MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Many experts are wondering whether it is possible to stimulate our immune system such that we are better protected against getting infected with the coronavirus. Several options have been considered.

An innovative approach, for instance, seems to be this one:

Recently, we showed that intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) treatment reduces inflammation of intestinal epithelial cells and eliminates overgrowth of the opportunistic human fungal pathogen Candida albicans in the murine gut. Immunotherapy with IVIg could be employed to neutralize COVID-19. However, the efficacy of IVIg would be better if the immune IgG antibodies were collected from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 in the same city, or the surrounding area, in order to increase the chance of neutralizing the virus. These immune IgG antibodies will be specific against COVID-19 by boosting the immune response in newly infected patients. Different procedures may be used to remove or inactivate any possible pathogens from the plasma of recovered coronavirus patient derived immune IgG, including solvent/detergent, 60 °C heat-treatment, and nanofiltration. Overall, immunotherapy with immune IgG antibodies combined with antiviral drugs may be an alternative treatment against COVID-19 until stronger options such as vaccines are available.

Another suggestion involves monoclonal antibodies:

The therapeutic potential of monoclonal antibodies has been well recognized in the treatment of many diseases. Here, we summarize the potential monoclonal antibody based therapeutic intervention for COVID-19 by considering the existing knowledge on the neutralizing monoclonal antibodies against similar coronaviruses SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. Further research on COVID-19 pathogenesis could identify appropriate therapeutic targets to develop specific anti-virals against this newly emerging pathogen.

These and several further options have in common that they are not backed by robust clinical evidence. Such a lack of data rarely bothers charlatans who use the corona-panic for promoting their bizarre concepts. Numerous promoters of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) are trying their very best to mislead the public into thinking that their particular SCAM will do the trick.

In comes the PYROMANIAC IN A FIELD OF (INTEGRATIVE) STRAW-MEN, Dr Michael Dixon who recently proclaimed that ‘boosting immunity against coronavirus: ‘Now’s the time to turn to antioxidants and polyphenols’. Specifically, he recommended:

‘Eat dark greens, broccoli, spinach or any coloured root vegetable such as beetroot or carrots and any fruit ending in the word berry; black, blue… The alliums, such as leeks and garlic and onions, are very strong in the same sort of chemicals and also even things like dark chocolate and certain teas, particularly green tea. Those who want a glass of red wine, well that’s something that’s very much permitted too.’

Inspired by such positive thinking, I ventured to find some evidence for Dixon’s infinite wisdom. It could be that I am not very gifted at locating evidence – or perhaps there isn’t any?

Well, not quite; there is some on garlic that Dixon praises for its immune-boosting activity. Here is the abstract of a Cochrane review:

Background

Garlic is alleged to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties that relieve the common cold, among other beneficial effects. There is widespread usage of garlic supplements. The common cold is associated with significant morbidity and economic consequences. On average, children have six to eight colds per year and adults have two to four.

Objectives

To determine whether garlic (Allium sativum) is effective for the prevention or treatment of the common cold, when compared to placebo, no treatment or other treatments.

Search methods

We searched CENTRAL (2014, Issue 7),OLDMEDLINE (1950 to 1965),MEDLINE (January 1966 to July week 5, 2014), EMBASE(1974 to August 2014) and AMED (1985 to August 2014).

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials of common cold prevention and treatment comparing garlic with placebo, no treatment or standard treatment.

Data collection and analysis

Two review authors independently reviewed and selected trials from searches, assessed and rated study quality and extracted relevant data.

Main results

In this updated review, we identified eight trials as potentially relevant from our searches. Again, only one trial met the inclusion criteria. This trial randomly assigned 146 participants to either a garlic supplement (with 180 mg of allicin content) or a placebo (once daily)for 12 weeks. The trial reported 24 occurrences of the common cold in the garlic intervention group compared with 65 in the placebo group (P value < 0.001), resulting in fewer days of illness in the garlic group compared with the placebo group (111 versus 366). The number of days to recovery from an occurrence of the common cold was similar in both groups (4.63 versus 5.63). Only one trial met the inclusion criteria, therefore limited conclusions can be drawn. The trial relied on self reported episodes of the common cold but was of reasonable quality in terms of randomisation and allocation concealment. Adverse effects included rash and odour.

