The global COVID-19 outbreak is alarming for many reasons. No one is immune from the virus and the tragedy continues to unfold. Some people die from coronavirus, and others who are infected don’t even show symptoms. But scientists still don’t know why nor do experts have a consensus on why this novel virus affects people differently.
While it’s known that older people and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are most at risk, there could be hidden genetic reasons why some young, previously healthy people are also dying. Against this background, the time is ripe for international health agencies and medical experts to talk about prevention of COVID-19 beyond the handful of recommendations— social distance, hand sanitising coughing/sneezing etiquette, and wearing a mask in public.
Emphasis on healthy eating habits to boost the immune system that can help fight off infection faster should be given equal priority just like other coronavirus containment measures.
Very rarely, if ever at all, do we hear about human immune systems. The only time we hear about this critical life system is when we are told that no one is immune. It’s a disservice to humanity not to talk at all about the role our immune systems play in times such as these.
There are also steps we can all take to give our bodies the best chance of making it through a COVID-19 infection should any of us happen to be exposed to the virus. This is what our immune systems were built for and there are safe, inexpensive ways to make sure this critical system is working properly and in tip-top shape. And the beauty of it is that it’s not about expensive supplements or pharmaceuticals. It’s about food.
Kenya’s Dawa (medicine) cocktail is potent medicine for common cold, and whose ingredients are widely used by many communities to cure various ailments. The combination is not random and not just about deliciousness either. The vitamin C of the lemon helps boost the immune system while the ginger offers powerful anti-inflammatory properties. While honey can help fight illnesses, diarrhea and (bonus) and is great at relieving cold symptoms such as coughs. Even the water of a dawa is important! Water is essential to a well-functioning immune system as it flushes toxins from our bodies.
This is one common, safe, and inexpensive drink in Kenya and just one of the many things we can be taking to help us keep our immune systems in top form. There are other foods we can consider to keep our immune system working properly – garlic, turmeric, manage (the African nightshade), baobab, capsicum, broccoli, propolis, and mala, etc. These foods and many others contain essential vitamins and minerals to help us fight infections, reduce inflammation, and keep our other body systems running smoothly too.
At TICAH, Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health, we have been working on the importance of food for health for over a decade. Based on our success, we can bring the food-health conversation to a national level, especially amid the rising number of coronavirus infection cases.
For years, we have been working with HIV positive peer support groups in various informal settlements in Nairobi to talk about the role food plays on health, on immune systems, and general wellness. We have documented evidence of how a strong gut is essential to the immune system, how drinking adequate amounts of clean water is important, how dark green leafy vegetables and other fruits and vegetables are important, how consciousness of what we are putting into our systems is related to how it will function.
Working with these groups and sharing information through our publications, “Using Our Traditions: A Herbal and Nutritional Guide for Kenyan Families,” we’ve seen people thrive once they pay attention to what they eat. And specifically, for those who are HIV positive, we’ve seen people regain health, be able to tolerate their medication better, and have fewer side effects or opportunistic infections. This is the power of food and intention.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, WHO and CDC should place premiums on eating right as the best shot to surviving this crisis, especially amongst the asymptomatically infected individuals. Since there are no cures yet for this virus, we have a shot at improving our health outcomes by eating right, and this, just like other measures like hand-washing should be a priority from the highest levels possible.
Ms. Maina is the Executive Director of Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH)