The Oxford Dictionary definition of boost is to “help or encourage (something) to increase or improve”.
Having been a nutritionist for many years and an avid researcher on the role diet plays on aspects of our health like the immune system, I personally disagree with the statement, “You cannot boost your immune system through diet.”
But since it is a medical issue, it is essential to ask a medical doctor, so I reached out to my friend Asst Prof Patana Teng-umnuay MD PhD, who is one of the most sought-after doctors in Asia and Chief Executive Officer of HEAT (Health Education Academics Thailand). What also sets Dr Patana apart is he practices what he preaches: health.
I asked Dr Patana his thoughts on what the Canadian dieticians’ association said, along with questions about how to be healthy during this pandemic, and here are his responses.
Can you boost your immune system through diet?
I disagree with the statement that we cannot enhance our immune response with diet. Since our regular diets nowadays are micronutrients depleted for many reasons, it is very important that we need to get knowledge about food that can boost our immunity or food that doesn’t lower our immunity (for example sugar).
Alteration of the immunity is not only responsible for infectious diseases but also chronic diseases such as autoimmune diseases and cancer. There are many scientific articles related to food and immunity. For example, we know that vitamin C is very important for interferon production. So, everybody needs to know that fresh green vegetables and fruits contain vitamin C. However, during the time of pandemic, when some people lock themselves at home and eating only processed and frozen food, taking vitamin C supplement could be a better alternative.
Numbers suggest that the elderly and those with chronic diseases are most at risk of hospitalisation due to COVID 19. What can these groups do to reduce this risk?
Young people and old people with chronic diseases have the same chance of getting infection; however, young and healthy people who get infected may not have symptoms or have mild symptoms while older people can die from infection. But we know that age is not about numbers. I believe that I am much healthier than many younger people, including my younger self. Diet, exercise, and stress reduction is always the key.
What are your general recommendations during this Pandemic for everyone?
- Continue eating fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. We can wash them with baking soda or vinegar.
- Walking in the sun but keep distancing from others. Exercise and sunshine boost immunity.
- Drinking alkaline water such as mineral water. The study has shown that coronavirus cannot fuse and enter the cell at a pH above 7.0. The perfect pH that the virus can enter our body is 5.5-6.0, and that is the pH of reverse-osmosis water that is mostly sold in Phuket. Alcohol beverages will have a pH around 4.0-5.0 and can help viruses entering the cell as well. However, the pH of vinegar is 3.0 and that will kill the virus, so I don’t mind if someone wants to gargle with vinegar, though I don’t think it is practical.
- Drinking more green tea. A few studies show that green tea may prevent influenza from entering the cell. There are two countries with the highest numbers of elderly people [affected by COVID-19], Italy and Japan. But while the death rate in Italy is one of the highest, Japan’s death rate remains low. While effective social distancing in Japan could be the explanation, I cannot help thinking that while Japanese drink a lot of green tea that is an alkaline drink, but Italians drink coffee that has a pH around 5.0!
- I advise everyone to take vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc during the time of the pandemic. There are many lines of evidence that vitamin D boosts our immunity against influenza. So far, everyone who follows my advice and takes these three vitamins have not yet been infected (or they might have been infected with no symptoms). I have one friend who got infected with COVID, and he is one of those who refuse to take supplements.
So the critical take-home I see from Dr Patana is that we are all at risk of hospitalisation from the coronavirus if we don’t take control of our health. This includes plenty of clean, nutrient-dense foods, proper hydration from green tea and mineral-rich water, exercise, sunshine, sleep and stress management.
I wish to thank Dr Patana for his time and input. If you would like to learn more about his work, and more great advice, please check out the HEAT Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/heatantiagingthailand/
Craig Burton (BSc, NASM, CISSN) is a practicing Clinical and Sports Nutritionist with over 20 years’ experience as a health practitioner. He holds an array of qualifications in nutrition, as well as in health, fitness, mental and lifestyle coaching. To find out more about Craig or contact him go to www.craigburtoncoaching.com