The universe is filled with a lot really cool things, from neutron stars that are so dense that they are capable of crushing all known matter into one homogenous mass, to quantum substances that flash in and out of existence in nanoseconds, to the cell, the fundamental unit of biology, that can produce over 100,000 different molecules a second, all in the space of 1/00th the size of head of a pin. But nothing, absolutely nothing is more interesting, intriguing or more fascinating than a virus.
Viruses are the most abundant biological entity on earth. They’re about a hundred times smaller than a typical human cell. While viruses are mysterious, what most of us do know about these enigmatic entities is that we don’t like them. The dictionary uses terms to define word “virulent” (virus-like) such as severe, harmful, poisonous, toxic, lethal and fatal, among other awful descriptors of doom. Many of the scariest health challenges anyone can have to deal with, from polio to AIDS to smallpox to cancer, have been associated with these mysterious entities. But what exactly is this enigmatic entity that is the cause of so much consternation and concern?
We tend to think of a virus as a little animal, but what’s so amazing is the fact that a virus is neither alive nor dead. In fact a virus is not a living thing really; it’s just little piece of chemical, a chain of molecules. A virus is nothing more than a piece of (chemical) information. It’s basically just an infinitesimally tiny chunk of minute molecular matter wrapped around with a protein coating.
The problem with viruses is that they cannot survive unless they are spreading themselves. That’s a virus’s only mission. And how is it that they spread themselves? After all, they’re not conscious; they’re only little pieces of chemical. Well, it turns out that these non-conscious little blobs of stuff seem to have enough intention to want to replicate themselves. To do this they have to take some convoluted multi-step measures.
All life is made of cells and all cells have a genetic core that acts as a blueprint, shorthand of sorts for the production of chemicals. This genetic core acts as a software code that, in a biological process called “transcription”, induces the production of materials, which are the proteins that keep the cell and ultimately the body it composes running effectively. This genetic code, which is part of the molecule known as DNA, functions as the “plans” for the production of proteins that represent the raison d'etre of a cell’s existence.
Viruses accomplish their dirty work by hijacking the plans. They place themselves into the blueprint (i.e. the DNA) inducing the production of copies of themselves (i.e. more viruses). They basically hijack a cell’s genetic material and protein-making machinery. Viruses may not be conscious or even technically alive, but they are somehow intelligent enough to be able insert themselves into the code compelling the cell to unwittingly make more of the virus, the same way it makes other proteins.
Some viruses are even smart enough to be able to think two steps ahead. Take the case of Toxoplasma Gondi, a particularly nefarious and sneaky viral example. This devious entity, which has evolved to replicate in the stomach of a cat, has developed a particularly clever way of getting to its breeding ground in a kitty’s belly. First, it infects mouse brains making the formerly cowardly rodents brave enough to thumb its nose at its mortal feline enemy. Inevitably the mouse will get eaten and the virus will then obtain ready access to the cat’s gut where it can safely replicate. From there the viral progeny it will be excreted and likely end up in a cat’s droppings, where they will likely end up causing further infections in mouse brains and the whole process will begin again. Pretty clever for a non-conscious, non-living little chunk of chemicals! By the way, Toxoplasma Gondi can affect humans too, especially human fetuses and this is why pregnant women are advised to stay away from kitty’s litter box.
Fortunately, the human immune system is quite an effective defense against viral infection. When a virus enters the body, an immune response is triggered which under normal, healthy conditions sets off a chain of events that result in the detoxification and elimination of the viral invader. Some of the signs associated with viral infections including fevers, fatigue and vomiting are actually manifestations and results of the body’s attempts to eliminate the insidious interlopers.
However, if the immune system is somehow compromised (elevated stress hormones, sugar and processed fords as well as malnutrition or nutritional deficiencies are all possible causes of weakened immunity) a full blown infection is likely. While there are a few medications that can affect how a virus attaches and integrates itself to a host cell and its genetic material, for the most part once an infection occurs, there is very little that can be done. Because viruses are not technically alive, they can’t be killed. That means once the viral infection process has begun, its life cycle must be completed. Eventually the cell factory that has been taken over dies and the viral substance must look for new cells and DNA to invade and hijack. Unless the immune system is strengthened and the viral enemy is finally sequestered, an infection can ultimately lead to the demise of the host cell and organism.
That means if you have a viral infection or if you don’t want to get one, keeping your immune system strong and healthy is your best strategy. Use immune boosting nutrients like Vitamin C and Zinc. Selenium is especially pro-immune and anti-viral. Of course, making sure that you’re getting enough protein, especially whey protein which contains the anti-viral peptide “lactoferrin”, in addition to immune globulins, can be especially helpful. Foodstuffs can be helpful too. Mushrooms contain beta-glucans which support immune health. Cruciferous veggies have immune boosting phytonutrients, citrus fruits and papaya are great sources of Vitamin C, green tea has anti-viral flavonoids, garlic contains S- allylcysteine which can provide protection against viral attack. Finally coconut oil, renowned for its brain boosting and energy providing properties contains lauric acid which can have some very potent anti-viral properties