Cytokines are valuable immune cells that naturally cause inflammation like a histamine reaction: swelling and a heightened body temperature. Our immune system, or our wei qi, sends these guys out when the time comes to fight off infections from external pathogenic factors.
The immune boosting supplements you take on a daily business feed the immune system's defense against pathogens, which is a good thing. Astragalus, elderberry, echinacea and goldenseal are natural fever inducers or prompts for a cytokine release and help to ramp up the body to prevent infection; this makes them excellent for use in the preventative/initial onset stages of a sickness. Cytokines are naturally released during an initial response to a pathogenic agent, especially when still being fed good immunity tonics like echinacea and astragalus.
A cytokine storm is when the body’s immune system gets out of control and has an exaggerated and powerful systemic reaction and inadvertently causes the body harm. This NPR article explains further why these herbs should be limited after the initial onset in order to prevent a cytokine storm from erupting. A cytokine storm can over time exhaust the body and cause multiple organ system dysfunction. This is why a pathogenic agent like COVID-19 can wreak havoc on the respiratory system.
With the COVID-19 virus, we generally see symptoms starting in the throat and moving deeper into the lungs as it progresses. As with this case, the infection causes immune cells to activate in the lungs leading to difficulties in respiration (shortness of breath, tight/heavy feeling in chest), inflammation (that cough you just can't kick after a bout of being sick) and then a build up of fluid in the lungs (chronic bronchitis) the long term effect resulting in pneumonia and all around system failure.
The most proactive steps in protecting yourself would be to focus on throat protection (hence the importance of wearing a mask when out and about). The COVID-19 virus is not able to thrive in high temperatures so frequently sipping on hot teas or hot water can not only be throat soothing but pathogen clearing especially if you add honey (to coat the throat) and lemon (for a good kick of vitamin C).
Symptoms of an acute cytokine storm are much like those of a common cold/flu: fever, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, no appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fast breathing, rapid heartbeat, and/or rash … and tend to be re-occurring long after the initial illness has passed.
Maintaining a strong immune system means providing your body with a strong defense, immunity supplements should be taken regularly but then stopped once an infection has set in, at this point the best thing to do is let the body kick into gear and clear it on its own or with the help of pathogen fighting formulas. These formulas specifically clear the surface, as in venting the pores and inducing sweat, and should be used in place of the immune tonics in the first stages of becoming ill and used until the sickness has run its course. Tonic immune support can be resumed as soon as sick symptoms have vacated the premises.
Check out our previous post ‘Powerful natural herbal formulas to help combat COVID-19’ to learn about some great infection fighting formulas as prevention and then formulas for ousting a pathogenic agent such as COVID-19. If you’d like further information regarding herbs and immune support give us a call or send us an email and we can set up an herbal consultation.
--Kyndl Mueller, L.Ac.