So much is said about treating the current pandemic, but there is no clear evidence of effective therapy other than support strategies for managing the complications of fever, cough, blood clots and shortness of breath.
Population surveys show that using home remedies to fight off infections from viruses such as the common cold, dengue, flu, and coronaviruses including the current SARS-CoV-2 is strongly believed and practiced.
Before we dive into the various remedies in use, we should remember the importance of good health as a core approach to fighting all infections. Good hygiene and nutrition, regular exercise and adequate rest ensure that you are in good health.
Although it does not go into the detailed contents of a balanced diet, it must be pointed out that green and red vegetables and fruits have anti-inflammatory properties due to chemical ingredients such as anthocyanins, flavonones, lycopene, etc.
Vitamins D and C are particularly touted as excellent anti-inflammatory activities, and while the scientific judgment is not yet in, society over the decades has indulged in high doses of vitamin C for its purported antiviral effects and vitamin D for its immune system boosting and helping so, to fight off viral, bacterial and fungal attack.
Regular exercise promotes the release of certain hormones and endorphins, which not only increase well-being, but also strengthen the body’s immune response.
The main contributors of sunlight to our environment are heat (infrared rays) and ultraviolet (UV) rays. The heat evaporates a lot of moisture into the atmosphere and causes high humidity. Heat and humidity kill viruses and can thus contribute to a reduced intensity of the virus presence in our area. UV rays make vitamin D under the skin and, as mentioned earlier, vitamin D helps boost the immune system. Hence, it is believed that living in the tropics offers some protection from virus attacks.
The assumption that the ocean and seas offer protection from the virus due to the presence of ozone has been discredited as the smell, previously attributed to ozone, has been studied and is due to DMS (dimethyl sulfide), a chemical produced by marine organisms. Some research studies suggest that this DMS kills viruses and bacteria and therefore there may be benefits from frequent visits to the beaches.
Now that we’ve outlined some of the benefits of the environment we live in, let’s look at some of the cultural beliefs and practices that claim nutraceutical benefits against virus attacks.
When the rhizome (root) is crushed and soaked in boiling water, it creates a tea that is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients. These properties are due to certain oils that are known for their medicinal effects in a variety of conditions, including coronavirus infections such as the common cold. The main active ingredient of this nutraceutical extract is gingerol. The tea is taken two to three times a day.
Turmeric powder, or the grated root soaked in boiling water for a few minutes, results in a tea with very powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that minimize infection. The active ingredient is curcumin and when taken, it is better absorbed by adding a tip of black pepper. The substance in black pepper, piperine, increases the absorption of curcumin in the intestine 2000 times. For respiratory infections, up to four cups of tea are consumed daily.
Rosemary, basil, thyme, peppermint
Tea made from the leaves is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that are believed to help boost the immune system. The active components are polyphenols and flavones, and these plants belong to the same family and have traditionally been used to treat several diseases, including the common cold.
The tea has been used to treat colds for thousands of years and, in combination with ginger, is considered a superlative therapy for diseases of the upper respiratory tract. The most active ingredient in garlic, allicin, has been shown in some research studies to be very effective at protecting against viral infections and preventing them from spreading. A cup three times a day is considered a very effective treatment.
Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
Tea, made alone or in combination, is rich in antioxidants, free radical scavengers, and anti-inflammatory compounds that belong to the chemical families of phenols and terpenes. These teas have been used for various illnesses over the centuries, especially the common cold.
Guinea Hen Weed
Also known as garlic herb, gully root, and anamu, it is rich in antioxidants and has a specific substance called dibenzyl trisulfide that has been shown to have antiviral properties. Its wide variety of anti-inflammatory compounds are believed to work by boosting the immune system. As a tea, it is taken up to 3 to 4 times a day.
Most commonly used as a gargle in a salt water mixture (there are other gargles such as dilute antiseptics and hydrogen peroxide). The principle here is that since the infecting virus enters through the throat, gargling frequently will help remove it. Drawing the saline solution out through your nostrils also helps remove some of the virus particles. This is best done in the morning and evening, and is likely even more effective if it is warmed up.
It must be emphasized that the above are only a fraction of the different home remedies used by all parts of society. Using teas is probably the most common method, although other preparations are used. Notably, people use these remedies in conjunction with, or alternately with, or even in place of drugs prescribed by their doctor. As a result, it can be difficult to gauge the real effectiveness of the drugs and the real benefits of the medically prescribed products. This is a big puzzle for public health officials.
These methods have yet to undergo rigorous scientific testing and are not recognized as reliably effective. However, these are some of the interventions used by our ancestors, and they have built an impressive body of cultural studies and their applications.
Professor Errol Morrison is a consulting physician and scientist.
Dr. Andrew Wheatley is a Member of Parliament and a research biochemist.
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