Updated: May 15, 2020
In the first article I addressed why Africa needs to have its own measured and well thought through strategy to keep us safe, but one that takes into account the long- and short-term health, social and economic consequences of our actions.
If you missed it, you could read it on my website at https://www.drkasenene.com/single-post/2020/04/22/The-COVID-19-Pandemic-A-global-problem-impacting-geographical-areas-differently-that-requires-varied-responses.
Now, I would like to shift the focus to what each of us can do to keep our bodies healthy and specifically to keep our immunity strong so that we can have the best chance against COVID-19. Before I get into that, please remember that unselfish behaviour change by everyone, as our president said, is probably the best way to keep this virus at bay.That way mass lockdowns and restrictions will not be necessary, and we can all continue with our lives, albeit with caution.
Frankly, lockdowns are meant only to slow the spread and “flatten the curve”. We cannot stay in lockdown forever, even if it an effective measure. Eventually, we will all have to come out of our homes. When we do, unless we all change our behaviour, and more importantly keep our immunity strong, we shall always be more at risk for COVID 19, no matter if the risk is lower in Africa than elsewhere.
So, what can we do to keep ourselves healthy and our immunity strong?
I want to first highlight that those with a chronic or underlying problem like diabetes, chronic lung disease, obesity or heart disease are almost ten times more likely to die if they get infected. So we must try and help people overcome these chronic diseases and not only discuss boosting immunity. Why do we have so much chronic disease? Because of something called inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or damage to tissue. Why mention inflammation and not just the chronic disease? Well, it is inflammation in the lungs and blood vessels of pepole affected by COVID-19 that ultimately leads to death. The virus quickly devastates a body riddled with chronic inflammation.
A few things to consider then
1. Most inflammation is caused and worsened by the food we eat, nutrient deficiencies, toxins, stress, lack of physical activity and even the medication we take for chronic diseases. To overcome inflammation we shouldn’t only treat it but remove the cause of the inflammation.
2. We should also learn to improve the body’s natural resilience to fight disease and support the body to use its inbuilt healing mechanisms to heal itself. The body has a natural homeostatic mechanism that always seeks to restore balance. We should learn to support this mechanism with natural means ant with minimal use of pharmaceutical medications.
Even if you are elderly or have a chronic condition, the good news is that within about one to two weeks of changing your diet and lifestyle, you will see improvements to your health that will significantly reduce your risk for death from COVID-19. So, here are seven areas to focus on that can support our body’s immune response and to reduce inflammation at the same time.
1. Keep yourself well hydrated. Not having enough water in our system can lead to malfunction or dysfunction of cells, including those of our immune system. To ensure you are getting enough water, aim to drink at least two litres of water each day. Or more accurately estimate your bodies daily water requirements in litres by dividing your weight in Kg by 30. Children should also drink lots of water and aim to drink up to six glasses a day. Remember to drink throughout the day, not all at once. Drink 500mls (or two glasses) of water first thing in the morning, half an hour before meals and two hours after meals. Have an additional glass before bedtime. The best temperature of water is lukewarm. Take note too that our bodies function best in an alkaline environment. Once in awhile, add two teaspoons of sodium bicarbonate to your water to make it alkaline. Adding lemon to your water also helps to keep your water healthy.
2. Keep your respiratory system healthy.
Regularly gargling warm water with salt and apple cider vinegar can help to keep your respiratory tract healthy and more resilient to inflammation. Avoid white table salt and use healthier salt like Himalayan and sea salt. Do this twice a day in the morning and before bed. It will also have far-reaching benefits to your respiratory health in general.
3. Eat a healthy diet.
During this time, we need to eat a diet high in health-promoting and immune-boosting nutrients and low in high calorie and proinflammatory substances. Here are the foods we should avoid.
a. Sugar and foodstuffs high in sugar like soda, sweets, lollipops and ice cream. Sugar is a known immune suppressor. Within 30 minutes of taking sugar, the function of your cells that fight viruses (the lymphocytes) is significantly suppressed, and this effect can last for up to 5 hours
b. Food rich in refined carbohydrates including foods made from refined wheat like white bread, chapati, cake, mandazi, pasta and biscuits. Other foods made from refined grains like cornflakes, and posho should also be avoided.
c. Deep-fried foods such as chips, crisps, fried chicken and other such foods. Deep frying produces polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that cause significant inflammation in the body, something we don’t want in this time.
d. Processed meat like sausages bacon, ham and frankfurters
e. Alcohol. It has been shown that consuming large amounts of alcohol can have immediate suppressive effects on your immune system. The safe limit is a maximum of two drinks per day and no more than six drinks a week. I think we should half this in this time of COVID-19. A drink can be estimated as 350mls of beer, 150mls of wine and 50mls of whisky or spirits.
Well, what should we eat then? Eat a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, avocado, legumes with mild to moderate amounts of whole grains, high fibre starch and limited amounts of organic animal food. Aim to eat 50 percent of your food from vegetables and fruits and aim to eat animal foods no more than twice a week. Eating healthy food can be a subject for a whole book and if you would like to get a more in-depth understanding into eating healthy, be on the lookout for my book “Eat Your Way to Wellness” that will be out in a few weeks. However, regarding keeping our immune system strong, I encourage you to eat the following foods regularly,
a. Garlic and Onions. These bulb vegetables are high in sulphur compounds and have some of the most potent immune-boosting and anti-viral effects known. Use these as often as you can.
b. Cruciferous vegetables that include cabbage, sukuma wiki (collards), broccoli, kale, and cauliflower have compounds that are known to improve immunity, fight cancer and even dampen inflammation. Eat at least one of these daily.
