Reducing stress, improving sleep habits, healthy balanced diet will enhance the immunity

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Managing COVID19
Reducing stress, improving sleep habits,
healthy balanced diet will enhance the immunity
Lt. Gen (Retd). Prof. Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

As Covid19 has become a pandemic. It is spreading like wild fire. The World is in Panic. There is enormous morbidity and significant mortality. There is turmoil all over the world. There is economic crises, danger of economic meltdown. Low/middle income countries are facing catastrophic situation. Health systems are under severe strain. There is severe socio-economic strain-severely affecting low middle income countries.

Immune system plays very important role in tackling the onslaught of the virus. There is no vaccine for the prevention-no drugs known to be effective against the virus. Individuals with weak immune system fall easy victims to the virus- like old people particularly having diseases and the malnourished individuals. The healthier children and the younger healthier people fare better. Countries like Pakistan which have poor health facilities can fare badly.


Lt. Gen. (R) Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

There is lot of attention being paid to strengthen the immune system. A lot of exploitation is being done by promoting commercially many products, herbs etc., without having trials of toxicity; effectiveness etc. Also promoting mega doses of vitamins like vit C 1500 mg daily robbing not only people’s health but also meagre financial resources. It is prudent to use natural known effective methods i.e. lifestyle measures such as diet, sleep, reducing stress etc. It is more important for the low income countries.

The immune system is a complex network of cells organs and tissues that work in tandem to protect the body from infection and other disease agents. While genetics play a role. Studies on twins show that the strength of the immune system is largely determined by non-inherited factors, the germs exposed to over life time, as well as life style measures physical and mental all play a role in strengthening of immune responses, defending the body. There is no magic pill or specific food guaranteed to bolster the immune system and protect from this coronavirus but there are real ways to give the immune system the best chance to do its job.


Lower your stress: Worries about the virus, the stock market and the general disruption of life particularly the daily wage earners, poverty, poor living and poor working and over working conditions increase the stress levels. It is also known that stress makes one more susceptible to respiratory diseases.

In a series of remarkable studies over 20 yrs. at Carnegie Mellon University, volunteers were exposed to the cold viruses and then quarantined for observation. The researchers found that people who reported less stress in their lives were less likely to develop cold symptoms. Another series of studies at Ohio State University found that marital conflict is especially taxing to the system. Learning techniques for managing stress like controlled breathing, meditation, treating anxieties, depression, improving working conditions, socio economics etc. help immune system to strengthen.

Improve sleep habit: A healthy immune system can fight off infections. A sleep deprived immune system does not work as well. In one study researchers found 164 men and women willing to be exposed to the cold virus. Not everyone got sick but the ones who regularly slept less than six hours at night were 4.2 times as likely to catch the cold as those who got more than several hours of sleep (better 7 to 8 hrs. children 9 hrs.). Risk was higher in all those who slept less than five hours at night. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea should be treated to reduce stress. Quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, inter personal relationships and socioeconomic factors. Research shows that spending time in nature is beneficial for our physical and mental health as is exercise, to improve the immune system.

Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to mental health but also to physical health especially to the immune system. Keep connected to people during quarantine period through digital means. Volunteering: studies have found that benefits of volunteering are just as great as for those helped. Studies have found social isolation is more damaging to health than consuming 15 cigarettes a day, over consumption of alcohol, obesity, lack of exercise etc.


DIET: A healthier diet and exercise are important to maintain a strong immune system. However no single food or natural remedy have been proved to bolster a person’s immune system or ward off disease but that has not stopped people from making specious claims under the epidemic circumstances, exploiters are using every means to cheat/rob the people. A recipe circulating on Social media that boiled garlic water helps. In India Hinduvata proponents are recommending drinking cow’s urine. Other common foods touted for their immune strengthening properties are ginger, citrus fruits, turmeric, oregano oil, bone broth etc. There are small studies that suggest a benefit due to some these foods but strong evidence is lacking. Zinc supplements and lozenges are also a popular remedy for fighting off colds and respiratory illness. Some studies have found zinc lozenges which may reduce the duration of the cold by about a day and may reduce the number of upper respiratory infections in children but data on Zinc is mixed. “There are a lot of products that tout immune boosting properties but none of these have been medically proven to work” said Dr Krysina Woods- hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infections prevention at Mount Sanai West. There are people who anecdotally say “I felt great after I took whatever, that may be true but there is no evidence to support that”.

The bottom line is you enjoy foods touted as immune boosters, there is no harm in eating them as a part of a balanced diet. Just be sure that you do not neglect proven health advice- like washing your hands and not touching your face- when it comes to protecting yourself from viral disease. A balanced diet should consist of whole grains, vegetables/fruits, nuts/seeds, legumes, lentils, beans, monosaturated, polysaturated vegetable fats. Low fat dairy, fish preferably oily, chicken, very low refined sugar as high quantity of sugar have given rise to obesity more lethal than gun powder. Diet should be low in saturated oils, low in red meat, salt. It should be about 90% plant based, 10% animal based- plant based food are also good for planet, climate, less ozone gases, less heat, less use of water.

Food should be rich source of vitamins, minerals, fibers. Supplements are low in fibre. Fibre is essential for health mico bone. Vitamins supplements also contain chemicals which are toxic in large quantities after prolonged use- Furthermore vitamins in large doses also create serious toxicities. These are also very expensive. However if food cannot be taken then supplements containing proper constituents may be taken for short periods.

Vitamins: Vit A is an immunity booster. Rich sources of Vit A are eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, oranges, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, melon, water melon, papaya, guava and salmon mackerel fish.

Vitamin C: Immunity booster: Best sources are oranges, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, bell pepper, strawberries, grapefruits, kale etc.

Vitamin D: Sources are quite limited such as salmon, cod liver oil, egg yolks, mushrooms, fortified food. It can be obtained by exposing body to Sun rays for 20 mins from 10 AM to 4 PM daily.

Vitamin B6: Is essentially needed for biochemical reactions of the immune system present in chicken, salmon, green veges etc.

Vitamin E: Hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, almond and peanuts are good sources.

Zinc enhances immunity. Best sources are sea food, chickpeas eggs, pumpkins, oysters, legumes and sunflower seeds.

Arts: like music, singing, playing instruments, dancing, painting, sculpting etc. boost the immune system.

Meditation: Thinking positively, sports, games, gardening, hobbies etc. strengthen the immune system

Exercises: Aerobics, muscle strengthening, stretching, and relaxation help a lot. Lift weights, lift mood.

Of course preventive measures like testing/ detection of cases, isolation/quarantine/ social distancing, proper hand washing, sanitizers, hygienic measures, symptomatic treatment and intensive care treatment for severe cases should be done.

In conclusion Coronavirus (Covid 19) is very aggressive and infectious. Defense lies in healthy body with robust immunological system. It depends on good diet, good quality and quantity sleep, exercise, exposure to nature, social cohesion, avoiding isolation, helping others getting together to face a common enemy.

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