What Does Penny Farthing Have To Do With COVID-19?

Both share a common feature of imbalanced approach: wheels and immunity

Tanvi Shinde, PhD
Aug 21, 2020 · 4 min read
Photo by Greg Boll on Unsplash

Our immune system is like a bicycle. It has two wheels — innate immunity and adaptive immunity. When it is under attack by a pathogen, it gears up to take you on a ride to recovery. The ride is either smooth or bumpy depending on the condition and/or size of the wheels.

Normally, otherwise healthy people when under attack by a pathogen will be presented with a more traditional immune bicycle with two wheels of the same size. Now riding such a bicycle is relatively more familiar, a lot less risky, and most importantly more balanced. The immune system uses its two balanced wheels to present the best defense tools to clear the pathogen from our body, activates mechanisms to memorize the pathogen in case of a future attack, and also helps us recover to go about our usual business.

Unfortunately, some individuals with compromised immunity, do not get to ride such a steady and balanced bicycle during the course of their journey to fight the pathogen. The two wheels of their immune system are like that of a penny-farthing or big wheeler that has a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. As you can imagine, riding a bicycle like this is not only tricky but also risky. This is exactly what is happening in the case of COVID-19, a pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Imbalanced immunity in severe COVID-19 infection. Image by Tanvi Shinde

Not everyone who contracts SARS-CoV-2 gets sick, and those who do, present different levels of illness. Some are asymptomatic, some only experience mild symptoms while others, particularly those with immune-compromised health status, experience severe outcomes.

People with severe COVID-19 are at a greater risk of mortality due to damage that is not only restricted to their lungs but also involves injury to other organs including their heart, digestive system, and brain. Severe COVID-19 patients are forced to ride the penny-farthing — a hyperactive innate immune system and an under-active adaptive immune system.

Most individuals with comorbid health conditions and the elderly are at a greater risk of such imbalanced immunity and severe infection with SARS-CoV-2 due to underlying chronic inflammation in the gut.

Chronic inflammation is common amongst elderly individuals leading to dysregulation in the immune response making them susceptible to infections and age-related disorders. Diabetes, heart disease, bowel disorders, cancer, chronic lung disorders, obesity, and even mental illness accompany chronic inflammation that has its roots in the gut.

Chronic inflammation in such ‘at-risk’ individuals is what makes their immune system ride a penny-farthing. A course of infection like COVID-19, a journey can be exhausting, difficult, and unpredictable.

Hyper-activation of the innate immune system leads to the production of uncontrolled inflammatory signaling molecules (“cytokine storm”) that attract unnecessarily large numbers of inflammatory innate immune cells (“neutrophil influx”).

Such uncontrolled production of innate inflammatory responses causes severe damage to lungs (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome/ARDS) and other organs, leading to the need for ventilators and presents a greater risk of mortality.

On the other hand, an under-activated adaptive immune system is unable to mount an effective immune response either due to insufficient levels or defects in the functioning of T- cells (for appropriate viral clearance) and B-cells (for production of antibodies).

Vaccines for COVID-19 that are being raced for testing in humans will take care of your dampened adaptive immune system (if proven for safety and efficacy first of course), but what about the over-activated innate immune wheel?

The good news is that balancing the immune system functioning of both innate and adaptive wheels is possible with healthy nutrition. Feed your gut microbiota right (lots of plant-based diets, fermented foods, healthy fats, and proteins) for immune fitness against COVID-19.

Train your immune system to ride a more balanced classical bicycle with healthy nutrition during COVID-19 or otherwise.

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Tanvi Shinde, PhD

Written by

. Biomedical Researcher interested in inflammation and microbiome for gut health and beyond . Published Academic author . Gut Health Evangelist . Mom . Reader .

BeingWell

BeingWell

A Medika Life Publication for the Medical Community

Tanvi Shinde, PhD

Written by

. Biomedical Researcher interested in inflammation and microbiome for gut health and beyond . Published Academic author . Gut Health Evangelist . Mom . Reader .

BeingWell

BeingWell

A Medika Life Publication for the Medical Community

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