One of the most important areas of scientific research for combating SARS-CoV-2 involves understanding cytokines and mitigating cytokine storm. Cytokines are cell signaling molecules that facilitate immune responses. These molecules communicate between cells to stimulate the movement of immune responsive cells toward sites of inflammation and infection. Israeli scientists have found that yogurt (kefir) can halt the cytokine storm that affects some COVID-19 patients. The yogurt changes the individual’s microbiome, strengthening the commensal species of bacteria in the gut. This strengthening of the microbiome allows gut microbes to readily identify pathogenic threats and modulate communication between cells, so the immune responsive cells can more efficiently respond to infections, without over-reacting.
Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have identified molecules in kefir that regulate inflammation in the body and help cells communicate more effectively. The research, conducted by PhD student Orit Malka and Prof. Raz Jelinek, was published in Microbiome. These probiotics interfere with the bacterial biofilms that contribute to disease progression. They effectively reduce replication of vibrio cholera, the causative agent behind cholera. These probiotic molecules work by blocking communication between cells.
Mitigating cytokine storm is essential for saving lives impacted by bio-weaponry
SARS-CoV-2 is engineered to target the ACE2 receptor on human lung cells. If the infection is not properly detected by the innate surveillance immune proteins on the surface of lung cells, the virus may evade detection and replicate unabated. This can set off a cytokine storm that causes a hyperinflammatory immune response that destroys healthy lung cells. This is the first reason why covid-19 patients need intensive care. Immune compromising drugs like antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors (antacids) can weaken the microbiome, distorting cytokine communication between immune responsive cells.
The cytokine storm is observed in a small minority of patients, but it can lead to further issues that threaten the person’s survival. The next reason why covid-19 patients need intensive care involves the liver’s response to these hyper-inflammatory reactions. The liver may produce an influx of proteins to fight the infection that the humoral immune response failed to control. If too many liver proteins are allocated, they can coagulate the blood, clog blood vessels, and deprive patients of oxygen and nutrients. If the process is not abated, it can lead to multi-organ failure, acute lung injury, and cardiovascular events.
Similar over-reactive immune responses are observed in people who are vaccinated for SARS-CoV-2. Some vaccinated individuals experience blood clots and cardiovascular events because the vaccine induces a hyper-inflammatory response, causing an overproduction of B-cells that attack the body’s own platelets and clotting factor proteins. Further studies should investigate the role that the vaccines play in altering the gut microbiome and causing further problems with cytokines and cellular communication.
Inflammation identified as determining factor behind cytokine storm
The Lewis Katz School of Medicine and Temple University Hospital published an important report on early identification of cytokine storm in covid-19 patients. The report, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, is the first to identify specific criteria that can be used in clinical practice to predict cytokine storm before it occurs. The research group analyzed data on 513 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Temple University Hospital, of which sixty-four developed cytokine storm. The most important predictive factors included inflammation, cell death, tissue damage, and electrolyte imbalance.
These indicators suggest that underlying inflammation at the cellular level is one of the greatest risk factors for cytokine storm and subsequent mortality in covid-19. The good news is that kefir and other probiotics address this issue, and there are many known antioxidants, flavonoids, and nutrients that can reduce inflammation throughout the body, setting the body up for success against coronavirus and other infections.