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What is a virus?

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Most viruses consist of nothing more than tiny particles of nucleic acid – which is the material that makes up genes. Most viruses are also surrounded by a coat of protein sometimes referred to as the outer envelope or capsid shell

Viruses are so small that they could not be seen until the electron microscope was invented in the 1940s.

Unlike most bacteria, viruses are not complete cells are are unable to function on their own. They cannot convert carbohydrates to energy, the way that bacteria and other living cells do, therefore Viruses depend on other organisms for energy to replicate and this cannot happen until it is able to enter a cell and hijack the manufacturing processes of that cell.

Most viruses do not cause serious diseases and are very well handled by the body's natural defences of the immune system. In many cases, people never even know they have been infected. But unlike bacteria, which can be killed by antibiotics, viruses can be little more resistant against medications. Antivirals can work well, however unless they target specific protein binding sites or enzymes that are personalised to the virus the resolution from medications can be hit and miss furthermore most antivirals work best in the early stages of infection when people many not necessarily seek medical attention.

Inoculation with vaccine is also another way to prime the immune system. Vaccines teach the immune system how to produce antibodies to the virus prior to an infection. Vaccinations are most effective long term if the virus doesn’t mutate during a pandemic situation in which case mutations can learn how to get past the defences that the vaccines had originally produced.

With regards to natural immunity, the body is well adapted and evolved to cope with pathogens. However your immune defences are only as good as your overall health. If you already have underlying health conditions, or suffer with metabolic syndromes such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, or autoimmune conditions then the chances are that you can produce a disorganised response to otherwise mild infections.

Something else that viruses can do following infection is incorporate their genetic material into your own. This means that the body is now primed to replicate the virus at any time during your lifetime. However we have amazing mechanisms within our body that protects against the virus becoming reactivated known as “Viral Silencing”. Viral silencing is mainly controlled by a process called methylation, and methylation requires a number of nutrients in order to function effectively these include Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6 and Folic Acid.

It is only when your defences are weakened that latent virus can become reactivated. We see this most commonly in Epstein Barr Virus, that can be reactive to cause chronic fatigue syndrome, lymphoma and autoimmune conditions and the Chicken Pox Virus known as Varicella Zoster Virus that can be reactivated to cause shingles.

So to unsure that your immune system is in tip top condition it is important to keep your defences high with supportive dietary and lifestyle interventions.

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