Plant phytonutrients grown in a CEA help people recover

15-09-2021    10:05   |    Urban Ag News

Covid-19 effects are the most well known in the world. More than a year on from the start of the pandemic and despite the roll out of effective vaccines in richer countries we still have a limited drug arsenal with worldwide coverage to make life easier for those most at risk. According to physicians at the Mayo clinic, the FDA have approved the antiviral drug Remdesivir and emergency use of the anti-inflammatory drug Baricitinib for use in patients hospitalised with COVID-19. In the UK Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory corticosteroids is authorised for use in severe cases. Studies found this drug reduces the risk of death by about 30% for people on ventilators and by 20% for people who need supplemental oxygen. But Dexamethasone and other corticosteroids may actually be harmful if given for less severe COVID-19 infections so it is reserved only for the critically ill. Clinical studies in the UK this year showed an additional benefit from the combination of two drugs used for rheumatoid arthritis, Tocilizumab and Sarilumab, which reduced the risk of mortality in ICU patients by 24%.

 “First, do no harm” Hippocrates 


The heart shaped stamen of Holy Basil – displays so many medicinal properties that it is known in Ayurvedic medicine as ‘The Elixir of Life’

Researchers across the world are examining the effects of anti-inflammatory drugs and other immunotherapies to suppress the virus. Controversial anti-malarial drugs were initially thought to control the virus but were quickly withdrawn by the FDA when data analysis showed that Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine were NOT effective for treating COVID-19 and can lead to serious heart problems. 

Model created by Annabel Slater, working with the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research.

While the vaccines roll out across the world there is still the threat of COVID-19 variants lurking and developing in populations especially those geographies that have been unable to contain the virus. We now have increasing numbers of mutated spike protein variants of Covid-19 including the English Kent ( B117), South African (501.V2), Brazilian (B.1.1.248), Japan (P.1) and the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) causing concern as the virus continues to mutate and becomes more transmissible. This means we cannot be complacent and must keep searching for new ways to combat the disease whether through alterations of the vaccine or development of new drugs to reduce viral load. Of course this must be in tandem with continued social distancing, testing and isolation compliance with local laws to reduce the spread.

Epidemiologists writing in the journal Nature suggest Coronavirus is going to stay with us for some time. Then there’s the effect it leaves behind on our bodies, a new disease called Long Covid or as some in the US are calling it Long Haul Covid. Long covid is now defined by time post infection and acute long covid lasts 3 weeks whereas chronic long covid is ongoing for more than 12 weeks. The effects of long covid are wide ranging with some not even aware they have it, and symptoms include diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal pain. For those that recover from serious illness the effects can be life changing and far reaching including muscle loss, organ failure, reduced lung capacity, brain fog and even depression. 

Researchers are still learning how an infection with SARS-CoV-2 affects different parts of the body so new medicines can be developed. Although there is hope on the horizon with new antiviral drugs like TEMPOL and others in development we must remember the pathways of this disease are complex and still emerging. 

With this backdrop in mind we hope medicinal plant derived products that selectively block the ACE2 receptor may provide alternative ways to treat SARS-CoV-2. This blog is designed to be of interest to people with an interest in foods that can have a medicinal effect, growers who aim to produce unique medicinal crops and for scientists interested in the pharmaceutical properties of plants. 

Mechanism of cell entry and replication causing inflammation

We need to understand how the virus affects our bodies to know how to prevent dangerous physiological changes. Studies show the SARS-CoV-2 virus enters via epithelial and endothelial cells on the inner surface of blood vessels (see this 3D model of a blood vessel, spin it around as see the endothelial cells in purple on the inner wall) of both the large and small intestine and the respiratory tract using the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) as a binding protein. ACE-2 is embedded in cellular membranes and expressed in several critical tissues, including alveolar lung cells, gastrointestinal tissue and throughout the central nervous system. ACE-2 is important as it acts as a potent negative regulator of the renin angiotensin system (RAS) which controls blood pressure. Dr Craig Daly a vascular scientist from the University of Glasgow talks us through an easy to follow tutorial of the RAS pathway critical for maintaining homeostasis and controlling levels of the hormone angiotensin, which in turn controls blood pressure via constriction and dilation of blood vessels. 

When we are infected with coronavirus, the spike protein on the virus surface binds to ACE-2. Like a key in a lock the cell responds and encapsulates the virus pulling it inside to replicate its ribonucleic acid (RNA), creating a blueprint to potentially make 10-100 of virions that are subsequently released back into the bloodstream ready to infect more cells. 

After SARS-CoV-2 particles leave infected cells, there is a sudden release of inflammatory cytokines which results in leaking of fluid into alveolar sacs in the lungs. This is the ‘cytokine storm’ we hear so much about and this can be devastating if the viral load is too high as we have seen in healthcare workers at the beginning of the pandemic who were poorly equipped with PPE. Systemic inflammatory responses and multiple organ failure tragically cost the life of Dr Li in Wuhan in 2019, the medic who broke the news to the world. As we discovered in the early days, the lungs are unable to remove harmful gases like carbon dioxide and they cannot efficiently provide oxygen to the body. This helps the virus multiply rapidly in the lungs resulting in Acute respiratory distress syndrome.

While respiratory symptoms are the most common sign of the disease, a recent review suggests 53% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 experience at least one gastrointestinal (GI) symptom during their illness. There is evidence that encountering GI symptoms with COVID-19, or developing them alongside underlying GI conditions like cardiovascular disease or diabetes can also increase the risk of disease severity. More recent research shows that the virus may alter the gut microbiota contributing to nausea and diarrhea. So all those memes of toilet roll are valid! The virus is then free to infect other targets like the central nervous system to cause further damage linked to neurological diseases resulting in long-lasting brain fog.

What natural plant extracts could potentiate some of these pathways?

Much of the latest research on plants used to fight covid symptoms and its after-effects originate from work in Asia and Thailand. It should be remembered that these plants need to be tested together and trials should be properly controlled as some extracts taken in excess or together can have detrimental outcomes. For instance peppermint and black teas can inhibit the absorption of iron, important in the transfer of oxygen to our tissues. So as we propose potential plants that exhibit beneficial effects at the sites of SARS-CoV-2 entry or may provide some inhibitory effects, it should be taken with a degree of optimistic caution in what may provide an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. 

Physiological effects and mechanisms worth tackling with alternative plant based therapies:

1.     Fever control 

2.     Calming the cytokine storm 

3.     Prevention of viral shedding 

4.     Plants that control blood pressure through Angiotensin II or ACE

5.     Antagonising the SARs-CoV-2 spike protein

6.     Prevention of platelet aggregation

7.     Plant based nutrient balance of the renin angiotensin system

8.     Boosting the gut microbiome

9.     Antifungal activity to combat mucormycosis

10.  Diabetes regulation with plant phytonutrients from our previous article 

11.  Downstream brain fog with plant phytonutrients from our previous article 

Many plants display antiviral activity and we examine if these theoretically can provide a ‘super tea’ or emollient to reduce symptoms and help people recover from covid infections. Here we describe a few selected plants that are involved in trials (there are too many to provide a complete list but if you are interested reach out and we can discuss further) that could contribute to recovery from Coronavirus highlighting specific traits that potentiate the viral pathway. 

Click here to read more.

Photo Courtesy of Urban Ag News

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