Individual responsibility to battle Corona

Dr Gracedalyne Rose Shylla Passah, Priya Longjam, Shimpam Ngashangva, Rinchuiphi Rino *



In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and coupled with the return of the fellow citizen from different parts of the country, it is now an individual responsibility to ensure one does not contract it. Until the vaccine for the corona virus is created, the best bet is to boost our immunity which is a complex system

Immune system

In its simplest term, immune system is the body's defense against infections with the main function of fighting disease-causing germs (pathogens) like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi and to remove them from the body.

Clinically speaking, the immune system is the amalgamation of a multitude of different systems, organs, cells, proteins and so on and has several factors affecting the efficacy of its performance. It is complex as it is not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. Because of this complexity and no clear evidences on how to boost immunity, one can only think of supporting to strengthen it.

Ways to strengthen our immune system

Accepting the new normal is the way forward. With many aspects not in our control, choosing a healthy lifestyle is. One must opt for it and this is the natural way to strengthen our immunity.

What includes in this are:
practicing basic hygienic habits,
getting ample amount of quality sleep,
performing exercise regularly and maintaining emotional and mental health,
consuming a balanced diet and more.

In this, consuming a balanced diet is perhaps the most important but others are interrelated.

Consuming a balance diet

The thumb rule is to aim for a balanced meal with minimally processed foods. It is necessary to have a diverse range of foods that can provide all the essential nutrients. "MY-PLATE-FOR-THE-DAY" (available online at: is one of the simplest visual aid that provide guidance for a balanced diet.

It depicts eight different kinds of foods to be consumed in a day by an individual and it is to focus on the variety and amount. The division of the plate signifies the amount. These food groups provide us the nutrients namely: Carbohydrate, protein, fats (macronutrients), vitamins and minerals (micronutrients). These nutrients have their respective functions to build the body.

If one were to place all the foods that are to be consumed in a day in a plate, half the plate should be occupied with vegetables and fruits. They provide vitamins and minerals. These nutrients have a protective, regulatory and body maintaining function. Savor the flavor of seasonal fruits and vegetables and choose the ones rich in color.

Vary the vegetables by consuming them raw (wash well) or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. One can choose from dark-green vegetables, roots and tubers and other vegetables. Focus on seasonal fruits as well, especially whole fruits and limit juicing them.

Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried instead of juice. Three fourth of the plate must be filled with cereals and millets. They provide carbohydrate and it provides energy. Common examples are rice, wheat, millets, corn and oats. It is ideal to opt for whole grains rather than refine counterparts.

The remaining one fourth is shared among pulses, eggs and non-vegetarian items (provide protein which aids in body building and repairing) in a bigger share while nuts and oilseeds and fats and oils is further subdivided into smaller slots. The protein sources include meat, poultry, seafood, pulses, beans and peas, eggs, milk products (paneer), nuts and seeds.

One can vary the protein routine throughout the week. For the non-vegetarian sources, look/opt for lean meat. Trim or drain fat from meat and remove poultry skin. The vegetarians must include different kinds of pulses and can vary their method of cooking. The nuts and oilseeds are rich in the micro-nutrients while fats and oils are needed for the energy. The importance of milk and milk product is also seen in the visual aid.

Besides the main nutrient, one has to drink ample amount of liquid water and other cold and hot beverages. Make better beverage choices as many beverages contain added sugars and offer little or no nutrients, while others may provide nutrients but too many calories.


Under certain conditions, when the immune system is compromised, one is more inclined to infections; hence, the immune booster nutrients which are mainly vitamins and minerals and specifically are Vitamins A, E and D - the three fat soluble vitamins; C & B vitamins, and minerals such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper etc. These are to be consumed in additional to the other macronutrients.

The next concept in nutrition with special reference to immune boosting is 'Functional Food' which is defined as "foods or dietary components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic traditional nutrition."

Food containing phytonutrients (common examples are curcumin, pepperine, allicin, gingerol, lycopene), probiotic, prebiotic, antioxidant rich foods and food pigments which gives colour to the food item.

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytonutrients that are primarily available in fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts, and whole grains play crucial role in several metabolic pathways that aid in optimal immune function.


o Ensure substantial servings of fresh fruits and vegetables (as much as 450 to 500gm per day per person) and prefer whole grains. These can be easily drawn from what is locally produced, seasonal, available and accessible.

o Limit consumption of highly processed foods, avoid fruit juices & carbonated drinks - these are high in fat, salt and sugar, and poor in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients)

o Consuming meat, poultry and eggs is not risky, but hand wash hygiene must be followed after handling raw meat, eggs or even vegetables. Thoroughly cooked meat/ poultry may be included in moderation.

o Avoid too much fat (not more than 30 gm/person/day-preferably more than 2 varieties of oils), salt (not more than 5gm/person/day), and sugar is just calories with no nutrients, hence, keep it to bare minimum

o Maintain ideal body weight. Being underweight or overweight/obese impairs immunity and increases inflammation

o Moderate physical activity/yoga will reduce stress and build immunity

o Keep your body hydrated with adequate water intake for good immune response to any infection

o Smoking & alcohol adversely affect immunity and increase the risk and severity of infections, hence must be minimal or avoided.

