It has become increasingly clear that the most serious outcome of COVID-19 is the so-called cytokine storm, which occurs in a small majority of patients, but which is responsible for the deadly outcomes.
What is the Cytokine Storm?
Cytokines are cell signaling molecules that drive cells to areas of inflammation, infection, or trauma. They essentially allow cells to communicate with each other, particularly those involved in the immune system. When COVID-19 enters a cell, that cell senses danger and signals cytokines that will kill that cell.
This is nature’s protective mechanism to stop the viral spread. However, as more viruses invade cells, more and more cytokines are produced to destroy more and more cells. Often times, the amount produced is too much. Cells die at a rapid rate, particularly lung cells; they become porous and allow fluid to fill them. This then becomes pneumonia, and consequently, low oxygen ensues, and other organ systems begin to decline. In addition, overproduction of these cytokines causes additional inflammation in the body and destruction. This is the cytokine storm. It’s our immune system in overdrive!
Recent research suggests measuring blood levels of inflammatory proteins such as the sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, and interleukin 6 may determine beforehand which patients are more likely to exhibit this cytokine storm and thus have poorer outcomes. While we routinely measure these blood markers at the Salerno Center, it has occurred to me that there are blood values likely more important to determine and measure. I will also routinely measure thyroid antibodies, which, when positive, diagnose autoimmune thyroid disease. When patients present with joint pain, fatigue, or rash, I will measure anti-nuclear antibody levels as well as rheumatoid factor.
Why is this Significant with Regard to COVID-19?
These tests, when positive, indicate an already hyper-reactive immune system. It is much more likely that they will develop the cytokine storm when infected with the virus than those who are negative for these tests. These patients are often also positive for heavy metals and need them to be measured to determine a cause of the autoimmunity and, if so, chelation to detox them. Often times, the autoimmunity will diminish, and the patient’s immune systems can normalize. Vitamin D and glutathione, as well as n-acetyl cysteine, are nutrients known to modulate our immunity and reduce the potential cytokine storm response. Vitamin D must be taken with vitamin K2 in order to prevent too much calcium build up in our blood.
I believe that it is important to understand each and every individual’s immune response by detailed blood tests and, in this way, be proactive. The correction of these abnormal markers could diminish serious outcomes in patents that acquire COVID-19.