Magic Papad to Biryani: Can You ‘Boost’ Your Immunity With Food? 

Watch: Can a single food product or supplement protect you from a deadly virus? Here’s how the immune system works. 

Published
Coronavirus
3 min read

Video Editor: Vivek Gupta

As more and more products are being marketed as 'immunity-boosters' in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, are we betraying science? Can papad, biryani, or kadha really boost our immunity and protect us from the coronavirus?

Trust me, if things were in my hands, I’d be having lunch with my favorite celebrity tomorrow, hoarding up on all the books in the world, and gorging on biryani as my COVID-19 medicine.

I understand. We love our food. But expecting it to save us from a virus that has taken millions of lives globally? That would be a bit too much.

An all-India consumer survey by the firm Pronto Consult found that out of every 100 medicine bills in June, 92 were for immunity-boosting products containing honey, chyawanprash, ginger, green tea and the likes.

But here’s the problem.

There is no short-cut to ‘boosting’ your immunity and there is no miracle food that can do that. Sure, there are ways to strengthen your overall health and immune system, but popping a supplement or gorging on a particular food item cannot protect you from a virus. And if that food is biryani, say hello to cholesterol!

Immunity-Boosting Is a Myth

According to the Harvard Medical School, there is no scientific meaning to the word immunity-boosting, “The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons.”

The immune system, like the word says, is a system, and that too a complicated one. It is activated when foreign substances, called antigens such as viruses or bacteria, enter the body. The response is normally divided into two categories: innate and adaptive.

The innate immunity comes into play immediately or within hours, followed by the adaptive immune response which is more specific to the antigen and retains the ‘memory’ to activate future responses if the virus were to strike again.

In all healthy adults, the immune system works just like this. It produces a range of cells, proteins and antibodies that get into action to attack the invader. A common result of the immune system at play is inflammation at the site of infection in the form of redness, swelling, heat and sometimes pain. Boosting the immune system and ‘super-charging’ it, even if it were possible, would keep you constantly inflammated. I’m presuming we wouldn’t want that.

The only way for the body to produce antibodies against a particular disease without having been infected by it - is vaccination.

Scientists and researchers have tirelessly repeated that there is no clinical evidence to suggest any single food or vitamin can protect against the novel coronavirus. Such a claim would need the backing of proper randomized controlled trials, which - surprise surprise - haven’t been conducted.

If you have a deficiency, your doctor would certainly prescribe you supplements for your overall health and functioning. But having them unnecessarily could, in fact, be detrimental in many ways. An overdose can be toxic, it could interact with regular medication, and it could give you a false sense of security.

For healthy adults, it’s simple. Good diet, regular exercising and proper sleep will help your entire body function better - and the immune system is no exception. As for this virus, wash your hands, maintain distance, and mask up!

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