c. Mushrooms, especially the cordyceps variety, are immune powerhouses. These are some of natures most powerful immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory foods.
d. Anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting herbs including turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, oregano and rosemary. These should be added to all your food and soups. I also encourage you to get a combination of ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon and blend them with lemon and honey for a health concentrate drink that you should have daily. Read more on how to make this.
e. Orange foods such as pumpkin, carrots, orange sweet potatoes that are high in immune-enhancing carotenoids.
f. Colourful fruits of all types. Aim to have four servings a day. A serving can be estimated using the size of your fist. Fruits high in vitamin C such as guavas, mangoes, oranges and citrus fruits
g. Seeds including chia, flax, pumpkin and sesame
h. Nuts including almonds, cashews and other edible nuts
f. Foods high in healthy fats like avocado
g. Green tea and in particular matcha green tea that is high in detoxifying and immune-boosting catechins. Please drink lots of matcha tea at this time.
If you can learn to make healthy drinks and smoothies, it may be easier to get many of these into your diet.
4. Know the nutrients that boost immune health.
Certain nutrients are very essential for our immunity. The most important are the minerals selenium and zinc, Vitamin C and D as well as Omega 3 fats. I urge you to take the time to learn the foods that are high in these substances. If you need to give your immune system a boost, and I encourage you to consider taking a supplement that can provide the following nutrients
a. Selenium – 100 – 200 micrograms a day (This is probably the most important of all for your immunity)
b. Vitamin C high dose – 2 to 4 grams a day
c. Zinc – 30 mg a day
d. Omega 3s – 1 to 2 grams a day
e. Vitamin D – about 5,000 i.u
Omega 3’s are also help to prevent clotting and are particularly important since COVID-19 is being shown to increase clotting in the blood. I also encourage you to get some supplements that have powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. The three I recommend are curcumin (the active ingredient of turmeric), Cannabidiol (CBD oil) which is one of the most powerful compounds from the hemp plant (a member of the cannabis family) and catechins from green tea and in particular matcha tea. Please get in touch if you need more guidance in this area.
5. Get regular physical activity
Being active is extremely important in keeping your immune system healthy. Aim to get at least two hours a week of moderate exercise. While exercise may not come naturally to all of us, we can all learn to get more and more active gradually. If doing longer sessions proves challenging, try breaking it down into smaller chunks of 7 to 10 minutes. Your mind may find that more manageable. Then increase by 3 to 5 minutes each week until you can make 20 to 30 minutes in one session. Keep it simple. Whether it is skipping, running on the spot or dancing what is essential is to get your heart rate up and your blood circulating more.
6. Get enough rest
Without adequate sleep, it is impossible to expect our immune system to function well. Sleep is the time when detoxification, healing and restoration are at their peak. Rest is one of the most important things for your immune health. In fact, some research showed that adults who slept less than six hours a night were four times more likely to get a cold than adults who slept more than seven hours. We should never sacrifice our sleep. Aim to get 7 to 8 hours each night and try to go to bed as early as you can. The earlier you sleep, the healthier you will be. The best time is usually before 10 pm.
7. Reduce anxiety and stress
This time can be one of high anxiety for many. Fear, worry and stress produce emotions that make our brains produce chemicals that can reduce our immunity significantly. On top this, the fear that COVID-19 could kill once infected can trigger what we call the nocebo effect which is a phenomenon where worry and fear increase your morbidity and mortality. We, therefore, need to find ways to stay calm, reduce anxiety and manage stress. Here are some suggestions
a. Stay informed to be aware of what is going on but avoid being overinformed. Many news stories and headlines can inappropriately catastrophise the situation and cause fear and anxiety. Try and avoid getting information about this pandemic more than once a day and avoid getting information from the news or social media.
b. Keep your focus on what you can control and not what you have no control over. When anxiety creeps in deliberately change your attention to what is important to you and what you can control
c. Practice gratitude. Saying and feeling thank you has a very powerful impact on your physical body. It will reduce the tension in your body but will also stimulate the release of feel-good, stress relief and immune-boosting chemicals. Even with all the uncertainty and the potential and existing challenges arising from this pandemic, there is still a lot to be grateful for. Take 5 minutes twice daily, close your eyes and feel the gratitude for all that is well, including still being alive.
d. Practice deep breathing. Breathing is the only system that can be controlled voluntarily by your conscious choice as well as involuntarily by the subconscious mind. Breathing is, therefore, the bridge between body and mind. When you see yourself, or someone else unintentionally take a deep breath, that is a message from the body to the mind to calm down. If we learn to voluntarily take deep breaths we can influence our mind to remain calm while removing tension from the body. Aim to take 15 deep breaths twice daily. First thing in the morning and last thing before bed. Keep this simple. One way to do this is to lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and hands on your belly. Take a long deep breath in through the nose to the count of 5, hold the breath to the count of 3, and let out a long deep breath through the mouth or nose to the count of 5. As you inhale, feel your belly expand into your hands and as you exhale feel your belly drop back towards the floor. Or follow any breathing technique you know. Deep breathing also greatly enhances our immune system.
If we follow these guidelines, I am pretty sure we will see a significant improvement in our health and will enhance our bodies immune system. We may not have much control over what everyone else does but we do have a lot of power and choice over our actions. People infected with the COVID-19 virus experience anywhere from mild to extreme symptoms. And an essential factor that will determine this will be your immune response to the virus.
In the third part of this series, I focus on answering such questions that a source of debate and contention including vaccines and 5G. I hope you will find it useful too. Don’t miss my articles. Sign up for my newsletter at https://www.drkasenene.com/newsletter-sign-up.