The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) as the cause of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a global pandemic which is ravaging the world. The SARS-CoV-2 is spreading rapidly and creating havoc with over five million people worldwide being infected by this virus. At present, there is no vaccine against coronavirus; so it is important to take certain key measures at an individual level to fight the virus by boosting our immunity.
As a precaution, we all know, it has become crucial to maintaining good hygiene standards in our daily lifestyle. Washing and sanitising hands frequently, along with the use of face masks have become essential preventive measures. Social distancing is the new normal which we all are readily acceptable in today’s time as a protection against the deadly virus.
It is important to realize that a good immune system isn’t necessarily going to keep the virus out of our bodies, but it will, however, help us as the severity of the infection would be much less. At the moment, the focus is on protecting the vulnerable and those who are suffering from co-morbidities. From them, especially, and also for all of us, the way forward is to look after our health and the best place to start with is our diet.
Our immune system and the role of food
Our immune system is the body’s first defence mechanism against diseases and infections. Several factors that influence our immune system are nutrition, sleep, stress, and physical activity. The food we eat plays a key role in determining our health and immunity. A balanced diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals is the best way to support our immune function. But in this, no one food can do the magic.
It is important to maintain a good balance between carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. On average, a male or female should consume 40-60 per cent of their calories from carbohydrates, 10-15 per cent from protein and the remaining 20-30 per cent from fat. Carbohydrates are macronutrients that are essential for our daily activities as they act as fuel for our immune cells.
A protein deficit, on the other hand, has been found to increase immune dysfunction and thus higher susceptibility to viral infections. Therefore, one should try and incorporate protein-rich sources such as lentils, legumes, milk and milk products, soy products for vegetarians, and for non-vegetarian eggs, chicken, and lean meat along with other vegetarian sources at every major meal of the day. Also, a daily dose of good fats like nuts and seeds ensures better immune cell functioning.
Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant that increases the production of white blood cells, helping the body against infections. Further, it strengthens the skin barrier from infections. Some good sources of Vitamin C are gooseberry, black currants, guava, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, lemon, lime, orange, etc.
Vitamin D, on the other hand, is a fat-soluble vitamin which plays a crucial role in the activation of the immune system; these are anti-inflammatory and have immunoregulatory properties, which enhances the functioning of the immune cells. These are naturally found in some types of oily fish. Most often, one’s body is found to be Vitamin D deficient; therefore, it is recommended to take supplements of 1000-2000 IU every day for adults.
Zinc is an essential trace element used for the maintenance of immune function. Deficiency of this mineral increases the chances of infectious diseases including viral infections. The recommended daily allowance for this mineral is 8 mg/day for women and 11 mg/day for men. Some rich sources of Zinc include sunflower seeds, flax seeds, cashew nut, etc.
According to the WHO, around 80 per cent of the world’s population uses herbal medicines for primary health care, particularly across Europe and South Asia. Research has also shown that many of these herbs not only have anti-inflammatory properties but also help build up the body’s natural immunity.
Herbs and spices
Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice found commonly in Indian kitchens and also used for its medicinal properties. Curcumin is an active compound of turmeric which is anti-inflammatory and is packed with antioxidants. It has shown to increase the immunity-boosting proteins of the body. When turmeric is consumed with black pepper, the absorption rate is increased by 2000 per cent due to a compound, piperine, found in black pepper.
Ginger has been a key ingredient in various alternative medicines. Gingerol is the bio-active compound of ginger which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Garlic on the other hand also exhibits various medicinal benefits. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. The sulfur compound of garlic has been found to boost the disease-fighting response of white blood cells when attacked by a virus.
A good diet alone cannot do wonders if one does not work out well. Therefore, exercise plays a crucial role in not just maintaining blood circulation, body flexibility but also enhancing our immunity. Yoga will help in keeping the mind calm and less agitated and stressed. Some stretching and breathing exercises are best to de-stress oneself.
Meditation will surely help your body, mind, and soul. Maintaining a sleep routine is also important as it helps in repairing and regenerating our body but, unfortunately, it is underrated. Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived are more susceptible to infectious diseases.
A good night’s sleep is therefore essential for an individual’s immune system to work at its optimum level. Depending on person to person, sleeping anywhere between 6-8 hours in a day is essential. Mental Stress is often undervalued and goes unnoticed. Stress hampers our work efficiency and damages our immune system thus leading to various diseases. Managing stress by planning and scheduling work can help in improving one’s mental stress levels.
Immunity boosting concoction
A homemade immunity-boosting concoction is an easy and effective way to boost immunity levels. It includes simple ingredients that are found in almost every household and one can consume this drink on a daily basis.
Take 1-inch ginger (mashed), 1 tsp organic turmeric powder, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1/4th tsp Sri-Lankan rolled cinnamon, 3-4 fresh basil leaves, and 1 green cardamom pod. Add all these ingredients in 500 ml water and bring it to a rolling boil. Reduce the water to half its quantity. Strain this concoction and sip it while it’s still warm.
— Dhwani Jain
(The writer is founder of NutriReligion, a nutritionist and well-being advisor. She did her masters from University College London, UK. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)