Cytokine storms are dramatic over-reactions to any type of immune insult to the body. In the case of this pandemic, the over-reaction occurs in the lungs. (Hence the official name of COVID 19 is SARS-COV 2 and SARS stands for “sudden acute respiratory syndrome”). It is the damage wreaked by cytokine storms that is deadly.
While in most cases the virus is asymptomatic, meaning no symptoms at all, and for many people just mild, hundreds of thousands have died from it.
What is it that makes the difference between being able to fight off the virus or succumbing to it?
What many patients are dying from is respiratory failure, or related organ failure, resulting from the “cytokine storm” that is part of a sequence of events that starts with contracting the virus, moves into significant inflammation and develops into the overreaction, or cytokine storm, in the lungs. The lungs clog up with mucus and are therefore unable to transport oxygen to the rest of the body.
More specifically, once the virus enters the body, it attaches to the cells that make up the lining of the lungs and then begins to replicate or grow. The body then releases chemical messengers called cytokines, which can develop into an exaggerated response, depending on the overall “terrain” of the individual.
What I mean by terrain is the overall immune health and nutritional status of the host. The stronger the “host,” meaning each individual, the better they can respond appropriately and effectively to the virus and fend it off.
Some of the factors that play a role in creating a healthy terrain include:
- adequate sleep
- regular exercise
- good stress management skills
- healthy nutrient-dense diet
When the host is weak, whether due to age, a compromised immune system, from poor lifestyle choices, or from overwork (I worry about our healthcare workers), the virus is more likely to take hold, and the chances of this overreactive immune response are higher. Many people,