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The COVID-19 pandemic has in addition to instilling habits of hygiene and revolutionizing the mode of human interaction, also made society aware of a critical aspect, concentration upon which was solely restricted to the periphery before the pandemic struck – immunity. This feature of enlightenment is corroborated by an increased usage of supplements among the global populace since the onset of COVID-19. For example, 29% of Americans are consuming more supplements at the time of this review as compared to the pre-pandemic period. Nutritional supplements in the form of tasty gummies and strips, powders, blends, and teas are riding the wave in India.
There has been a proliferation of books – on anticipated lines – ranging from the fantastical to the fictitious, offering magical solutions to not just enhance immunity but also in combating the corona virus itself. A refreshing and welcome exception to this literary bandwagon is acclaimed nutritionist, Kavita Devgan’s unexaggerated work, “The Immunity Diet”. Bereft of false promises, the book balances rationale with rigour as it proposes to aid its readers in inculcating dietary habits that facilitate an improved immunity.
There is an appreciable ‘order’ to the book. Devgan begins by providing a brief overview about the innate and the specialized adaptive immune system that help the body to ward off infections. This is succeeded by a concise and compelling description of the largest immune cells in the body, macrophages that greedily lap up dead cells, kill living enemies, coordinate defence mechanisms and help heal wounds. When feeling intimidated, these macrophages issue clarion calls for their counterparts called neutrophils, which assist them in hunting for bacteria.
The book is a hearty blend of dietary recommendations and ‘lifestyle fixes’. Thus the author makes it crystal clear that building up immunity is not something that can be delivered on a platter – literally. For example, Devgan advises her readers to bask in sunlight on a daily basis to gain the best of vitamin D. Innumerable cells in the body contain vitamin D receptors and activating enzymes on their surface. Vitamin D helps strengthen the function of immune cells such as T-cells and macrophages. For people constrained by physical constraints and other exigencies, Devgan suggests assimilating vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplements for better absorption.
Every chapter in the book is systematically divided into compartments. The first segment deals with the various properties of the edible product or the lifestyle fix itself. The second segment then dovetails such efficacy with its enhanced benevolence on immunity itself. The chapter finally concludes with a “fun fact”. For instance while elaborating on the advantages of fibre, Devgan illuminates her readers about Beta-glucan, a form of soluble dietary fibre that is strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels and boosting heart health. She then proceeds to link this with immunity by writing about how soluble fibre leads to increased production of an anti-inflammatory protein called interleukin-4 which expedites recovery from infections. Finally there is the fun fact bit which warns that excessive flatulence is a sign of lack of good bacteria in the gut!
The book is a judicious mixture of the conventional and the lateral. Along with the usual immunity boosting suspects such as garlic, spices, etc. Devgan also educates her readers about concepts such as fasting & autophagy and consumption of tryptophan or ‘sleeper foods’ that play a major but muted role in strengthening immunity. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps our body produce sleep-inducing chemicals like serotonin and melatonin. Dairy products such as cottage cheese, cheese, milk, Soy products such as soy milk, tofu, soybean nuts; Whole grains such as bajra, barley, millets are all foods that are rich in tryptophan.
Fasting is yet another underappreciated technique that has a tremendous potential to boost immunity. According to Devgan, some of the apparent benefits of fasting include weight loss, reversal of ageing, improved fitness, superior cognitive abilities, better lipid profile and lowered blood sugar levels. But the biggest benefit of fasting is something that is invisible to the naked eye. Fasting activates autophagy in the body. This is a process that represents cellular pruning or a recycling of old, damaged and unwanted cells, thereby leading to the production of new cells that are superior in function.
Some of the most interesting chapters are those dealing with essential minerals such as Selenium, Magnesium, and Zinc. Similarly the immunity enhancing potential of herbs such as Ashwagandha, Tulsi and Moringa are elucidated at length. Moringa leaves are a rich source of vitamin A, B, (folic acid, pyridoxine and riboflavin), C and E, calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and protein. Moringa delivers high levels of antioxidants, balances the hormones, cleanses the gut, nourishes the skin, delivers a high amount of calcium and helps boost our digestive powers.
“The Immunity Diet” is a welcome and holistic read in an age where fact gamely competes with distressingly influential fiction in guiding and misguiding a gullible public rendered susceptible to a singularly obstinate and dangerous pandemic.