Boosting immunity in challenging times | Sunday Observer

Boosting immunity in challenging times

Continued from last week??

This is the second part of the interview we had with National Ayurveda Teaching Hospital former Director, senior Ayurveda specialist, Dr. D. H. Tennakoon.??


Q: Certain discourses have focused on the relationship between national health and sovereignty in the backdrop of Covid-19. Could you comment on the link?

A: There have been pandemics and epidemics throughout history. I quoted last week a Sanskrit sloka on how people should act to prevent diseases from spreading. Most pandemics were ‘new’ strains of previous diseases.

Our ancestors and ancient rulers did not approach health as an isolated entity; health was linked to how we looked after our rivers, how we grew our food, how we respected and cared for endemic plants and trees, how we nurtured the soil, what we ate and drank and how we lived.

It was linked to all our actions, including how we built our nation. To be healthy was considered the normal state of being. Sickness was an abnormality. Today, to be sick appears to be normal as afflictions, such as cancer, heart diseases and diabetes are widespread and affecting even the youth.??

There is no treatment for Covid-19. Patients get cured due to their natural immunity, which could be assisted by Ayurvedic herbs/indigenous/traditional food.??

There are other health complications in Covid-19 and Dengue that affect the immunity, and that can compromise the patient’s wellbeing to the point of death.? The traditional Sri Lankan diet has food replete with medicinal properties that may help prevent diseases by boosting immunity and may aid in fast recovery provided the person has no other major illnesses. Food, when consumed in its natural state, can be medicine. When it is abused (processed/fast food, factory farmed and artificially grown, chemical injected chicken, chemical agriculture), it can be poison.??

The primary pillars of good health in the philosophy and science of Ayurveda comprise what we eat to keep our body healthy, how we avoid a sedentary lifestyle by keeping the body active, how we avoid evil thought and action by focusing on spirituality/religion and how we keep our minds free of worry and anxiety.??

A nation can have strong policies to implement those measures. It can engage with medical experts.Today, many have been taken by surprise at how health comes as a priority over economy and how these two are linked.

To safeguard the country in more ways than one; safeguard the health of the people, safeguard its monetary wellbeing and its national identity/sovereignty, we need to have a core health approach that does not forget our medicinal heritage.??

We have in the country many streams of medical traditions; Allopathy/Homeopathy. We have the oldest, Deshiya Chikitsa (Hela Wedakama), Ayurvedha, Siddha and Unani. It is up to policymakers to come up with long- term strategies to protect the people.??

Q: What should people eat to boost their immunity?

A: We can consume Ayurvedic herbs. For example, instead of tea, we can consume Nelli, Rasakinda, Coriander, Veniwel, Pol Pala, Ranawara and Beli Mal. We have plant spices which we consume in curries. Bread is not a traditional food.

It was introduced by the Portuguese. Historians have recorded how the Sinhalese were aghast at these strange white men who they mistook to be cannibals; eating flesh (bread) and drinking blood (wine).??

However, today, we eat bread as if it was indigenous food. Bread made of wheat flour has gluten and other anti-nutrients that attack the immune system. Some people regularly consume artificially grown factory farmed chicken, imported, processed/packaged/canned preservative based fruit/vegetables.

?These are unhealthy.??

We can eat what grows on this soil. We have food that can help the body keep itself strong and ward off infections and food that acts as medicine.??

Traditional breakfast has been Kola Kenda. This is one of the healthiest starts one can have. It is after colonisation that people started belittling traditional food and using the derogatory term Kenda Beela Wage to mean weak or low in nutrition.??

Consume Kola Kenda as breakfast. Many people mix coconut milk and the juice of the ground leaves and then boil with rice. If you do this, nutritional properties of coconut and leaves get mixed up and are lowered. When rice is boiled, add first coconut milk and at the final stage the juice of the leaves.??

Diyakiri should be used for those with respiratory illnesses, cholesterol and liver problems.

Kola Kenda is for general health and used as medicine. For general health and immunity, Kenda is made from Gotukola, Penala, Hathawariya, Monarakudumbiya, Ranawara leaves and Heenbovitiya.??

One can consume three kinds of kola kenda: Yakinarang Kola Kenda also known as Wal-dehi, Yati-naran, Yak dehi, ElaBatu kola kenda made from Ela Batu leaves and Kuppamaniya, for curative properties mainly for infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract.??

The rice to be used for Kenda should be varieties, such as Kalu Heeneti or Beheth Heeneti (or many kinds of traditional deshiya sahal) or at least rathu kekulu hal.??

Diverse varieties of leaves –palawarga – are consumed as food in general which is a key component of our traditional diet. A few basic ones are a powerhouse of nutrition (wetamurunga, kathurumurunga, nivithi and kankun).

There are around 30 traditional varieties of yams/roots/tubers. A few which are excellent for health are Hingurala, Hondala, Dandila, Hulangkiriya, Batala, Mannokka, Kiriala, Angiliala and Raja ala.??

We can consume grains, such as Kadala, Kollu, Thala and Undu to boost immunity.? We have many vegetables grown here. We also have endemic vegetable varieties. Karawila is good for immunity. We have fruits, such as Beli, Nelli, Narang, Veralu and Divul that have immunity boosting properties.??

Q: Could you speak of other methods through which we could achieve healthiness?

A: Exercise is vital. Our ancestors did not lead sedentary lifestyles. If we live a simple and active life as our ancestors did, we don’t need artificial exercises. However, since many of us live in cities and have to think of exercise as a routine, Yoga in Ayurveda bridges the body, mind and spirit. The martial art, Angampora also has simpler forms of exercise, but these are not known to the people.??

Q:The Coronavirus pandemic seems to wreak havoc on people’s minds as stressful news is in their minds. Doesn’t this block one’s immune system from functioning well?

A: Yes. Definitely. It is harmful. One should be aware of what’s happening around the world, but not develop a fear psychosis which ruins the immune system. Being content, happy, nurturing good thoughts, cultivating kindness, compassion and practising meditation daily and living a proper spiritual life are all important.??

Q: The oldest hospital in the world is believed to have been in Mihintale. But yet, have we researched enough about our past heritage in health and wellbeing; and how do you think this is connected to our present and our future?

A: This is the pity. We do not care for the past. We have not researched enough – there is immense scope for us to do research not just for a book or academic paper, but to use this knowledge. We talk of Sigiriya and Isurumuniya. Engineers of the West cannot understand how these were built those days; how water was taken atop Sigiriya.?

How did they do it? We can imagine what the health of our ancestors was like, by just looking at these monuments. Yet are we searching deeply on these or talking in-depth about them, so that the current and future generations can learn and try to understand and emulate.

We go abroad to learn engineering and architecture, but has anyone found out how we constructed our heritage sites? Do we know how ancient pillars were made? Do we know how the Isurumuniya stone was made so smooth and shaped as if it was clay? Are we even concerned? These could have been melted by using herbs that had medicinal/acidic properties. To achieve these feats, can you imagine how healthy the bodies and minds of our ancestors would have been???