The monsoon may bring relief from the sweltering heat but also brings with it a host of diseases. Here's how you can step up your natural immunity and stay safe.

With the sweltering heat driving us to the edge, most of us look heavenward for relief. But the onset of monsoon also requires you to tread with caution.

A host of diseases like jaundice, malaria, typhoid, gastro intestinal infections, cough, cold, fever and flu are quite common. Sometimes they may acquire serious proportions.

Reasons for infection

The most probable reason for the high rate of infections during monsoons is ‘environmental conditions'. High levels of humidity and a temperature that is neither too high nor too low together are conducive to the growth of a range of pathogens.

Add to this, problems like stagnated water bodies, overflowing drains, impure drinking water, leaky walls and roofs and you have an ideal setting for infections and disease.

The monsoon also marks a time when our immunity takes a beating, rendering us vulnerable to diseases. Treatment is, of course, important but what is more important and effective is prevention.

Boost your natural immunity

Natural Immunity refers to a state where a person is immune to a disease. The natural immune response is a pre-programmed first line of defence that is primarily responsible for eliminating or containing pathogens at the site of entrance into the host.

Overuse of antibiotics, exposure to radiation and hazardous chemicals and the widespread use of corticosteroids cripple the immune system. So boosting your natural immunity is a very effective method of arresting the onset of various diseases. Unfortunately the role of natural immunity in helping fend off a host of diseases has gone unrecognised.

Building natural immunity is especially important in children. A strong immune system provides a child with the natural defences to fight many diseases. Again, the immune system declines as we grow older. Quality of life in old age is largely dependent on the ability to manipulate the natural immune system.

With regard to natural immunity, one of the most important decisions an individual can make is to choose a healthy lifestyle. This will help maintain the natural immune system. Building up your body's disease-fighting arsenal are Immuno-nutrients, which are foods that have an immuno-modulatory and anti-oxidant effect. These nutrients help build the body's immunity and enhance its ability to fight infection.

Traditional nutrients

Traditional Indian systems of medicine like Ayurveda describe many such nutrients (see box). Scientific research confirms that these nutrients boost our natural immunity and enhance the body's ability to fight infections.

A regular dose of these immuno-nutrients goes a long way in helping build your body's ability to fend off infections and disease.

With the monsoon having set in and with the prospect of infections and disease looming large, it would be a good idea to shore up your body defences and enjoy the monsoon showers.

Basic precautions

Make sure that you follow these rules

Boil water before drinking or use ultraviolet/reverse osmosis filters

Bathe regularly, wash your hands with soap and keep clean

Remove all sources of stagnant water. Clean out desert coolers regularly

Keep all the water reservoirs and tanks covered

Use repellents to prevent mosquito bites. Cover up

Do's and don'ts

Drink plenty of vegetable soup

Drink boiled and cooled water with a little honey

Add ginger and green gram in daily diet

Eat light foods made of old barley, rice and wheat

Wash vegetables with clean water and steam well to kill germs

Keep surroundings dry and clean

Dry your feet with a soft dry cloth whenever wet

Don't over-exert yourself physically

Don't eat uncooked foods and salads

Don't enter air conditioned room with wet hair and damp clothes

Don't allow water to stagnate

Source of nutrients

Some fruits and substances rich in these nutrients include:

Amla: Amla is rich in vitamin C, tannins and pectins

Ashwagandha: Helps control stress; regulates immunity

Guduchi: For physical and mental strength; rejuvenates the immune system

Kesar: Energises the body, promotes skin health

Shatavari: Promotes health and helps build stamina

The writer is a Chennai-based General Physician.

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