Cellfie is exciting to bring you another fantastic entry from the Sci4Teens writing competition. This brilliant article was written by Pratiksha Bhattacharyya and won 3rd Place for the "Covid-19 Crisis Management" category.
COVID-19, a highly infectious virus that leads to severe acute respiratory problems, is one of the world’s most prevalent diseases. It can be transmitted by close contact with an infected person. Although the aftermath of COVID-19 has had a devastating physical, emotional, and financial toll on society, it has also showcased society’s resilience and adaptability. Individuals and communities have already taken steps such as social distancing and wearing masks to reduce the spread. However, in addition to these preventive measures, we should also examine managing this crisis from an individual health perspective. A next-generation strategy to further combat COVID-19 should be to empower the immune system to prevent its onset. Various herbs and plants have shown great potential to boost people’s immune system’s ability to fight viral diseases. This article discusses utilizing dietary supplements such as tulsi, ginger, honey, and neem leaves to revitalize people’s immune system to mitigate COVID-19.
Background on COVID-19
COVID-19 has spread rapidly and till date it has infected more than 100 million and taken lives of 2.2 million individuals. COVID-19 is an RNA virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome. COVID-19, a coronavirus strain, is enclosed in a lipid bilayer envelope that is embedded with protein molecules. When infected person cough, sneeze, or talk, respiratory droplets from the infected person containing the virus can be transmitted to close-contact healthy individuals via mouth, nose, or eyes.
How Viruses Infect the Body
Viruses are ultra-microscopic particles that can only replicate inside a living cell. A virus infects the body by first attaching itself to a host cell. It then injects its genetic material into the cell and takes control of cellular functions. Afterwards, cells start to replicate the viral genetic material and synthesis viral protein. As viral protein is synthesized, the cell membrane’s integrity becomes compromised and ruptures. This causes viral copies to be released which then infect other healthy cells.
Overview of Preventive Measures to Mitigate COVID-19
Local governments attempted to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 by encouraging/requiring individuals to wear masks, practice social distancing, and quarantine symptomatic individuals. While these have shown success, there are additional steps individuals can take to strengthen their immune system to combat viral infections such as COVID-19. By approaching crisis management from both a social and individual health perspective, we can boost the ability to fight this pandemic and save lives.
How the Immune System Combats Viral Diseases
The immune system can combat viral invasions in two major ways –
1. Elimination of Viruses by Natural Killer (NK) Cells:
Natural Killer (NK) cells are large granular lymphocytes that are an important component of the innate immunity. NK cells function like Cytotoxic T-Cells and help the body fight infection by eliminating virus infected cells rapidly. The inhibitory receptor of NK cells helps prevent it from killing healthy cells. On the contrary, infected cells have activated identifying ligands that help NK cells identify and kill the infected cells by triggering the release of cytokines.
Figure 1: Natural Killer (NK) cells identify healthy cells by binding with the MHC1 ligand and kill infected cells by binding to activating receptors.
2. Elimination of Viruses by Macrophage and Adaptive Immunity:
Macrophage capture viruses and move viral antigen to the cell surface to enable T-Helper cells identify them. T-Helper cells then secrete cytokines which activate Cytotoxic TCells which kill the virus. Additionally, T-Helper cells activate B-Cells which promote antibody secretion against the viral antigen. This enables antibodies to neutralize the virus.
Figure 2: Macrophage help enable T-Helper Cells, B-Cells, and Cytotoxic T-Cells, fight viruses by helping identify the virus.
Strengthen the Immune System to Combat COVID-19
Dietary supplements have shown great success in strengthening human immune systems (Mondal 452). Supplements such as tulsi, honey, ginger, and neem help promote cell signaling pathways that induces the immune system to activate and more effectively fight viral infections.
Study by Mondal shows that consuming tulsi leaf increases immunity by increasing the percentages of T-Helper cells and NK cells in the body. Clinical trials demonstrated that the consumption of tulsi extract significantly increases levels of IFN-γ and IL-4 which promote the prevalence of T-Helper and NK cells (Mondal 452).
Honey has been shown as a potential therapeutic antioxidant, that exhibits strong antiviral benefits. Research demonstrate that honey stimulates secretion of TNF-α, IL-1β, IFN-γ, and inhibits IL-1, IL-10 and COX-2 which helps the immune system fight viral infections (Ahmed 19).
Active ingredients in ginger have been shown to inhibit viral replication and prevent viruses from entering host cells (Kim 2558). Lastly, neem extracts also exhibit anti-viral properties that help prevent viruses from binding to host cells (Kumar 192).
Given the many immune system benefits that plants and herbs provide, they have the potential to play a critical role in helping manage individual health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Consuming or drinking extracts of tulsi, ginger, honey, and neem daily can help individuals boost their immune system to efficiently fight viral infections. To raise awareness of these benefits, the next step will be to educate the public and communicate these findings to help bring us one step closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.
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