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Ayurvedic advice in the time of the Coronavirus: Do we need a paradigm shift?


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These are challenging times…

Even if we are not concerned about our own health, we may have loved ones who are at risk, and it may be that the only way we can protect them is by staying away. Jobs are in jeopardy, incomes are compromised and above all, there is much that is unknown: How fast will the virus spread? How quickly will it peak? And what is my relationship to this unknown threat? Am I reassured by knowing that for most people it is a mild disease with no danger? Or is there an overwhelming sense of panic and visions of the worst possible outcomes?

Sometimes a current event can trigger deep ancestral fears that live on in our unconscious and we may find ourselves unable to keep a cool head. Recognising that this is the case can prompt us to find ways of helping ourselves; essentially by slowing down and focusing on the basics – adequate rest and some mental discipline as well as a good diet to increase our resilience.

Which is the real killer?

is it Exhibit A – THE AGENT, the focus of all our attention right now – the Coronavirus?

or is it Exhibit B – THE ENVIRONMENT – a damaged Microbiome?

We are so used to seeing the enemy as being out there, whether it’s a virus, a bacteria or a malignant tumour. If only we could avoid it / kill it / vaccinate against it: in all these approaches we are assuming the agent is the problem. However, our bodies play host to a whole concert of these agents, some of them deadly, some friendly and many which are relatively benign, as long as they are in balance. And the idea of balance is key when we are talking about a healthy microbiome.

Did you know that 80% of your immune system is in your gut? What if the choices you make – food and lifestyle could be used to enhance your immunity? Read on if you want to begin to take charge of your health outcomes…

According to Ayurveda, it’s not only what we eat that has an influence on our health. How, when and in what state we eat our food will have an influence on how well we digest it and whether it becomes nourishment for our bodies or, in an incompletely digested form, becomes the toxins that lead to poor health outcomes.

Why is this important for us to be aware of?

Because every time we trigger our stress response (fight/flight/freeze) our digestion shuts down and our immune system is suppressed. So when I listen to the latest statistics about the rising number of cases/fatalities or when I think about what will be the fate of my loved ones or wonder how we will survive financially…. my immunity drops. This information could be deeply depressing, but it could also be empowering; because it means that I hold the key to improving my immunity.

It’s also a key thing to remember because those of us who are health conscious tend to obsess about what we eat, when in fact the state of our nervous system has an even bigger impact.

We know from statistics that catching Covid19 (Coronavirus) will be relatively harmless for 80% of the population. And we know that the other 20% – those who are over 70 as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease etc. have a higher risk of complications and fatalities. What is it about age or health conditions which leads to this huge difference in impact?

Most of us don’t follow a perfect diet and so one of the things that happen gradually as we age, or more rapidly if we don’t look after ourselves, is that this begins to have an impact on the gut. Inadequate fibre in the diet leads to damage in the lining of the gut as the bacteria (which live largely on fibre) begin instead to consume the mucus lining which protects the gut. At the same time, incompletely digested food creates toxins, and these together with gliadin, the indigestible gluten found in wheat, begin to leak through the damaged gut lining into the bloodstream triggering an inflammatory response from the immune system and leading to chronic inflammation – the condition which plays a major role in many of the chronic health conditions now endemic in our society.

The diet and lifestyle advice (see below) will encourage a healthy microbiome and increase our immunity and well being.

And if you are reading this and thinking: “I am definitely in the 20% and it’s too far down the line…” there are many reasons to not despair! Our bodies are all on a journey and the final destination is death. You may be further along in the journey, but we will all have to face that eventually – our bodies are not immortal… But even when it is too late to heal the body, healing is always possible for our hearts and soul. Peace, acceptance and love are experiences that we can touch and grow.

