By Sudibyo M. Wiradji. Originally published on The Jakarta Post
To prevent the further spread of COVID-19, the government has issued policies, which include calling on people to practice social distancing and avoid crowds. Maintaining a strong immune system can reduce the possibility of being infected by COVID- 19.
The term immunity refers to the body’s ability to fight external threats, including various micro-organisms and toxins, as well as internal threats that may come from autoimmune responses or the growth of abnormal cells.
“The body’s overall nutritional status, as well as the nutrients we obtain from food, help the immune system to function,” says an expert.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that many health-conscious people are now not only striving to keep their immune system strong but also boosting it.
Haryadi, 45, a marketing manager of a multinational company in Jakarta, says he established a habit of drinking a herbal beverage three months ago that he prepares by himself before going to bed instead of taking supplements, like many others do.
The herbal beverage comprises kunyit (turmeric), serai (lemongrass) and jeruk nipis (lime) and each of the medicinal plants has its own health benefits, he says.
Turmeric, for instance, contains curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
He says most studies used turmeric extract that was standardized to include large amounts of curcumin. “Curcumin has powerful antioxidant effects. It neutralizes free radicals on its own but also stimulates your body’s own antioxidant enzymes,” he quotes the study as saying.
What about lemongrass?
A study suggests lemongrass may have infection-preventing capabilities and can reduce the incidence of thrush, a fungal infection that commonly affects people with weakened immune systems.
Lemongrass might prevent the growth of some bacteria and yeast and also contains substances that are thought to relieve pain and swelling, reduce fever, improve levels of sugar and cholesterol in the blood and have antioxidant properties, according to another study.
“It is unnecessary to be panicky. To me, the important thing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, is to keep our immune system healthy and continue to boost it,” he says.
That’s why apart from drinking the medicinal plant-based beverage, he also exercises regularly, especially by walking. “I have the habit of getting to my office by walking, which takes about 30 minutes.
“Everything is natural and the habit is cheap,” he says.
Like Haryadi, Pery, 33, a driver of app-based ojek (motorcycle taxi) whose job requires him to be on the road and come into contact with different passengers, which may pose the risk of being infected by COVID-19, also has the habit of drinking herbal beverages. “I also eat foods that are nutritious with lots of protein, as well as fruit, plus I drink a lot of water,” he says.
“But the rest, I succumb to because I have to earn an income to feed my family,” he says
The health benefits of consuming jamu, especially when it comes to maintaining a strong immune system has spurred its popularity over the last several years and with the outbreak of COVID-19. Consuming jamu, particularly empon-empon, which contains curcumin, ginger, lemongrass and brown sugar, has been used by many, including Rina, 32, to keep their immune system healthy.
“In the past I was reluctant to drink jamu because I considered it old fashioned, but now I never miss a day because I feel great after drinking it and with the COVID-19 pandemic, drinking jamu empon-empon can be an effective way of averting the virus,’ says Rina.
With the digital age, consumers can also purchase herbal powders such as turmeric, ginger, temulawak (Curcuma zanthorrhiza) and kencur (galangal) online. “I buy the herbal powders online for my family, not because of the government’s advice to keep social distancing but that’s how I shop to meet particular needs,” she says.
Consumers of jamu in her family include her husband and her child, who is homeschooling amid the pandemic.
The importance of maintaining a strong immune system is also confirmed by virologist M. Indro Cahyono. “If we have a strong immune system and good stamina, our antibodies will fight any virus that enters our body.”
According to him, the coronavirus is deadly when those who test positive have preexisting conditions. “For example, the female foreigner in Indonesia who died of COVID-19 identified as Case 25 about a week ago,” he says.
The Health Ministry’s disease control and prevention director general, Achmad Yurianto, said earlier that the patient was admitted to the hospital in an already severe condition caused by preexisting illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, hyperthyroidism and years-long obstructive lung disease.
The coronavirus infection had worsened the patient’s immune system, which had further exacerbated her preexisting illnesses. So the coronavirus was not the main cause [of the patient’s death], but it had worsened her condition, he said.
According to Indro, the human body can naturally fight viruses with antibodies. “Taking vitamins E and C can increase our antibodies, double and three times the normal state,” he says.
For Haryadi, maintaining his immune system also involves staying relaxed and stress-free.
Although COVID-19 is less dangerous than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), many people are worrying due to information spread through smartphones, not because of the disease, causing added stress.
“Too much stress can suppress your immune system and cause you to get sick more easily,” he says
.He shared insight from an expert via WhatsApp which read, “It turns out the major cause of many people being panicky about the coronavirus is in your hands, that is smartphones. Try to switch off all of your smartphones, you will be more at peace.”