Union Minister Meghwal claims papad will boost antibodies against COVID-19

Union Ministers Arjun Ram Meghwal.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Union Minister of State and BJP MP from Bikaner Arjun Ram Meghwal on Friday claimed that a particular brand of the ubiquitous Indian snack, papad, had a role in boosting immunity and antibodies that could help cure COVID-19. A video of the Minister endorsing Bhabhiji papad, which he called a health supplement, has gone viral on social media.

Mr. Meghwal, who is the junior minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, said the papad was created under the government’s Atmanirbhar initiatives and would “help boost” the creation of antibodies that were necessary for immunity. He wasn't accessible on his phone when The Hindu reached out for clarifications on the claim.

Mr. Meghwal isn't alone in ascribing health properties to certain foods. There have been several occasions when the government itself — via the Ministry of Ayush, as well as the Health Ministry — has endorsed herbal and Ayurvedic preparations as a public health measure and advised people to imbibe them as helping to “boost immunity”.

Medically, however “boosting immunity” is quite different from generating antibodies. The latter are produced when the body actually detects the presence of a virus and generates antibodies that go on to block the replication of these viral particles.

There is also another kind of immunity in the body called cell-mediated immunity, that doesn't involve antibodies. Both, however, are premised on the recognition of antigens — bits of protein on a foreign, potentially harmful cell — that are either blocked or destroyed. There is no scientific evidence that such immunity can be boosted by food and supplements. Rather mild exposure to a virus, or a vaccine or antibodies from those who’ve recovered from an infection are the only known ways to be protected from future disease.

On the other hand, an over-active immune system, as doctors and scientists have noted, is responsible for a significant number of COVID-19 deaths. In these instances, the body produces a large number of messenger chemicals called cytokines that can trigger inflammation and recruit a variety of cells that can end up destroying good healthy cells along with viral cells. Many drugs are actually used to modulate an hyper-active immune system.

Independent scientists have urged public authorities and those in positions of power to exert caution in promoting health products, particularly during a health crisis when anxiety is high.

“There is no evidence for such immunity and any claim must be made only after it has been tested or verified scientifically,” Sandhya Koushika, a neuroscientist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and a volunteer at ISRC, a collective of scientists that addresses scientific mis-information around COVID-19, told The Hindu.  The ISRC is the Indian Scientists Response to COVID-19

“Even if people want to follow certain diets, it must be repeatedly stressed that the preventive measures known to work — face covers, distancing, hand & respiratory hygiene— are the essential steps to staying protected,” she added.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 12:08:24 PM |

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