthier Life” is a new book written by James DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D., with whom I co-wrote “Super Fuel,” and Siim Land, an esteemed biohacker and author of “Metabolic Autophagy.”
In it, they review how to improve and regulate your immunity — a topic that should be high on anybody’s list these days. The catalyst for this collaboration was a number of academic papers written by DiNicolantonio on the underlying reasons for why some people suffer worse COVID-19 outcomes.
Many who end up with severe illness produce low amounts of Type 1 interferon. There's also a reduction in their adaptive immune system. As a result, they don't clear the virus quickly and end up having to rely on a more proinflammatory killing of the virus inside their cells instead.
Immune System Basics
As a refresher, your immune system consists of two primary “arms”:
- The innate immune system, which is your first line defense made up of natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages and white blood cells like neutrophils
- The adaptive immune system — T cells, and B cells that produce antibodies
As explained by DiNicolantonio:
“We used to think that the adaptive immune system was this system that takes a while to kick in, and once you have immunity from your adaptive immune system, then you have a longer-term protection, which is true. However, the adaptive immune system also seems to have cross sensitivity, meaning if you've been exposed to previous coronaviruses, your T cells seem to have some cross sensitivity to SARS-COV-2.
So, essentially, what we see is a reduction in T cells, in the cytotoxicity of these CD8 T-killer cells, which kill viruses in a nice, apoptotic, controlled way.
When you have a reduction in those types of immune cells, you have to rely more on your proinflammatory innate immune system for clearing viruses — things like neutrophils, white blood cells, macrophages. They kill in a much more pro-inflammatory, non-specific way, and they end up killing healthy bystander cells.
What we think is going on is, essentially, you have this reduction in Type 1 interferons … which interfere with the virus. And at the same token, you have a reduction in B cells and T cells. So, what ends up happening is you don't clear the virus as quickly, and you end up having this proinflammatory killing.
Siim and I collaborated because these things are complex. We need to get this in layman's terms. What our book boils down to is that your diet and your lifestyle control those types of things, and there's things that you can do to support your own immune system.”
Your T cell function tends to decline with age. It’s also reduced in those with chronic disease. Reduced T cell function appears to be a primary cause of severe COVID-19, seeing how those with the worst COVID-19 outcomes are the elderly and/or those with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
These factors worsen the proinflammatory response that you get from SARS-CoV-2, but they also weaken your immunity in general. “The Immunity Fix” reviews lifestyle strategies that help you sidestep and prevent this proinflammatory response. “It's a very holistic approach to looking at the immune system,” Land notes.
Top Two Nutrient Deficiencies to Address
Diet and nutritional supplementation are two key strategies that can help boost your immune function. According to Land and DiNicolantonio, vitamin D may be the most important nutrient in this respect.
Vitamin D activates more than 2,000 genes, DiNicolantonio notes, including vitamin K-dependent proteins and repair genes. It also helps your body produce powerful antimicrobial and antiviral peptides.
Those over the age of 60 have a ninefold greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than that of younger individuals. If you’re severely vitamin D deficient, your risk can be 15fold greater. So, while you cannot change your age, you can certainly alter your vitamin D status, thereby potentially minimizing your risk.
However, in order to convert the vitamin D into its active form, you need magnesium, so magnesium would probably be the second-most important nutrient deficiency to address. Magnesium is also required for immune cell function, so if your magnesium level is low, your immune function could be impaired.
“People who have genetically low magnesium in their natural killer (NK) cells and their CD8 T-killer cells … their immune system is down. They have chronic activation of Epstein-Barr, which 95% of us are infected with, and they're at a much higher risk of lymphoma,” DiNicolantonio says.
“And that's just one nutrient. Being deficient in one nutrient can potentially cause this immunodeficiency essentially. So, in the book, we go through how nutrients and your immune system interact and why nutrient deficiencies are probably leading to a lot of these poor COVID-19 outcomes.”