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Innovating immune health as pandemic continues

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With COVID-19 continuing to devastate lives and economies worldwide, and vaccines gradually rolling out, there's still a tremendous opportunity for the immune health category in the face of short and long-term illness prevention.

Wide range of viral infection are responsible for significant global morbidity and mortality rates across the world, and viral outbreaks such as novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We completed Covid-19 pandemic anniversary, but the devastation is still continuing, and global economy is under recession. We have seen in previous months that few repurpose drugs and vaccines showed some level of hopes, but complete protection is still far away. In last few weeks, we have heard vaccine inoculation faces continuous challenges in terms of safety and mortality. 

Functional foods in preventing communicable disease and COVID-19

Lifestyle approaches, such as nutrition and exercise could play an essential antiviral long-term preventative role but has received little research attention. After this global pandemic, we are now discussing this link seriously. Functional foods and nutraceuticals can be safe and cost-effective strategies to enhance the immune system and provide protection from pathogenic viral infections. For example, optimal intake of selected micronutrients has been highlighted in controlling the viral infections, including lower and upper respiratory tract infections, through optimising and stabilising a well-functioning immune system. Nutrition and lifestyle modifications could help as an adjuvant therapy to reduce the risk through enhanced immunity.

Functional foods naturally possess active ingredients or “nutraceuticals” that are associated with disease preventative health benefits are now gradually accepted for the prevention and management of major communicable diseases (CDs), especially on the immune system defence against viral infections such as COVID-19.

Enhancing antiviral immune defence can be evident from intake of a considerable variety of plant, animal, and fungi species. Diets across different cultural practices including traditional herbal medicine, fermented plants and leaves; Mediterranean Diet components such as olive-based products, oily fish, seeds, fruits, and vegetables have significant impact on enhanced immunity. The majority of such foods contain naturally occurring vitamins and minerals (e.g., vitamins C, D, B6, B12, A, E, and minerals of zinc, copper, iron, and selenium), and other phenolic compounds that are immune-protective particularly through antioxidation and anti-inflammation properties.

Other foods such as oily fish contain monounsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which can be enzymatically converted to specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) known as resolvins, protectins, and maresins, which are molecules that support inflammatory health and healing of infected sites including the respiratory tract, which could prevent acute lung injury.

Traditional herbal medicines

Traditional antiviral medicinal therapies across different cultures are essentially based on a combination of several functional foods and nutraceuticals with active immunomodulators, polyphenols, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidation components. Apricot seeds, cinnamon, liquorice root, and Ephedrae herba have been used for controlling seasonal influenza. A wide range of botanicals, including green and black teas, cloves, mountain rose, Damask rose, Japanese honey locust, Tripterygium wilfordii, echinacea, ginseng and chrysanthemum, elderberry extract, as well as red and brown algae have been reported effective as anti-viral based on in-vitro studies. The antiviral activity of Cinnamon (zylanicum spp) extract against several RNA viruses has well been documented through various published literatures.

Next blockbusters?

Scientific evidence based on research spanning over decades, indicates that Ayurveda rasayana such as Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha), Tinospora cordifolia (Guduchi), Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari), Phylanthuscan emblica (Amalaki) have immunomodulatory properties, and may have the potential to bolster health and immunity of the community in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 infection. A team of doctors from the Delhi-based All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA) under the AYUSH Ministry has found that Ayurveda interventions like Ayush kwatha and Fifatrol tablets can be effective in mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 infection in a "very short period" with "complete regression of symptoms". 58 Ayurveda interventions have been registered for clinical trials in India during Covid pandemic.  "These trials will provide useful information to the researchers which will help them to strategize the next course of action and also help the general public in understanding the contribution of Ayurveda in (combating) COVID-19," the ministry said. The preliminary results are very encouraging and we are waiting for full clinical outcome by middle of 2021.

Join Dr Dilip Ghosh and other experts for the panel discussion, Identifying what's next for the immune health category, as part of Vitafoods Asia Digital Week. Registration is free and open. 

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