As of this moment, there is no cure for the novel coronavirus. While scientists across the world are racing to create a safe vaccine for the masses, the best way to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 is hand-washing and following social distancing. So if you’ve read about some magical ‘cure’ (we’re looking at you, Coronil), run from it like the plague (too soon?)
While there’s nothing that can prevent you from catching the virus, medical experts say that it is important to make sure that you are in the pink of your health. So that, in case you do end up contracting COVID-19, your body’s immune system will be strong enough to fight it off. Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly is of key importance during these times.
We spoke to health and medical experts who told us exactly what we can do to keep our immune system strong during this uncertain time.
You’ve probably wondered whether you should add multivitamin supplements to your diet at some point in your life. Given that we are in the middle of a global health crisis, now would probably be a good time. But do they actually help boost our immunity? Absolutely, says Dr Romeel Tickoo, Associate Director of Internal Medicine at Max Healthcare.
“There are no supplements that can actually prevent you from getting Coronavirus, but vitamin supplements basically boost your immunity and help you to fight infections. With a strong immune system, the ability of your body to fight infections becomes better–you might ward off infections that last for 4-5 days in 2-3 days,” says Dr Tickoo in a conversation with POPxo.
Supplements are commonly used to fight off a number of diseases in allopathic medicine. “There are multiple studies that show supplements help in boosting immunity and help your body fight respiratory infections, not only COVID but also infections like flu,” he says.
According to Dr Tickoo, the following supplements are being used to treat and prevent COVID-19:
Vitamin C: “Numerous studies have shown that it prevents you from getting viral infections, especially respiratory diseases–and even if you get them it shortens the duration of the disease that helps you to fight the infection better.”
Vitamin D: “Vitamin D is another big supplement we are using for COVID–lots of studies prove that it helps preventing respiratory infections.”
Zinc: “Zinc is another important supplement because it helps you fight infections quicker.”
Dr Kiran Lohia, a New Delhi-based dermatologist, and founder and director of Isya Aesthetics, echoes his suggestions. “Yes, three supplements are known to boost your immunity–Vitamin C, Zinc and Vitamin D. I suggest taking 1000mg of Vitamin C twice a day, every day during the pandemic.”
Besides these supplements, which are especially important during the pandemic, Dr Tickoo also suggests we add Vitamin B12, Folic Acid and probiotics to our diet.
So we now have a good idea about the type of supplements we should be taking. But should you just buy them over the counter? You could, but Dr Tickoo reccomends you speak to your general psysician first. “You don’t need a prescription for vitamins, but you should check the required dosage with your doctor. While some of them like B Complex are water soluble, so their dosage doesn’t matter, others like Vitamin D can be extremely dangerous if consumed in high dosages, resulting in Vitamin D intoxication. So always buy supplements after a consultation with your physician–you can’t just simply take whatever comes to your mind,” said Dr Tickoo.
However, Dr Tickoo also adds that while supplements are helpful during these times, ideally you should be consuming nutrient-rich food, exercising and leading an overall healthy lifestyle. “A healthy diet, exercise, meditation, and good sleep go a long way in boosting your immunity. We should not be relying on supplements alone. During the pandemic, we don’t have an option but to be extra careful. But otherwise, make sure you eat a healthy diet comprising green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean protein, and avoid too much salt, sugar and processed food. If you consume a healthy diet, exercise and sleep well, your immunity will automatically improve.”
Echoing Dr Tickoo’s sentiments on a healthy diet and lifestyle, nutritionist Mahima Sethia, Founder of Fitness Flu, says, “I don’t think that the expensive supplements claiming to boost immunity can do something that natural food (including herbs and spices) cannot. It is only when we are unable to get important nutrients through food, then we need to supplement them.”
She also says that sometimes our bodies might not react well to supplements. “The production process of synthetic nutrients which are usually made artificially is very different to the way plants and animals create them. So even they have a similar structure, your body may react differently to synthetic nutrients.”
If you’re not keen on adding multivitamin supplements to your diet, and would prefer to keep things natural, Mahima has suggested some immunity-boosting foods, herbs and spices that you can find in your kitchen itself.
Neem & Tulsi: Neem is a natural blood purifier that helps to improve the body’s immunity and Tulsi contains strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antioxidant properties. You can take 5-10 leaves each, put them in a marble pot and make a paste and have this concoction on an empty stomach.
Giloy: It is antipyretic (a substance that reduces fever) in nature and is a universal herb that helps boost immunity. You can make giloy tea and sip on it. Take one giloy stick and chop it into pieces, crush it well and put it in one glass water. Boil it until the water turns into one cup. Then strain it and have it warm. You can buy a giloy plant from a nursery and use it whenever you like.
Ginger, Cardamom and Turmeric: Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic, ginger helps cleanse your lymphatic system and cardamom is rich in antioxidants and minerals. You can make a natural antibiotic drink using these three ingredients. In one glass of water, add ¼ tsp raw grated turmeric and ¼ tsp grated ginger and 1 cardamom. Bring water to a boil and simmer for 5-8 minutes. Strain and drink warm.
Amla: Amla is extremely rich in Vitamin C which helps in the production of white blood cells in the body that help fight several infections. You can take one fresh amla and chop it into small pieces. Add little water and grind it. Have this juice along with the pulp.
Lemon: They are natural antioxidants and the best source of vitamin C and hence a great way to boost the body’s capability to fight off infection. You can have a glass of warm lemon water or squeeze lemon on to your juices or salads.
Besides consuming natural immunity boosting foods, Mahima says that physical activity, adequate sleep and keeping a check on our stress levels–all play a very important role in boosting our immunity.
The third important aspect when it comes to a strong immune system is exercise. It is not enough to simply consume healthy foods. Fitness expert Nidhi Mohan Kamal takes us through the science behind physical activity boosting your immunity levels. “Your body releases certain hormones during and after your workout, which greatly reduce your stress levels. Whenever your body undergoes stress, your immune system shuts down. Regular exercise ensures that ‘happy hormones’ are released into your body, which means reduced stress levels–leading to an overall improvement in immunity,” she says.
But to reap the benefits of exercise, you need to do it right and be regular. “Ideally, there should be some form of physical activity every single day. If that’s not possible, you should stick to exercising for half an hour at least five times a week,” explains Nidhi.
If you want to be COVID-specific, don’t skip on your cardio. “Cardiovascular activity and deep breathing–anything that increases your vital capacity is important. Most of the time, we’re not using our lungs to their full capacity. With these exercises, we get used to utilising more of our lungs. So if you do happen to fall sick, even though your breathing will be compromised, there are fewer chances of your illness becoming severe.”
There you have it–turns out if you want to keep your immunity strong, you’ll have to ditch the junk food and sedentary lifestyle. So eat healthy, exercise regularly, sleep well and check in with your GP if you want to add supplements.
Stay strong, stay safe.
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