Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the first case in Cameroon of which was reported by the Ministry of Health on March 6 2020. To date, more than 800 cases have been reported in Cameroon despite the measures that were put in place by the government. Key amongst these measures were recommendations on hygiene (handwashing and/or hand sanitizing) and social distancing aimed at limiting transmission.
Other theories have been put forward as to how best to manage COVID-19, ranging from the use of pharmaceutical products like chloroquine to food supplements. For any of these to merit any serious consideration, it is important to know how the body actually reacts to viral infections. The human body generally has the appropriate mechanisms to defend itself against bacterial or viral (pathogen) attacks. The first line of defense is generally through the physical barrier provided by the skin and associated structures like dermal and nasal. If the pathogen however goes through this first line of defense into the body’s circulation, the second line of defense – the immune system immediately kicks into play, producing a variety of substances to get rid of the foreign substance which is also known as antigen. One of these substances called antibodies recognizes features of the antigen and attacks it continuously to get rid of it. The immune system’s ‘memory’ can now have the ability to produce antibodies in future if it sees the same pathogen again like in the cases for viruses that cause chickenpox or polio, destroying it before the symptoms become serious. For some other viruses like coronavirus that cause the common cold, their recognition by the immune system seems to be lost after a short while, making people vulnerable to suffering frequently from colds. Since SARS-CoV-2has only been recently discovered and presently causing havoc worldwide, it is not yet known how the immune system or the immune system’s memory is going to handle it. It is therefore important for the body to have an efficient immune system.
Nutrition plays an important role in maintaining a fully functional and efficient immune system. In this period of the COVID-19 epidemic, it is more important than ever to maintain an efficient immune system. This can be done through certain lifestyle changes as well as our choice of foods, to include foods with known properties of boosting immune function. This can be easily achieved by eating as many colors as possible through the consumption of fruits, vegetables and nuts that are readily available in Cameroon. Certain foods however stand out due to their high content of particular micronutrients with proven scientific claims. These include foods like bitterleaf (ndole), spinach, green and yellow peppers, broccoli, pawpaw and oranges which are high in Vitamin C which contributes to immune defense as well as lowers the risk of respiratory infections. Zinc also plays an important role in controlling and regulating immune function and has been shown to inhibit the replication of viruses. Zinc can be found in beans, pumpkin seeds (egusi), meat, fish, mushrooms, avocados and guavas. Vitamin D found in mushrooms, sardines, liver and eggs modulates immune response as well as helps the immune system to stay balanced.
As well as the above mentioned foods containing nutrients with proven scientific action on the immune system, the Cameroonian cuisine is generally spicy, with some of the commonly used spices containing bioactive components which are powerful antioxidants and could be beneficial to the immune system. Garlic for example is known for its immune boosting properties linked to its high sulphur content. Initial results from ongoing research with spices used in some traditional dishes from the West region of Cameroon show a lot of promise as potential immune boosters as well as antiviral agents.
Despite the above nutritional recommendations, the best way to stay healthy and SARS-CoV-2 free is by following the current WHO recommendations as well as those outlined by the Cameroon government.
*Article first published in CEFOPDIETnews, newsletter of the Professional School of Dietetics and Functional Foods(CEFOPDIET) in Yaounde
**The author is a professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at the University of Yaounde I who discovered bush mango is a therapy for obesity and is co-founder of CEFOPDIET of the J&A Oben Foundation
By Julius E. Oben