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Boost immunity the natural way

To boost the body’s innate active immunity to stave off infections and survive pandemics, avoid vitamin/mineral pills and include natural immunity-boosting foods in your family’s diet instead

Boost immunity

Over the past several millennia, homo sapiens have survived pandemics, plagues, and infectious diseases precipitated by deadly viruses and pathogens. During these pandemics, some people died, others became sick and recovered, while few beat the infection without severe symptoms. This difference in health outcomes depends on the body’s innate ability to fight infection.

When a disease-inducing organism enters the body, an army of white blood cells (WBC) attacks the invader. They overwhelm and kill invader viruses and bacteria, while B (bone marrow or bursa-derived) and T (thymus) cells produce immunoglobulin antibodies.

An infant is born with protective immunity as immunoglobulins pass from mothers to the foetus in the placenta. An infant’s protective immunity is fortifed against diseases to which her mother has developed immunity because she contracted the disease and survived, naturally or through vaccination. This passive immunity mediated by immunoglobulins lasts for about six-nine months after birth. It is boosted by breastfeeding. Subsequently, as an infant enters into early childhood she becomes more susceptible to diseases and viruses.

Immunoglobulins can also be transfused to provide passive immunity, but they have an even shorter life span. On the other hand active immunity lasts a lifetime. It can be acquired naturally as a result of contracting infection or artificially with vaccinations and immunization. These are injections or oral solutions containing small doses of active, weakened or dead organisms. Once the body’s own cells produce immunity, memory of the previous attack (natural or artificial) is ingrained. It remembers the attack by the disease-causing bacteria or virus and responds vigorously to a second invasion. It produces immunoglobulins which attack and kill the invader organism.

Here are some ways to boost the body’s innate active immunity to stave off infections and survive pandemics:

  •  Exercise regularly. It increases the heart rate and circulation, pumping blood through dilated vessels and supplying an army of WBC and immunoglobulins to the body.
  • People with a healthy weight BMI 23-25 (weight in kilograms divided by height in meter squared) are less prone to immunity-suppressing lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
  • Abjure alcohol and tobacco.
  • Balanced diets are important for boosting immunity. Include 4-6 helpings of fruits and vegetables and 10 nuts such as almonds which are rich in antioxidants and micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals) in your daily diet.
  • Dr. Gita MathaiPotent immunity-boosting foods include curry leaves, papaya, broccoli, spinach, capsicum and citrus fruits. Spices such as pepper and turmeric and additives like garlic and ginger also boost immunity. Probiotics are naturally present in curd and other home-made fermented food and ward off infections.

The pharma industry has attempted to extract and package immunity-boosting micronutrients into capsules and supplements. But it’s unclear how much of the active ingredients is destroyed in the manufacturing process. My advice: avoid vitamin/mineral pills and include natural immunity-boosting foods in your family’s diet instead.

(Dr. Gita Mathai is a well-known Vellore-based paediatrician and author of Staying Healthy in Modern India)

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