COVID-19 AND IMMUNITY
Jupitora Saikia Choudhury
Covid-19 is a newly discovered highly infectious disease and was declared as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Almost every country is grappling with the imminent dangers of this virus to humanity. In the term covid-19 , CO stands for corona, VI stands for virus and D for disease. It spreads between people through direct contact of infected people via mouth or nose secretions and indirect via contaminated objects and surfaces. Current information suggests that the virus survives upto 72 hours (3days) on hard surfaces depending on the material. However the number of the virus reduces considerably over time as it dies off. Therefore proper protective measures should be taken like wearing of mask, washing hands in regular intervals, using alcohol based hand rub, maintaining safe distance from a person who is having cold or cough and not touching nose, eye etc. This virus largely affects the respiratory system .People with pre existing disease conditions like diabetes, hypertension, cardio vascular diseases are at a higher risk of covid-19 complications. It also aggravates with age as the immunity reduces with the increasing age. Covid-19 in the younger age individuals with no underlying illness can appear as a minor infection provided they have good robust immunity and mostly do not involve in activities like smoking, drinking etc.
Food plays key aspects in determining the overall health and immunity. What we eat and drink can directly affect our body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from the infections. While, no food can directly prevent from covid-19 infection but a maintained diet can prevent the virus from attacking. Good nutrition can also lower the likelihood of developing other health problems like obesity, heart problems, diabetes and even some type of cancer. For babies a healthy diet means exclusive breast feeding in the first six months and then introduction of safe and nutritious foods which complements breast milk from the next six months to 2 years or beyond. Whereas, for growing children and adults maintaing a healthy diet is of outmost importance to fight against the virus.
Few tips to maintain a healthy immunity are:
* A low carbohydrate diet will help slow down the blood pressure and diabetes and focus on protein rich diet .Complete elimination of white flour items like bakery products, fast food, biscuits etc. Green leafy vegetables and fruits of different colors should be consumed regularly to obtain the daily requirement of beta carotene, ascorbic acid and other essential vitamins. Few foods like mushrooms, tomato, bell pepper, broccoli, spinach are also good to build resilience in the body against infections. Apart from animal protein sources like lean meat, egg and poultry, plant protein sources like legumes, lentils beans etc should be included in the diet. Unprocessed grains like maize, oats, wheat flour, brown rice are rich in valuable fiber. Daily dosage of omega 3 fatty acid supplements can also be taken. Some natural immunity supplements include ginger, gooseberry, turmeric etc. There are also certain herbs that help to improve immunity like ginger, Basel leaves and cumin seeds etc. Certain seeds and nut like sunflower seeds and melon seeds are good source of vitamin E and protein. Probiotics like yoghurt, Yakult are excellent source to rejuvenate the composition of gut bacteria, which is important for nutrient absorption by the body. These are a very good option especially for the older generations.
*Salt intake should be lowered and limited to 5-7 grams a day, while cooking salt should be used sparingly avoiding salted condiments and sauce like soy sauce, fish sauce etc. Salted, canned or preserved food items should be avoided and most importantly check the labels for low content of sodium level while purchasing any food items.
*Moderate the intake of fats and oils by avoiding refined oils and prefer pure mustard oils as it is low in saturated fats and do no deposit in the blood vessels. It contains omega-3 and omega-6 that reduces the cholesterol level. Moreover it also contains Glucosinate which has antimicrobial properties to give protection against infections. Selection of skimmed milk to full cream milk is adviced. Processed, fried foods options should be completely eliminated as it contains industrially produced Trans fats. However steaming, boiling or use of less oil is always healthier than deep fried cooking options.
*Limit the intake of sugar like packaged juices, powder concentrates, flavored water, ready to drink beverages. When dessert options are chosen, ensure that they are low in sugar and consumed in small amounts.
*Good hydration is also crucial for maintaining an optimal health. Normal water is the healthiest and cheapest drink in the universe compared to sugar sweetened beverages. Avoiding harmful use of alcohol, as alcohol is never a part of a healthy diet. Moreover drinking alcohol does not protect from covid-19 and can be dangerous. Prolonged and frequent alcohol consumption cause longer term effects like liver damage, cancer, heart-disease and mental illness.
* A healthy diet should always be followed by an exercise routine. Regular light exercise in a long run is always beneficial in releasing toxins from the body. A minimum exercise for 30-45 minutes is recommended. Regular exercise also improves metabolism which has a direct correlation with the body immunity. Mental health care is also of outmost importance. Talking to people who tend to be negative or re-enforce more fear of the disease should be avoided and thoughtful, level headed and pleasant people should be spoken to. Regular meditation sessions should be done to release stress, as stress releases a hormone known as cortisol which impairs the response to immediate surroundings and makes the body susceptible to infections.
* Adequate sleep is also very essential in maintaing a healthy immune system. A good sleep of 7-8 hours is the best way to help the body build immunity while lesser sleep will prevent the body from resting and impair other bodily functions that will have a direct on the immunity.
Apart from boosting immunity food safety is a prerequisite for food security and healthy diet. Only safe food id healthy food. Although European Food Safety Authority has stated that currently there is no evidence that covid-19 is transmitted through eating food, it is important to follow a good food hygiene practices to avoid food contamination and food borne illness. The key principles of good food hygiene include:
*wash hands for at least 20 minutes before and after preparing and eating food.
*Disinfect surfaces and objects before and after use.
*Keep raw and cooked foods separate to avoid harmful microbes spreading from raw foods to cooked foods.
*Cover mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeves of hands while coughing or sneezing and remember to wash hands after that.
* Use of different utensils/chopping board for raw and cooked foods to prevent cross contaminations.
* Proper cooking of food to adequate temperature i.e 72 degree centigrade or above.
Good hygiene practices, social distancing and isolating those who are infected are the best known ways to prevent the infection. A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is disrupting the world with a heavy toll on human lives and economic activities. Its rapid global spread is threatening to affect millions of people already made vulnerable by food insecurity, malnutrition and the effects of conflict and other disasters. The devastating economic impacts of COVID-19 reinforce the need for investments that prevent future outbreaks of such infectious diseases, recognizing the interconnections between people, animals, plants and their shared environment .
Jupitora Saikia Choudhury, MSc Dietetics and food service management. Senior dietician in downtown hospital.
Former dietician in Indrapastha Apollo hospital, New Delhi.
Former dietician and faculty in haji Abdul Majid Memorial Hospital, Hojai, Nagoan.