With the pandemic hitting the world in a most unprecedented manner and currently the second wave of Covid-19 hitting us hard and taking centre stage, there is a lot of conversation around immunity. You would have come across terms like co-morbidities, cytokine storm, inflammation etc. Also, across the board there is talk of immunity boosting supplements like Vitamin C, Zinc, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Selenium etc.
Do taking supplements and foods rich in the above nutrients protect us from Covid-19?
Let us understand our immune system a little better before we get to the solution.
Our immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs. It is not limited to one particular system but almost the entire human body is involved in our overall immunity.
What is immunity?
It is the body’s ability to prevent diseases or defend against pathogens.
So, if you have a strong immune system, it is not that you will not fall sick, but the body will recover faster and better. The severity of symptoms will be reduced and the chances of recurrence of an infection will be low.
When we look at Covid-19, the infection is driven by a virus. Many are infected, but the severity of infection is evident in a few. This is because their body is unable to deal with the rapid progress of the symptoms. What I mean is, their immunity is compromised.
So, what are the factors that affect our immunity?
The food that we eat lays the foundation for our body to function at its optimal level. Our body requires nutrients to function efficiently, so we need to ensure that an abundance of nutrient dense foods are provided.
Nutrients are found in natural foods. All animals in nature eat foods according to hunger and availability. You will not find a lion eating grass or an elephant eating meat. Similarly, a dog will not naturally drink a goat’s milk. Animals are very instinctive and they eat foods that suit their body.
If we are set out in the wild with no tools, our natural instinct is to eat easily available foods with minimal processing. So, by default fruits and vegetables become the most edible produce.
Humans have an amazing ability to see colour. We are attracted towards colour. Therefore, colourful fruits and vegetables are naturally appealing. Colourful natural foods are also rich in phytonutrients which act like anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants protect our body from inflammation (which is a sign of infection in the body). Phytonutrients give the food the colour we see – the red of tomato, the green of leaves, the orange of carrots etc. Also, components like curcumin in turmeric, allicin in garlic etc. are again phytonutrients. All of these foods play a natural protective role in our body.
All foods contain nutrients in varying proportions, so we don’t have to worry about getting deficient in any nutrient if we bring in a lot of variety. When we eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, our body becomes highly alkaline which is the most desired state.
On the contrary, an acidic environment in the body breeds diseases. Acid-yielding foods should be avoided and these include all animal products including dairy, and what I call MRP – Manufactured, Refined and Processed foods. Sugar, oils, white flour, white rice etc. are all examples of MRP foods.
Animal products including meat, eggs, chicken, fish, dairy etc. are high in fat and protein. Fats break down into fatty acids and proteins break down into amino acids. Excess of this breakdown leads to an acidic environment. Of course, we need proteins and fats, and that is available in plant foods too, but the key component in eliminating toxins and cleansing our system is fibre. Only whole, plant foods contain fibre.
But is food the only factor in helping with our immunity?
Physical fitness, stress and sleep play a very important role.
Lack of physical activity makes our metabolism sluggish. A slow metabolism leads to accumulation of fats and toxins. This in turn reduces our immunity.
When we are stressed, our body produces adrenaline. This triggers an environment of panic. If this environment is temporary, it acts as a stimulant and helps us to perform better or motivates us, but chronic stress reduces our immunity. When animals are slaughtered, they produce adrenaline, because they are stressed. No animal wants to be killed. Their stress gets into our body through the food we eat.
When we sleep our body works on healing and repair. Sleep helps produce immunity-fighting anti-bodies. When we are sleep deprived, we reduce the ability of the body to work on healing and therefore compromise on our immunity. Technological inventions have made life very comfortable for all of us, but the Electro Magnetic Frequency (EMF) and light from these gadgets and prolonged exposure to these devices create havoc within our body. Indiscriminate use of technology into late hours interferes with our sleep patterns and eventually impacts our immunity.
Apart from the above factors, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 need to be checked and supplemented, if deficient, because both these vitamins have an important role to play in our overall immunity. No other supplements are required if we ensure to eat nutrient dense foods.
To summarise, when we eat unrefined, unprocessed, colourful variety of plant foods, we are ensuring an abundance of nutrients along with fibre. If we stay away from MRP foods and animal products, we are creating an alkaline environment which is protective and does not encourage disease proliferation. Including physical activity in some form not only improves metabolism, but also produces cortisol which is the happy hormone that moderates stress conditions. Other means of managing stress include developing healthy relationships, spending time in nature, pursuing a hobby, laughter etc.
Supraja is a graduate in Nutrition and certified in plant-based nutrition from ECornell. She is also a Sports nutritionist from NESTA and holds a certificate in music therapy from CSMT. Through dealing with her own health issues of weight gain, chronic periodontitis, IA of osteoarthritis and early-stage thyroid cancer, she was able to adopt a holistic health approach to deal with her illnesses. She started ‘OWNYOURHEALTH’ in 2020 with the objective to ‘Nourish the Body and Nurture the Mind’. She is also a consultant with SHARAN (Sanctuary for Health and Reconnection to Animals and Nature), a social enterprise, founded by Dr. Nandita Shah.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*