NUTRITION, IMMUNE SYSTEM AND COVID-19 INFECTION

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ROLE OF NUTRITION IN DISEASE

Nutrition is important in preventing, treating and slowing down the progression of most diseases. It is an important tool that can be used to prevent COVID -19 infections, help alleviate some of the symptoms, and promote recovery, preventing deaths. In fact, inadequate dietary intake in the face of COVID-19 infection may lead to weight loss, further mucosal damage, and invasion by pathogens like bacteria causing secondary infections, lowering immunity and death.

COVID-19 is a new infection that our bodies have not developed immunity to. There are no known drugs or vaccines yet to treat the viral infection. This makes the body rely almost eighty percent on the immune system to fight off the infection. As you age, your immune system weakens, immune cells become less active and may not kill viruses and bacteria infected cells as required. The immune cells are further weakened by stress (physical, chemical or emotional stress) and this may lower its function of preventing or eliminating threats.  Nutritionally supporting your immune system gives you a better chance at preventing infection and also promoting faster recovery. Eating right can help maintain proper immune function hence a better fight against COVID-19 viral infection.

EFFECT OF COVID-19 ON NUTRITION STATUS OF INFECTED

Under nutrition and micronutrient deficiency leads to increased risk of infection, longer recovery time leading to prolonged hospital stay. A COVID- 19 sick person experiences symptoms such as high fevers, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and extreme fatigue. Diarrhoea and loss of appetite would interfere with adequate intake and absorption of nutrients.

High fevers increase both calories/energy and micronutrient requirement. As the immune system attempts to fight off the virus, it raises the body temperature increasing metabolism, leading to more calories burnt and more micronutrients loss through body sweat.  Proper hydration should be ensured to help bring down the fevers, and to restore electrolytes lost through sweating and even diarrhoea

Excessive inflammation associated with COVID -19 attacks on the lung cells, increases the production of free radicals that cause further lung cells damage. It is important to provide anti-oxidants to meet the ever increasing body requirement in the face of the disease. Supplementation with antioxidants like vitamin A, C, E, Omega 3s and minerals like Selenium and Zinc may help reduce the cellular stress caused by the viral infection on the lung and general body cells reducing the damage and promoting faster recovery.

Diet given should provide sufficient energy to help ease some of the fatigue experienced, proteins to help repair and regenerate new cells, vitamins and minerals to support immune function.

WAYS TO BOOST IMMUNITY USING DIET

  • Eat fresh, unprocessed food every day.
  • For proteins use more of legumes, nuts and whole grains. Red meat 1-2 times per week, chicken/fish 1-2 times per week.
  • Choose high fibers sources of carbohydrate. Eat more roots, tubers and whole grains.
  • Eat at least 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables every day to ensure sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals.
  • Eat probiotics- mala, natural yoghurt, fermented vegetables, porridge to boost healthy body bacteria
  • Limit salt, sugar and saturated fats use.
  • Consider use of herbal teas i.e. Moringa, Turmeric, Neem

FEEDING A COVID-19 SUSPECT/ PATIENT

A patient with mild symptoms and no underlying disease may be managed from home, as per WHO/CDC guidelines. Ensure high levels of hand hygiene before and after feeding, wear PPEs, do not spend more than 15 mins in a face to face session with patient and isolate patients feeding utensils, washing and sanitizing them after use. It’s important during providing care to monitor for emergency signs and end home isolation if need be.

  • Give small amounts of easy to digest carbohydrates  at least six times daily i.e. banana, sweet potatoes, plain  toasted bread, oatmeal,
  • Encourage intake of boiled or scrambled eggs, lentils, ndengu for proteins. Fortify porridge with peanut butter or milk or eggs to increase protein content
  • A high protein, moderate carbohydrates diet, with sufficient vitamins and minerals may be ideal.
  • Give fluid rich foods (soups, porridge, tea, fresh juice/ processed juice Delmonte and Pick& Peel ) for maximum body hydration and rehydration
  • Give warm fluids like tea to ease mucus congestion.
  • Consult a clinical nutritionist/dietitian near you for more information on nutrition care.

Other principles that support immune function include: 30 mins of sunlight exposure every day, exercise, adequate sleep, praying and meditation.

N/B: Wash hands, Use sanitizers, don’t touch your face.

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