The immune system is the body’s natural defence against infections and it helps to maintain optimum health.
By Dr. Usha Chennur
Until the current pandemic comes under control, it is of utmost importance for all of us to focus on maintaining a high level of immunity. The immune system is the body’s natural defence against infections and it helps to maintain optimum health. Hence, we must ensure that our body’s natural defence system is well protected and fortified.
Antioxidants, proteins, essential vitamins and minerals are all necessary for a properly functioning immune system. And we must obtain these essential nutrients from food since the body doesn’t actively produce many. The right mixture of nutrients is obtained through the consumption of all kinds of fruits and vegetables. In addition, lean meats, fish, whole grains, dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds also have rich nutritional value. And for those who do not consume certain kinds of meats due to personal beliefs or nuts due to allergies, it is recommended that they supplement their diet to boost immunity. While some are doctor prescribed, some over the counter supplements are also safe alternatives to fulfill your nutritional requirements.
Here are a few essential nutrients that one must consume regularly in order to build a strong immunity:
The coronavirus pandemic has generated renewed interest in Vitamin D and its benefits, with some studies suggesting that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in India. Known as the sunshine vitamin, it helps to keep the bones strong and plays an important role in fighting off disease causing bacteria and viruses. While sunlight is the best way to get this essential vitamin, consuming supplements and certain foods like tuna or salmon fish and egg yolks can help increase vitamin D levels in the body. For vegetarians, foods like mushrooms and dairy products are good sources of vitamin D.
Vitamin C is essential for a strong and well-functioning immune system. Because it is a water-soluble essential nutrient, it is not stored in the body and requires daily intake. Vitamin C has lately been of interest to researchers in the fight against this pandemic, as this particular vitamin helps fight microbes that enter the body and helps prevent the common cold. It is also a powerful antioxidant and protects against damage induced by oxidative stress. Good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, green and red peppers, leafy greens, sweet and white potatoes. While vitamin C should be obtained from food in our diet, skewed dietary habits do not permit us to fully reap the benefits for immune health. Hence, it is recommended to take multivitamin supplements laden with vitamin C.
Vitamin B includes eight different vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12) and each one plays a vital role in maintaining good health. While individuals can consume most of these by following a healthy diet, others can benefit from taking vitamin B-complex supplement. Among these, vitamin B6 especially supports biochemical reactions in the immune system and is essential to maintain the body’s immunity.
Antioxidants help to fight damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. They are compounds that our bodies make naturally and can also be consumed through foods. Vitamin A is an important antioxidant that aids the body to fight off infections. It is usually found in dark green leafy vegetables, papaya, pumpkin, carrots and mangoes. Vitamin E is another potent antioxidant required for proper functioning of the immune system. It is found in almonds, pistachios, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia and sunflower seeds.
Protein is made up of amino acids that are used as fuel for the immune system. Protein is crucial for the building and repairing of body tissue and fighting viral and bacterial infections. Antibodies and immune system cells are heavily reliant on protein. Therefore, lack of proteins in our diet can lead to weakened immunity and a higher risk of developing disease. Hence, to meet our daily protein requirement, it is advisable to consume minimum of 0.8 gram of protein for every kg of body weight. However, the right quantity of proteins required by any individual could vary depending on their age, activity level, body size, health condition among others. Good food sources include chicken, pork, fish, eggs, lentils, beans, low-fat yogurt, milk, cheese, seeds and nuts.
Other important micronutrients required to boost the body’s immunity are zinc, iron, folate, and magnesium. And we as Indians are truly blessed to have some of the best miracle ingredients like turmeric, garlic, ginger, tulsi (Holy Basil), clove and cinnamon as part of our daily diet. Each of these ingredients is a powerhouse of micronutrients, for example, just turmeric contains manganese, iron, vitamin B6, fiber and copper.
Since there is currently no cure for Covid-19, each one of us must take extra precautions to boost our immunity in order to fight this pandemic. It is recommended to avoid foods rich in sugar, refined flour and saturated fats that impair the immune function. Pairing a healthy diet with necessary nutrition supplements and regular exercise do help to protect against varied diseases. Giving up smoking, alcohol and other addictive substances that have a direct correlation with weakening body defences and respiratory illnesses is the need of the hour. Also, following other good habits like getting adequate sleep and drinking enough water will naturally lower our chances of getting sick. Last but not the least, it is important to surround ourselves with positive news and stay calm during these testing times.
(The author is a Physician with over 24 years of experience in providing medical support to pharma & consumer health businesses. She is currently working as Director, Medical Services with Cipla Health Ltd. which has a host of wellness products including Maxirich which is a Daily Multivitamin supplement.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and Cipla Health Ltd., does not endorse any product in any way. Cipla Health Ltd., and the author disclaim all liabilities from use of the information. Readers should consult their doctor for the right use of medication to determine if it is right for their health.