We at Circee Health strive daily to prevent and reverse diseaseboth chronic and, in more recent times, acute infectious disease. With the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the country in its second wave and threatening a third wave with newly discovered variants, this prevention aspect has taken a new, more urgent meaning.
Of course, the simplest first step in preventing COVID-19 is to get your vaccination ASAP. Not only will you protect yourself, but you will protect others around you, especially those who may not be able to be vaccinated (children, those with certain medical conditions). I urge you to make this extremely important and socially responsible decision, as multiple scientific studies have supported the efficacy and safety of these vaccinations. For, without universal vaccination, the goal of herd immunity becomes a distant dream.
Now that we’ve cleared the air regarding vaccination, let’s talk about some simple changes that have been proven by medical researchers to prevent infectious diseases. In fact, the most exciting study that we’ve come across was in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). This study looked at over 3000 front line medical workers and concluded that those who followed a plant-based diet (no meat, no dairy, no eggs) had an over 70% lesser chance of serious illness related to COVID-19. The best part– no special pills or exercises required!
This leads me to another very important topic- the so-called ‘gut-lung-brain axis’. What in the world is this? Essentially, growing evidence indicates that there is actually an ongoing conversation between gut microbiota (‘good bacteria’), the brain and the lungs. This conversation maintains host homeostasis (a fancy way of saying good balance within us) and prevents disease development. When we disturb this delicate balance, it allows your body to become more vulnerable to infection. In fact, scientists have proposed that this could be a reason for COVID-19’s predisposition to attack the elderly and those with underlying chronic disease, as these people are often prone to abnormal and less diverse gut bacteria (measured via stool samples).
Plant-Based Diet – So, how can you keep your intestines (and therefore, your lungs) happy and strong, and ready to fight? I’ll repeat what the BMJ study proved- eat a whole food (not processed), plantbased diet. Even if you gradually head in this direction, it will make a world of difference. Research further shows that oil (especially from animals- butter, cheese, and fat in meat) may impair white blood cell function and that these high-fat diets also alter the gut microbiota. There is a large set of data that supports the fact that meat and dairy products (from animals) actually cause the gut to be ‘leaky’ and thus, your body’s in-built armour gets “holes”. So, work towards patching up those holes, and grab your fruits and veggies! For good measure, start taking a daily probiotic supplementjust to keep your gut bacteria healthy and well-stocked. Any probiotic will do, as long as it is ‘local’ (not imported)!
Vitamin D – In addition to adopting a healthier diet, were commend supplementing your diet with these specific foods and vitamins . T h e s e boost your immune system naturally. The most-studied vitamin is vitamin D. Since it is difficult, under lockdown, to be outside and naturally absorb the sun’s vitamin D- it is best to get it from your diet. Some great sources of vitamin D include plant-based milk (soya, almond, rice, oat), fortified muesli, mushrooms, tofu, and orange juice. Vitamin C is also an excellent immune booster- so increase your intake of citrus fruits (mosumbi, lemon/lime, pomelo), cauliflower, broccoli, capsicum (shimla mirchi), spinach, cabbage, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes. Zinc is another mineral that can help boost white blood cells, specifically in COVID-19- sources include all types of nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, all types of beans, and lentils. Beta-carotene (which is then converted into vitamin A in the human body) also works to improve your immune system- look for carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, papaya, and everyone’s favourite- mango!
Sleep – Of course, you can get any of these supplements in pill form- but we prefer the natural state, as your body absorbs it better! And finally- to tie these foods altogether, try to increase your sleep quality and quantity. Multiple studies have shown that adequate sleep also strengthens your body and wards off infections. One study even found that those who sleep less than 5 hours a night were much more susceptible to the common cold (and therefore, other viruses of the respiratory tract). How can you improve your sleep? I’ll talk about the exercise portion shortly, but it has also been proven that a high fibre diet results in much longer and restful sleep. Where do you get fibre from? You guessed it- fruits, veggies and beans/lentils!
Exercise – To round everything up, I wouldn’t be a thorough doctor if I didn’t also discuss the role of exercise in keeping your immune system fit and fab. Since we’re focusing on COVID-19 specifically, it is very important to focus on lung and cardiovascular exercise. Obvious exercises to mention include jogging, brisk walking, biking, and calisthenics. We recommend exercising 30-45 minutes, 3-4 days a week. Studies have also shown that yoga, meditation and pranayam are excellent for keeping your lungs open and your respiratory cilia (tiny hairs in your airway) moving. These kick out any invaders that might try to get in. Regular exercise also keeps a steady supply of oxygen to your brain, and therefore a regular influx of those ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin and oxytocin. Researchers have found that those with anxiety and depression are also much more susceptible to COVID-19 and other viral infections. So, get up, move more in any way you can, and eat more plants- keep your lungs, gut, heart and mind happy, healthy and ready to defend!
About the Author
Dr. Jennifer Prabhu, Co-Founder & CEO, Circee Health Pvt. Ltd. MD, MT (ASCP), FAAP, FACP
Double-boarded doctor in Internal Medicine and in Pediatrics. Licensed to practice in the U.S.A. and India. Circee Health has been her dream project- to bring a remarkable change in the approach to medicine through both disease prevention and reversal, both in India and worldwide. She has extensive experience in the specialities of Lifestyle Medicine, Infectious Disease and Preventative Medicine. Dr. Jennifer also hopes to also impart her love of plant-based cooking and baking to her patients.
Born in Durham, North Carolina and raised in Columbia, Maryland, Dr. Jennifer attained her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 2008 and completed her training in Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Rainbow Babies Hospital in Cleveland and University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.