As cases of COVID 19 rises across the world and the current lack of a cure or a vaccination, the only way to keep ourselves safe and fight the infection is to take care of our own immune system. Ever since the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (Sars-Cov-2), has taken hold of the world by it’s wide and fast spread and almost fatal symptoms, everyone is being pushed to learn about the immune system as it is now our best bet at defeating the virus.
What is an immune system?
The immune system is a host defense system comprising many biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease. The main purpose of your immune system is to protect your body from viruses and bacteria. Your immune system works by recognising the difference between your body’s cells and alien cells, allowing it to destroy anything that could be potentially harmful. When a virus attacks the body cells, the immune system releases cytotoxic cells to warn the body as well as kill the infected cells to stop the virus from spreading, interferons which prevent the replication of the virus and then antibodies that attack or neutralise the virus. The immune system also has a way to remember the virus and can respond faster the next time it is attacked by the same virus.
How having a healthy immune system helps
It is seen that the same virus that produces fatal symptoms in one person may produce only mild or no symptoms in another person. What does that indicate? Having a healthy immune system plays a major role in protecting one from the disease. It also helps in recovering from the disease if contracted. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory issues and other immune diseases are at a higher risk of having COVID 19 complications. it also aggravates with age as the general immunity reduces as you get older. In the younger generation with no underlying illnesses, COVID 19 can result in a minor infection provided they are not smokers or have other unhealthy habits.
How to build immunity?
One of the most important things to consider in building immunity is taking care of basic needs like getting enough sleep, exercising, eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated and not getting stressed.
*Getting at least 7 hours of sleep at night is crucial in developing a healthy immune system. It also helps to go to bed early and rise early as the quality of sleep is as important as the amount of sleep you get. A lack of sleep is seen to impair bodily functions and have a direct effect on your immunity.
*Make sure to eat a balanced diet which is high in fruits and vegetables. It is better to eat a low carb and high protein food at this time. Add more greens to your daily diet. You could also consider getting supplements rich in omega 3 & 6 fatty acids and natural immunity supplements like ginger, gooseberries (amla) and turmeric.
*Make sure you are staying hydrated during this time. Drink up to 8-10 glasses daily as water helps to flush out toxins and keep you healthy. Try to include fruit juices or coconut water as well.
*Regular exercise is essential in keeping you fit and building longevity by improving your immune system. It also helps beat stress. Yoga can be a very relaxing and immune building activity at this time. If you haven’t been exercising or practising yoga, this would be a good time to start. You could start by watching YouTube tutorials for the same.
*Smokers should consider quitting as this habit can prove quite harmful to your health, especially during these trying times. Alcohol drinkers are also asked to quit drinking or drink in moderation as this affects your body and its ability to fight off the infection.
*Try to distress by avoiding news and negative information on social media. Practise mindfulness by doing meditation which goes a long way in keeping your stress levels and anxiety in check. Take time out to journal or do hobbies, which can distract you from stressing out and keep your mind in check.
*Some common themes rampaging the internet during the pandemic is the immune-boosting benefits of taking vitamin supplements like Vitamin C and Vitamin D. Vitamin C has always been known to help keep the common cold away or fight it when contracted. Though there isn’t enough evidence to prove its efficacy in the current COVID-19, doctors and experts say Vitamin D seems to have some beneficial effects. Vitamin C is found in citric fruits like oranges, lemons and vegetables like broccoli, capsicum, spinach and other green leafy vegetables. It needs to be taken as a supplement only if you are not getting it in your usual diet. Zinc is also seen to be advocated as a beneficial supplement.
*Adding probiotics to your usual diet like yogurt or kombucha (fermented green tea) is another way to keep your gut healthy and this may in turn indirectly provide immunity-boosting benefits. Honey with black seed oil is also seen to work wonders in boosting immunity.
Ayurvedic options in boosting immunity
Ayurveda offers a wide range of immunity-boosting options such as taking Chyavanprash (1tsp daily) which was recommended by the Ayush Ministry during this time. They also recommend drinking herbal tea made from tulsi (Basil), cinnamon, black pepper, dry ginger and raisin – once or twice a day. Add jaggery (natural sugar) and / or fresh lemon juice if needed. Golden milk made with half tea spoon turmeric powder added to 150 ml hot milk is another option. They also suggest drinking warm water throughout the day and to use spices like turmeric, garlic, cumin and coriander while cooking.
Sanchit Sharma, executive director of herbal products-manufacturer AIMIL Pharma, offers immunity enhancer herbal drug Fifatrol, a multi-drug combination of ayurvedic classical medicines and herbs like mrityunjay rasa, sanjeevani vati, tulsi and giloe. These herbs are said to help increase the production of interferons and antibodies to generate immune response against viruses.
Note: It is also very important to prevent infection by washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least twenty seconds, especially if you have travelled by public transport or gone out to get groceries. In case you are travelling use an alcohol sanitizer to disinfect your hands and wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth. Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes to prevent spreading the virus or contracting the virus.