Authors’ conclusions

There is insufficient clinical trial evidence regarding the effects of garlic in preventing or treating the common cold. A single trial suggested that garlic may prevent occurrences of the common cold but more studies are needed to validate this finding. Claims of effectiveness appear to rely largely on poor-quality evidence.

Of course, this is not about corona but about the common cold. As for green tea, a recent review found a lack of reliable clinical data demonstrating its immune-boosting activities, a deficit also noted for chocolate.

But where IS the evidence that any of the above claims are true?

Could it be that there is no sound evidence to support Dixon’s recommendations?

Impossible!!!

That would mean that Dixon, advisor to Prince Charles, is stating nonsense in the name of his COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND INTEGRATED HEALTH. This organisation has many very respectable people as members and officers. They would never allow that sort of thing to happen!

Or would they?

17 Responses to Boosting immunity against coronavirus? Dr Michael Dixon’s infinite wisdom on the pandemic

  • At its inception, I thought I might like to join the College of Medicine (RCM), and attended a conference at London’s Mansion House, where i discovered the venue had been arranged through the Lord Mayor whose wife was a Cebro-spinal therapist (and therefore a camist), and which was sponsored by Nelsons, the manufacturers of sugar pills marketed as ‘homeopathic remedies’ (and therefore…I cannot say – judge for yourselves).

    I tried to learn more of this RCM and asked for a copy of its constitution. I never got one.
    Even though there are indeed many ‘impressive’ names on its panels and councils, I bet none have asked just how they got there. Just how they were selected, how they came to be invited, and by whom.
    Certainly not by any regular democratic process comparable to other colleges in medicine.

    CMIH seems to be a proprietary organisation, the device of one charlatan with a very personal agenda.
    Brilliant marketing though!

    Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Does it not deserve the accolade of being the RCMIH?
    ‘R’ for ‘Risable’.
    For surely its intention to have SCAMS integrated with orthodox regular ‘medicine’ is not only offensive and potentially harmful to the advance of evidence-based medicine, and to the NHS were those methodologies to be ‘integrated’, but indeed, risable.

    The public are no doubt getting bored, but I do believe are beginning to appreciate how difficult science is, how important evidence-based medicine is (and how uncertain), and hopefully , with better understanding and progressive critical thinking, will cease support for the wide range of scams, false therapies, and fraudulent practices out there – and the fake institutions which promote them.

  • Edzard,

    You have not yet mentioned the most important immune boosters and that is the avoidance of junk food, obesity and diabetes. The IC units are overrepresented precisely by patients who fall into this category. It is no wonder that most victims in the US will fall. Unfortunately, the situation is not much better in the UK.

    Dana Ullman has a strong point about the media focus only on the pathogen and the ignoring of the importance of the body’s immune and defence system..

    Furthermore, it is noticeable that in the EU countries where CAM is more prominent, I think of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, there are substantially fewer Corona deaths. That makes you think …

    • junk food? perhaps, but where is the data?
      EU countries where CAM is more prominent, I think of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, there are substantially fewer Corona deaths? perhaps, but where is the data?

    • “Dana Ullman has a strong point ”
      THAT WOULD BE A FIRST!

    • Eelco_G

      You have not yet mentioned the most important immune boosters and that is the avoidance of junk food, obesity and diabetes.

      Could you please explain to me what an immune booster does? This is a term I have heard many times, but nobody has ever been able to tell me what it means.

      • Dr. Julian,

        To be honest, I don’t expect such a question from a Dr. with so much experience.
        https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system

        • “The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons.”