It is highly recommended to opt from a range of seasonal traditional food. Our state is blessed with a plethora of wild edibles herbs, fruits and vegetables and seeds. Their nutrient composition is better or at par with the other conventional food items. Some plants are used for their unique healing properties by the traditional healers and have scientific evidences.


o Papaya, guava, apple, grapes, mango, watermelon and many other fruits are rich in beta carotene (precursor of Vitamin A), Vitamin C, Potassium, B vitamins and folate which help in overall maintenance of health and immunity

o Plums: plums are loaded with an assortment of health promoting properties (anti oxidant, minerals, and vitamins).

o Raspberries, Ceylon olives, Bay berries, fig, peaches are rich source of vitamin C. These fruits are also a rich source of flavanoids and phenolic compounds which stimulates the immune system and work against invading bacterial and fungal agents. They are rich in immune boosting nutrients and antioxidants.

o Citrus fruits like pomelo, oranges, tangerines, lemons, sweet lime, goose berries, and red bell pepper are good source of Vitamin C. It is full of antioxidant that may do wonders to strengthen immunity. Gooseberry is not only brimming with vitamin C that naturally boosts immunity but the beta carotene present plays a vital role in fighting free radical activity that can take a toll on the immunity.

o Tree tomato and cherry tomato are rich source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

o GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES such as bok choy, broadleaf, pennywort, chayote leaves, pumpkin leaves, mustard leaves, and chameleon leaves are rich sources of beta carotene (precursor of Vitamin A), vitamins C and E, anti-oxidants and fibre.

Common wild vegetables like water dropwort (komprek), chameleon plant, pennywort (peruk), wild ispaghula (yempat) and perennial buckwheat are rich sources of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B complex and other minerals such as potassium, iron and manganese.

Colocasia: a high level of vitamin A, vitamin C, and various other phenolic antioxidant found in taro roots, rhizome and leaves boost our immune system.

Chayote (squash): chayote is an excellent source of vitamin C which is well known for its immune system benefits.

o All seasonal vegetables and spices such as green beans, leeks, chives, lemon basil, broccoli, corn, roselle, sponge gourd, bottle gourd, fox nut (thangjing), ladies finger, cucumber, garlic ginger, onion, cilantro, bitter eggplant, pea eggplant, perilla seeds, black sesame seeds, mustard seeds, pumpkin seeds are rich sources of multiple micronutrients and antioxidants that aid in immune function, regulate gut microbiota and reduce inflammation.

o Every part of banana is packed with nutrition and health benefits.

Banana fruit: bananas are respectable source of vitamin C. It also contains rich amount of vitamin B6 and B12, as well as magnesium and potassium, which can aid our immune system, assist from red blood cells, ensure a well functioning nervous system and help protein metabolism.

Banana plant pseudo stem: The juice of the banana stem helps in flushing out toxins from the body. It is one of the most effective ways to cleanse the system from ailments.

Banana blossom (Musaceae): it represents a valuable source of potassium, vitamin A, Vitamin E, minerals, flavonoids, essential and non essential aminio acid, tannins and steroids. It is a good source of antioxidant.

o Curd, fermented bamboo shoot (shoibum), fermented soybean (hawaijar) are rich source of many nutrients, improves gut health by regulating gut bacteria; aids immune function and reduces inflammation

o Legumes (fava beans, winged beans, lima beans, chickpea, soybeans, kidney beans, mung beans, green gram, black gram, lentils, urad dal (sagol hawai) and peas) provide many nutrients such as protein, fiber, iron and Zinc.

o Millets are good sources of multiple micronutrients and fibre( finger millets, barnyard millets, job's tear)

o Flesh foods provide many nutrients including iron, zinc and essential amino acids

o Fish are rich sources of protein, vitamin A, Vitamin E and essential fatty acids

It is prudent to obtain these nutrients through a good balanced diet. But two important points are to be noted firstly, though deficiency of one or more of these nutrients can increase the frequency and severity of infections, supplementation of nutrients among healthy (not deficient) population does not confer any additional benefit; secondly, some of these nutrients in excess can increase susceptibility to infections. Therefore, a balanced diet is the key!

In conclusion, there is no single mantra or magic bullet or vitamin or specific herb or supplements or nutraceuticals that gives one a full-proof immune boost. It is complex and more study may be conducted. Adapting a healthy lifestyle is one way to support and boost the immune system.

* Dr Gracedalyne Rose Shylla Passah, Priya Longjam, Shimpam Ngashangva, Rinchuiphi Rino wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The authors are the faculty and PG students from the Department of Allied Health Sciences of Martin Luther Christian University, Shillong, Meghalaya.
This article was posted on June 27, 2020.

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