TO OVERCOME the ongoing challenge of COVID-19 pandemic, clinicians and scientists are fighting to make a vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus and a drug to treat the infected patients.

Until then, the best thing to do is “stay home to stay away from the virus and stay safe”.

During this controlled or restricted movement, many of us are indeed stressed and might be thinking - staying home makes us immunologically weaker.

Well, we have plenty of options to work on it and keep ourselves immunologically fit.

In fact, all of us must take care of our immunity all the time, not only during this Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

To keep our immune system active, we can do three things: reduce negative psychological stress, maintain physical activities such as exercises that can be done while we are at home, and finally maintain a balanced diet for efficient nutritional immunity.

How to reduce negative psychological stress?

In a recent article published in Lancet, Samantha K Brooks and her colleagues from King’s College, London acknowledged that staying home is indeed stressful for many, especially when we are worried about our livelihood - which is a reality.

And this stress is not good for our immunity.

Let us be confident and determined that we shall stay together and fight that challenge. Our collective and positive determination is very important to overcome this negative stress.

At the same time, when we have no other option but to keep ourselves quarantined, let us think about the positive side of this “stay home” measure.

As Dr Samantha and her colleagues concluded, “Appeals to altruism by reminding the public about the benefits of quarantine to wider society can be favourable”.

Yes, our staying home is not only meant beneficial for ourselves but for millions of our countrymen. We don’t want to become a vehicle to spread this deadly virus and harm others.

If we are worried about our lack of physical activities, we have many ways to help that out. We can easily engage ourselves in various forms of physical exercise every day at least for an hour.

We don’t have to go out for that. Skipping, push-ups, sit to stand, and various forms of yoga, all can be done being at home. And it is fun doing those physical exercises with the children, siblings and other family members.

On top of this, we can spend time at our front or back yard gardens to grow many household vegetables such as tomatoes, lemongrass, ginger, onions and so on.

Getting ourselves engaged with these activities will make us sweat and will keep us physically and immunologically fit.

To keep our immunity stronger, we also need a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and fat as well as vitamins, minerals, and plenty of water.

Which vitamins do we need?

Long ago, Nobel laureate Dr Linus Pauling famously claimed that vitamin C prevent cold-related conditions such as flu.

In fact, vitamin C is important for immune function, bone structure, iron absorption, and healthy skin.

But our bodies don't make vitamin C. We can get vitamin C from citrus fruits, strawberries, green vegetables, and tomatoes.

A team of researchers at the University of Edinburgh talked about another vitamin - vitamin D.

The team led by Richard J. Mellanby has shown that vitamin D activates T cells, a major group of cells in our immune system to fight off any infection and important to our health.

Some of the common sources of vitamin D are fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon; soymilk and cereal, beef liver, cheese and egg yolk.

We also have another ingesting source of vitamin D. Preparing vitamin D by our skin using sunlight, hence they are also popularly known as “sunshine vitamin”.

We in Malaysia can take advantage of the bright sun in the morning and afternoon to have our tea in front of our house.

Have a light refreshing discussion with the children and family members while sipping tea at the garden or open space in front of the house and let the skin to prepare vitamin D simultaneously – having three in one!

We also need minerals to keep our immune system strong and active. In that list of minerals, the very first one will be zinc.

Zinc is a well-known trace element that can boost the human immune system in many ways.

A couple of years ago, with my colleague, we published a review paper where we explained that a balanced amount of zinc not only helps us to boost our immunity during infection, it can also kill or inactivate pathogens.

In a recent research, published in Nature Immunology, which was led by Consuelo Anzilotti from MRC Human Immunology Unit involving scientists and clinicians from the UK, the Netherlands, and the USA explained that zinc activates B cells and help to produce antibody against viruses and bacteria.

A group of researchers from India published an article in the Journal of Virology that showed that zinc can also inhibit a viral enzyme complex that is used by the virus for its multiplication in the infected cells.

Such an important micronutrient – zinc - is available in many foods such as shellfish, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and eggs, which are easily available in Malaysia.

Although zinc is available as a supplement, it is safe to take natural foods to supply enough zinc to keep our immune system active.

Because overdose of zinc can be dangerous for pregnant women and for those who are having liver or kidney problems.

In addition to these minerals and vitamins, Malaysians can grab the opportunity to take black seed which has been used as a natural medicine for thousands of years to treat many diseases.

And, this is also an important natural medicine that is encouraged by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Black seeds have been known to be effective as complementary medicine for a range of clinical conditions such as inflammation, hyperlipidemia, bacterial and viral infections, cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

Black seed is also used as anti-oxidant and for wound healing. Importantly, the black seed is not known to cause any harmful side-effects.

In a healthy condition, eating a pinch of black seed every day will prevent easy access of infectious pathogens to overpower our immunity.

Finally, let us stay healthy with lots of water. Drinking slightly warm water is indeed very important to digest the food.

It is better to avoid any kind of cold drinks such as tea-o-ais, or any other drinks with ice immediately before and after the meal.

We must not miss any of the opportunities to boost our immunity that is in our own control.

We can reduce our negative stress, engaging ourselves in physical exercise and activities, and take foods to nourish our body with the necessary vitamins and minerals.

These are all in our hands. Let us stay home, boost our immunity, and stay safe.

Prof Dr Mohammad Tariqur Rahman is with the Faculty of Dentistry in University Malaya. He is also the Executive Editor for Annals of Dentistry University of Malaya and President of Malaysian Society of Oral Immunologist and Oral Microbiologist.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.