        • Eelco_G

          From the link that you have just provided:

          Many products on store shelves claim to boost or support immunity. But the concept of boosting immunity actually makes little sense scientifically.</blockquote.

          which is the point I was making.

          • The best immune boosters are not only found in things we choose to consume.
            Making good choices to AVOID household, environmental and consumable toxins as much as possible is an excellent way to help ourselves.
            Beyond that, help your body to function as designed by maintaining proper body weight, exercise regularly, get proper sleep, and get the stress out…. let it go let it go let it go.

          • @RG

            help your body to function as designed by maintaining proper body weight, exercise regularly, get proper sleep, and get the stress out…

            Good grief, RG, are you trying to play some kind of god? Or are you an advocate for “intelligent design”? Do tell. What is my proper body weight? What kind of exercise should I undertake? How many hours of sleep would you recommend as proper for me?

            Until now your advocacy for people making their own health decisions has been unremarkable, though demonstrating a deep ignorance of biomedicine and its progress over the past 200 years*. But this divine wisdom is a novel departure, even for you.i

            *As revealed by, e.g., your naïve faith in “boosting” immune systems (about which please read carefully Julian’s remarks, ideally with a standard textbook on immunology close to hand).

          • @Frank Odds

            Dear Frank

            I thought you were a smart person.
            If I need to outline to you the basics of taking care of yourself, you just went down a couple notches in my view.

          • When people talk about an “immune booster”, I genuinely don’t know what they have in mind. From the context it doesn’t sound like the second dose of a vaccine, which is often referred to as a booster.

            The immune system is an immensely complex system, possibly more complex than the human brain, with thousands of feedback loops and controls within it. It has to recognise an attack by a foreign organism and mount an appropriate response, which is quite different depending on what the pathogen is (DNA virus, RNA virus, fungus, tapeworm, plasmodium, gram-positive bacterium, gram-negative bacterium or whatever). It has to do this in a non-specific way initially (i.e. responding to the type of organism) and then in a more specific way to that particular infection. It has to form a memory of an infection so that it can mount a specific reaction very quickly if it encounters that pathogen again. It has to ensure that the response is not only of the approriate type but also intensity and duration. It has to recognise what is a threat and what is not. It has to switch the response off when it is no longer needed.

            The response takes the form of a many-pronged attack, with changes in blood flow, tissue permeability, body temperature, the appearance of many different types of immune cells, interferons, complement, interleukins, acute-phase proteins…

            Sometimes it over-reacts. This can take the form of allergies, or of cross-reactions (e.g. certain streptococcal infections can trigger an attack on the heart or other tissues in the case of rheumatic fever). In the case of Covid-19, some people get particularly unwell because of an inapproriate over-reaction of their immune system.

            So what is an immune booster? Is it the opposite of an antihistamine? Does it increase the intensity of a of a cytokine storm and therefore increase the severity of a Covid-19 infection? Does it cause the body to start rejecting its own organs, or perhaps trigger an abortion if the unborn baby is suddenly recognised as non-self?

            Oncologists sometimes use drugs such as pembrolizumab to take the brakes of certain parts of the immune system in order to “unhide” tumour cells. These have to be used with great care due to the risk of dangerous autoimmune reactions. Even so they have changed the landscape with regard to treating metastatic lung cancer and other previously intractable problems.

            Then there is CAR-T therapy where the patients own T-cells are genetically modified to make them react agaist lymphoma or leukaemia cells. I suppose you could call this boosting immunity, but I doubt if that is what you had in mind.

            So please tell me – what is an immune booster?

  • Absolutely!, Dont do anything simple that is common sense, just wait for a marginally tested vaccine.

  • Why not distill the essence of the old lady’s broken rib, potentize to a powerful 30C medicine, assemble a proving panel, and market a valuable new cure for broken ribs? Seems like a swell opportunity for a quarantined homeopath.

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