Hyderabad: It is well entrenched in the DNA of human beings to look for shortcuts. Whether it is academics, professional work, fitness, illness, or anything else, we all look for the easy way out. Thus, the 23 million dollar question on everyone’s lips today is: “Is there a particular diet to improve immunity against COVID -19?”
The objective is to find an easy way to combat the virus…and if we can eat our way to victory, nothing like it! Unscrupulous people leverage this very human failing to sell their dubious products. So we have all sorts of advertisements in print and social media promoting various kinds of foods and products which have the “magical” ability to boost your immunity and convert you into super immune humans. How these blatantly false ads get past the advertisement regulators are something that beggars belief. The truth is: there is no truth to all these claims. There is no shortcut. Immunity is a precious commodity that can be obtained only through months and years of appropriate lifestyle choices. Regular exercise, eating right, proper sleep hygiene, avoiding smoking, avoiding junk food, minimizing alcohol, reducing stress, and controlling diabetes all contribute to improving immunity; not just some special diet!
Let us look at each of these magic potions individually:
Regular Exercise – It is recommended that one do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. The operative phrase here is “at least” and not “150 minutes”! So if you feel up to it, please do more than 150 minutes. Exercise releases endorphins and encephalin which boosts wellbeing and immunity. Also, exercise boosts T cell activities, which are the prime elements of immunity.
Eating right – More protein, moderate carbohydrates and less fat are the mantras for boosting immunity. Besides, have more fruits (specifically citrus), nuts, and vegetables; these provide vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B complex which are immune boosters. Salt and sugar provide nutrition to viruses and bacteria and should be minimized. Avoid processed and junk food. This is the ideal diet to improve immunity but will be useless if used as a standalone measure without the other non -dietary components of immune-boosting.
Proper Sleep Hygiene – In growing children, most of the growth spurt happens during sleep. In adults, T cell activity and cytokine activity is boosted during sleep. Both these elements are important components of immunity. Adults need at least 7 hours of good quality sleep per day.
Avoiding smoking, avoiding junk food, and minimizing alcohol – This is a no-brainer and there is nothing to explain here!
Reducing stress - Over the past 30 years, more than 300 studies have been done on stress and immunity in humans, and together they have shown that psychological challenges are capable of impairing the immune response. Stress affects both components of the immune system, T cells as well as antibodies. Stress can be reduced by exercise, yoga, meditation, indulging in hobbies, counseling, and attitudinal changes.
Controlling Diabetes – We all are aware that uncontrolled diabetes reduces immunity and predisposes one to infections. Diabetes is best controlled by diet, exercise, and appropriate medications.
The above are the validated, scientific methods of boosting immunity. In these COVID times, it is also imperative to practice social distancing, wear masks, and hand sanitization.
All the advertisements of herbal concoctions, ultrapure water, fortified grains, vitamin boosted foods, etc, etc, etc are humbug and misleading. Do not be fooled by them!
By, Dr Ravi Andrews, a Nephrologist at Apollo Hospital, Hyderabad.