How do we fend off illnesses?

With the whole world clamouring for information during the rapid spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, the global public health community has been echoing a message familiar to all proponents of natural health: live a healthy lifestyle to arm yourself against illness. We’re here to offer you a refresher and a few basic factoids to add to your arsenal of knowledge.

What is a virus?

If your body’s cells were like a car or plane, you’d be right to refer to viruses as hijackers. After all, viruses only survive if they can find a likely carrier (living, normal cells) to take over. If the carrier allows entry, the virus can then kill, damage, or change the cells in its quest to survive, multiply, and make more of itself—making you sick in the process. But if the carrier (you) has a good defence system (your immune system), then the hijacker is more likely to be defeated.

A viral glossary

virusa microscopic parasite that depends upon its host to replicate; viruses are much smaller—and different from—bacteria; there are more than 200 different viruses that cause the common cold
coronavirusa family of viruses that cause infections in animals or humans; in humans several types of coronaviruses cause mild to more severe respiratory infections like colds, pneumonia, or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
SARS-CoV-2severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2: the specific name given to the newly discovered coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19
COVID-19the name of the disease that is caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus

What is the immune system?

“Your immune system is your interface with the environment,” says Andrew Weil, MD. He also says that if it’s healthy and doing its job right, your body can interact with germs [like viruses] and not get infections, with allergens and not have allergic reactions, and with carcinogens and not get cancer. “A healthy immune system,” Weil says, is the cornerstone of good general health.”

What happens when the virus invades?

Even with a strong immune system, sometimes the virus is a successful hijacker. But the immune system doesn’t just give in; it gets immediately to work to get rid of the thief. Our normal white blood cell (leukocyte) count is about 5,000 to 10,000 per cubic metre. When we get sick, this number skyrockets as our immune system produces more white blood cells to respond to the virus.

These cells immediately go to work to defeat the hijacker. It’s while they’re working, though, that we get all those annoying symptoms. “Symptoms like a stuffy nose or fever are actually the result of your immune system going to work,” says Dr. Thomas S. Ahrens, a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and international researcher, and author of five books and more than 100 research papers.