While all available literature point to the importance of proper hand, cough and sneeze hygiene practices as being the first and very important line of attack against becoming infected with the COVID-19 disease, local medical and dietary experts agree: much of the foods grown locally can play a major part in your ultimate defense against the invading virus by helping to strengthen your body’s ability to resist it.

Asbert News Network reached out to Nicole France, senior nutritionist at the local Health Ministry, to get a better appreciation for the role such foods can play.

“Persons should use foods that could boost their immune system, especially those that are rich in antioxidants – vitamins A, C and E.” The senior health professional provided us with a list of effortlessly accessible foods here while warning that persons ought not to steal from local farmers to enrich their household stores. France’s list includes: local fruits like cherries, tamarind, sybil sweet and other Vitamin C laced citrus such as guava, limes, lemons and oranges.

In fact, she also warned, “there was a mad rush at the pharmacy and persons were buying vitamin C rich products. But cod liver oil, for example, takes some time before it can really work. It is much better to take an orange a day. An orange per day works much better, much faster.”

Another super food that made her list was callaloo, one more Vitamin C rich edible plant that is easily available here. Although the Vitamin C properties are diminished due to the necessary heat that must be applied to properly prepare the leafy vegetable for human consumption, senior nutritionist France encourages, “enjoying your callaloo with a glass of orange or lime juice would help you to better absorb the other nutritional properties like iron.”

Tumeric, garlic and ginger came in for honorable mention as she reminded persons within Vincentian borders that “sweet peppers, when eaten raw, are filled with Vitamin C; do not boil guavas or cherries or soak passion fruit seeds in hot water to make juice, because once you add heat to anything with Vitamin C, the heat destroys that nutrient.

“Also, blending kale and spinach is a great source of Vitamin C from leafy vegetables.”

The seasoned health professional also shared a word of advice for persons who may have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Such persons may have one or more non-communicable illness such as diabetes, lung and/or heart disease and hypertension amongst others. She said, “learn to follow your prescribed diet and keep healthy.

“Hypertensive patients should be careful how they use grapefruit for example. And persons need to rest.

“Stress breaks down the immune system. Get at least 6-7 hours’ sleep, find time to relax and if you can, avoid crowd spaces.”

Allergy, Immunology and Infectious Diseases specialist, Dr. Jerrol Thompson, in a separate ANN interview, confirmed much of what the senior nutritionist shared with Asbert News Network.

In light of his extensive work in the early and middle stages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we asked him to explain, in particular, the dietary regiment that people living with HIV/AIDS should adhere to in order to mitigate against the greater risks of contracting COVID-19 such persons tend to face.

Dr. Thompson said, “I had a talk with about 25 persons living with HIV earlier this week and I found them to be a very fascinating and enlightened group.

“Our discussions covered issues related to protecting themselves, how to better understand the pathogenesis – or rather how the disease develops – and how PLHIV might be at increased risks.

“We also discussed various aspects as to how they could better manage their nutrition.”

Since it is essential that PLHIVs are “adequately hydrated” so that the necessary nutrients are more efficiently transported through their bodies, Dr. Thompson urged “it’s important that they stock up on fever medication like panadol, aspirin and ibuprofen amongst others, because fever can make them loose water through sweating.

“Using multivitamins is critical, so PLHIVs should supplement their diets with Vitamins C, D6 and E to help boost their immune systems.”

Access to and continued use of antiretroviral drugs, Thompson explained further, is vital as these would help to manage such patients’ CDR lymphocytes – blood count to put it plainly.

“If the lymphocytes are found to be at a higher level, they would be relatively protected from various infections.”

The Infectious Disease specialist warned however, “COVID-19 is a new virus and it can affect anyone. So being HIV positive even though your blood count is good, still puts these patients at risk.

“Therefore having a balanced, nutritious diet is important, too.”

From a 15-item-long list of herbs known to have properties that fight against a wide range of viruses, Thompson highlighted several that could be used to effectively complement PLHIVs nutritional intake.

Some of the herbs on Dr. Thompson’s list are:

Oregano – known to exhibit antiviral activity against the respiratory syncytical virus (RSV) that causes respiratory infections; Sage – used since time immemorial to fight viral infections.

According to healthline.com, “in one study, sage extract significantly inhibited HIV activity by preventing the virus from entering target cells;”

Holy Basil a.k.a Tulsi – been shown to increase immunity; lemon balm – a lemony plant that’s commonly used in teas and seasonings. It is also celebrated for its medicinal properties.

Garlic – studies indicate it enhances immune system response by stimulating protective immune cells which may safeguard against viral infections; Peppermint – a powerful antiviral herb commonly used in teas, extracts and tinctures meant to naturally treat viral infections. Peppermint is also a great anti-inflammatory treatment;

Rosemary – a widely favored cooking ingredient said to have “therapeutic applications due to its numerous plant compounds, including oleanolic acid. Oleanolic acid has displayed antiviral activity against herpes viruses, HIV, influenza and hepatitis;”

Echinacea – widely used ingredient in herbal medicine due to “its impressive health-promoting properties. Many parts of the plant, including its flowers, leaves and roots, are used for natural remedies.”

Dr. Thompson also mentioned licorice, dandelions, and moringa on his list of herbs that can help to boost immune systems here.

He, however, took time to stress the importance of ginger for persons living with HIV/AIDS.

“Ginger is very important, I won’t go into the technical details but it has impressive antiviral properties due the extremely high concentration of plant compounds,” said the doctor whose work in HIV/AIDS has taken him across the African continent and Central America.

“If persons living with HIV/AIDS are nutritionally sound, if they stock up on their medications, if they stock up on energy foods like the ground provisions you can get here, if they hydrate themselves – despite the fact that they have HIV they would be in a sound position.

“They must however, be extremely careful. Observe proper hand hygiene, avoid high-fives, and create space between themselves and any person sneezing or coughing.

“Remember to thoroughly clean surfaces, phones etc. and avoid borrowing items from people.”

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

“Touching your face can significantly increase the risk of infection with cold or flu viruses, but especially the new coronavirus.

“Your mouth and eyes are areas where viruses can enter the body easily, and all it takes is touching them with a finger already carrying an infection,” healthline.com informs.

A quick call to the COVID-19 hotline 1-784-534 HEAL (4325) can help provide any further information or guidance.

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