Cytokine storm syndromes are characterised by a surge of exaggerated immune responses. These can cause serious problems, as the body can begin to attack healthy cells, as well as viruses and bacteria. Symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, lethargy, and even seizures.
The immune system contains many components to battle infection. These different types of cells communicate with each other via signalling molecules called cytokines, which come in various different types. Some help with pain signals, others with antibody production, and some with clotting. Others produce inflammation while others calm it.
Maintaining a balanced diet in these functions is crucial to immunity. Under some circumstances, these operations can become imbalanced, or even out of control. In cytokine storm syndromes, the inflammatory cytokines “storm” while the body fails to produce sufficient anti-inflammatory cytokines.
Cytokine storms can be caused by a number of conditions, including genetic syndromes, autoimmune diseases, and infection. However, recent events have uncovered a new trigger – COVID-19.
The Link Between COVID-19 and Cytokine Storm Syndromes
The root cause of cytokine storm syndromes varies from person to person. In some people, they’ll be caused by external agents like viruses, bacteria, and other agents. One of the most widely researched triggers is the influenza A virus, otherwise known as the common flu. Generally speaking, the more severe the infection, the more likely they are to cause a cytokine storm .
This, naturally, puts SARS-COV-2 virus in the spotlight. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, patients with COVID-19 are more likely to experience cytokine storm syndromes than patients with other viruses . The resulting elevation in inflammatory cytokines appears to be involved in the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome, the main cause of death in patients with COVID-19.
However, as with many causes of cytokine storm syndromes, direct treatment for COVID-19 is yet to be discovered. This means that healthcare professionals must try other methods to decrease the negative immune response while supporting symptoms associated with this pathology. As such, holistic methods are gaining notoriety.
Mushroom Nutriceuticals as a Potential Therapeutic
Medicinal mushrooms have demonstrated strong antiviral activity, against respiratory viruses and other coronaviruses . Nutraceuticals based on mushrooms are associated with a significant improvement of the immune response, acting as efficient immunomodulators, anti-inflammatory and antitumoural agents capable of curbing the cytokine storm , characteristic of COVID-19.
Therefore, the impressive nutritional profile of high quality supplements can support balance in the immune system while avoiding pharmacological interactions. For patients with complex needs – such as those suffering from COVID-19 or indeed an underlying or autoimmune condition – this is extremely beneficial.
Varieties with particularly potent immunomodulatory effects include Agaricus blazei Murril, Coriolus and Reishi mushrooms.
In pre-clinical trials, Agaricus blazei Murril was found to modulate T-lymphocyte to Th1/Th2 cell differentiation as needed by the host subject . This promotes balance in the immune system, strengthening disease-fighting cells and managing inflammation.
Coriolus versicolor, also known as Trametes versicolor or Turkey’s tail, shows antiviral and immunomodulating activities throughout a long history of use. Results of an oncological randomized controlled trial examining its effects have shown an increase in lymphocyte counts and natural killer cell functional activity, both of which are key to host COVID-19 response. Now, it’s part of the treatment of COVID-19-positive outpatients with mild-to-moderate symptoms in a multi-center, randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial .
Equally, Reishi’s immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties could have substantial benefits for patients with COVID-19. Previously applied for autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, it has demonstrated analgesic effects and improvements in overall wellbeing .
Potential for New Therapeutics in the Future
Scientists do not currently agree about the best way to treat cytokine storms under all circumstances. The best options may depend somewhat on the specific underlying cause of the cytokine storms, which when faced with a new disease such as COVID-19, can complicate the issue. Naturally, you want to manage the negative impact of the cytokine storms, but you don’t want to undermine the body’s natural defences.
This is where mushroom nutraceuticals hold great potential. Already, in real-world studies, researchers have found that a combination of immunomodulatory mushroom extracts can increase survival rates in vulnerable nursing home residents. In this particular study, researchers have observed fatality rates fall from 24 to 1.4% after a course of mushroom nutriceuticals. This is, of course, an exciting discovery – and it will be intriguing to see more evidence emerge as the fight against COVID-19 continues.
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