And maybe you’re not quite at that stage yet! In that case, there are more drastic measures –interventions such as detox programmes and herbal remedies that can provide more support and begin to shift long-term health issues. Those require 1:1 guidance from an Ayurvedic Practitioner or Complementary Health Practitioner. The Ayurvedic Professionals Association has a Directory of Practitioners around the country. Many of us will also be working by skype during the pandemic. And of course there are Naturopaths, Herbalists, Chinese Medical Practitoners and many other ways to support yourself during this challenging time. Set an intention for yourself and you will find the support you need.

Ayurvedic tips for boosting immunity 

Ensure you get adequate rest to allow your immune system to do its job of keeping you healthy

Keep a sense of perspective as much as possible. Fear begets fear and reduces our immunity in the process: Consider how much media and which content is helpful for you to be exposed to.

Much of what we may fear is connected to the unknown and may never happen. If we focus on the present moment and what is needed right now our energy will stay grounded.

Expressions of love boost our immunity – whether it’s speaking to someone we love, thinking about them, doing something to help someone, enjoying touch by eg. stroking a pet or the Ayurvedic practice of self-massage with sesame oil and of course, sexual intimacy: All of these will stimulate the release of Oxytocin: the ‘love hormone’ and give a boost to our immune system.

Ayurvedic diet advice for all mucus-related conditions (eg. coughs, colds, flu)

Follow a light diet with warm soups or stews and fewer carbohydrates than usual. Herbs & spices such as basil, thyme, oregano, black pepper and ginger will help reduce mucus. Use moderate amounts of high-quality fats such as ghee and coconut oil. Stewed fruit with spices such as cinnamon is a good source of iron and fibre. Above all, don’t eat unless you have a real appetite and avoid eating late at night.

Vegetables are high in fibre and detoxifying. The only ones to minimise are the nightshade family (tomatoes, aubergine, potato, peppers) as they are inflammatory. The onion family, including leeks & garlic, contain allicin which is anti-viral and antibacterial. Garlic has more potency (medicinally as well as on your breath!) when uncooked. If you can’t find fresh greens in the shops, nettles are a great source of vitamin C and iron. You can use them in soups, omelettes etc.

Small amounts of a non-dairy fermented product such as sauerkraut can be helpful as probiotic support.

Avoid the following: Dairy products, especially cheese, yoghurt, milk & ice cream; bananas; cold food and drinks (including beer); uncooked fruit, salads, raw food; food that is difficult to digest e.g because it is fried or heavy, such as red meat and wheat (spelt is a good alternative); puddings, cakes, biscuits & sweets.

Best options for a sweet tooth: One ginger biscuit or a rice cake with honey or a few raisins or a spoonful of Chywanprash: an Ayurvedic jam, which is a tonic for the lungs.

Vitamin D is essential for a strong immune system. Non-vegans will source this from fish, meat and/or eggs. The sun is an ideal source, but until we get some, vegans and anyone who suspects their levels are low is recommended to take Vit D3 + K2 as a supplement.

Ginger, turmeric and green tea support immunity. Use ginger water (made by boiling a couple of slices of fresh ginger with a cupful of water for a few minutes) and/or drink green tea or a herbal tea containing turmeric. If you have been exposed to a virus, regular warm drinks will clear it from your throat area and flush it into your stomach; so keeping a thermos flask with you and taking a sip every 20 minutes is advised.

If you use anti-bacterial products, make sure you also wash your hands before eating, as you don’t want the chemicals to end up in your gut where they can destroy good as well as bad bacteria and lead to an imbalance in the gut flora.

Beware of using Ibuprofen if you catch the virus:  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/14/anti-inflammatory-drugs-may-aggravate-coronavirus-infection

Home remedy for immunity

Gargle twice a day (after breakfast and before bed) with turmeric and salt – as a preventative or when there is an active infection. Use ½ tsp turmeric + ¼ tsp salt in 1/3 cup hot water.

Looking after ourselves and our loved ones and taking simple measures to limit transmission (handwashing, self-isolation if you are unwell, social distancing) and keeping a sense of perspective will help us all.

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