How Your Immune System Can Help Defeat Hepatitis C
Our defense against bacteria and viruses, the immune system is essential in maintaining health. The strength of our immune system is one factor that determines whether Hepatitis C becomes of an acute case or develops into a chronic illness.
Hepatitis C’s extraordinary ability to evade the body’s immune system has been the focus of countless medical studies. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered how the genetic changes resulting from Hepatitis C infection allow it to avoid destruction by the body’s immune system.
Two Ways, Two Sites
Scientists have found that HCV is programmed to change form in two different ways, at two different sites. The genetic material under attack by immune cells evolves to weaken the immune system, while genetic material at different sites reverts back to an ancestral, or original, genetic code. This dual morphing capability of the Hepatitis C virus is why it is so challenging for the immune system to destroy. The infection becomes chronic when the virus evades immune cells and establishes itself in the body. At this point, the immune system becomes weakened and ineffective against Hepatitis C. For the millions of people in this position, their best defense against progression of the disease is by supporting and strengthening their immunity.
According to Hopkins study investigator, associate professor and infectious disease specialist, Stuart Ray, MD, “We think this piecemeal exchange is helping the virus evade the body’s immune system. In a newly infected person, the virus may need to adopt new mutations to escape recognition by the immune system’s T cells, which fight infection, but it may need to lose the mutations that had protected it in someone else. Despite pressure to change, the virus is always restoring its shape.”
Ancestral Genetic Sequence
Hepatitis C demonstrates amazing self-modification capability. When the danger dissipates, the virus returns to its original form. The Johns Hopkins investigators found that when the immune response weakened, the Hepatitis C virus naturally mutated back to its preferred state. During the acute phase of infection, the virus is under severe pressure from the body’s immune response, forcing it to mutate. However, this change appears to be reversible. Once the virus successfully evades a particular immune cell, its amino acids revert back to its original sequence.
According to the lead author of one of the studies, assistant professor at Hopkins and infectious disease specialist, Andrea Cox, MD, PhD, “The Hepatitis C virus naturally mutates, or alters its genome, very rapidly. For example, its strains have two to three times more genetic variability than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and Hepatitis C reproduces over 100 billion times per day, 100 times faster than HIV. Compounding the problem, Hepatitis C infection is asymptomatic in the early stages, making it less likely that diagnosis will be made early, when it is easiest to treat.” The speed at which Hepatitis C is capable of reproducing poses an additional challenge to stopping the virus dead in its tracks.
Charles Darwin, the father of evolution comprehension, put forth the concept that the Hepatitis C virus closely follows. The well-known phrase, “survival of the fittest,” is applicable to this virus’ lifecycle. The Hepatitis C virus’ genetic material changes in ways that make it more reproductively “fit” in the face of each immune system it encounters. The virus changes to evade the immune system in one host, then restores itself when the pressure is off.
The silver lining in discovering Hepatitis C’s mastery of transformation is the insight it provides researchers working to defeat the virus. In response to this research, scientists have identified Hepatitis C’s chain of amino acids, its ancestral genetic code. Having this code is a critical to genetic biologists in developing a potential vaccine.
Maintaining strong immunity means paying attention to your body and incorporating healthful lifestyle choices into your routine. In general, experts recommend the following tips for a healthy immune system:
- Get Sufficient Sleep – The immune system is replenished during the deep stages of sleep.
- Wash Your Hands – Keeping your hands clean will reduce stress on the immune system by minimizing the microbes it must constantly battle.
- Follow a Balanced, Nutritious Diet – Eating well provides your immune system with the tools it needs to be in tip-top shape. Avoid sugar and the processed foods that harm immunity by suppressing crucial immune cells. If need be, consult a nutritionist for proper guidance.
- Avoid Toxins – Items toxic to your immune system include alcohol, cigarettes, chemicals and pollution. Toxins slow down and weaken the immune response. Consider an antioxidant and natural detoxifier such as Liv.52 to neutralize the toxins you encounter every day.
- Reduce Stress – Finding ways to minimize stress reduces stress-related hormones from weakening the immune system.
- Supplement – Consider supplementing your diet with a safe, energy enhancement solution product such as NT Factor. In addition to naturally replenishing energy to overcome the fatigue associated with HCV, it provides vitamins, minerals and probiotics to strengthen the body’s immune system.
Keeping your immune system as strong as possible is the key to longevity. Whether you are virus-free or not, fortifying your defenses can make the difference between developing acute or chronic viral hepatitis, as well as preventing liver disease progression.
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www.businessweek.com, Waging War on Hepatitis C, John Carey, McGraw Hill Companies, February, 2006.
www.hcvadvocate.org, The Role of the Immune System in Determining Viral Outcome After Hepatitis C Viral Infection, Jose Azocar, MD, DS, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2006.
www.medicinenet.com, Hepatitis C, MedicineNet, Inc., 2006.
www.medicalnewstoday.com, How Hepatitis C Virus Evades Immune System in Acute and Chronic Infections, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, June 2005.
www.sciencedaily.com, Study Details Hepatitis C Ability to Block Immune System Response, Scripps Research Institute, May 2006.