With over a year into the pandemic, immunity has become the new obsession. There has been a newfound support and acceptance for immunity boosters. But science says that immunity boosters are a hoax.
Bengaluru: The year 2020 will be remembered as the year which changed everything. The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11 March 2020, declared the novel coronavirus, a global pandemic.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had us faced with an increasing death toll and limited treatment options. Indians turned to alternative medicine to prepare for the unavoidable exposure.
Pragya, a 34-year-old homemaker, never imagined a pandemic like this could happen. “When the first covid case was reported in India, I knew it won’t take time for it to spread across the whole country and that’s exactly what happened,” she said.
Looking at the havoc the pandemic was creating and with no treatment options available, Pragya turned to immunity-boosting supplements as the only option to prevent her from catching the virus. Every morning, she would start her day by making a homemade concoction consisting of ginger, turmeric, water, apple cider vinegar, and honey. She believed the drink would help in building her immunity and protect her against the novel Coronavirus.
“The virus was affecting those with weak immunity and with no concrete treatment options, the only way to protect yourself from the exposure is to build your immunity,” she said.
Pragya, in a bid to build her immunity, relied heavily on immunity boosters. Her day would consist of taking steam in the morning followed by vitamin pills and zinc after breakfast and kadha in the afternoon and finally chawanprash and turmeric milk by the night. Soon, she started experiencing their side effects. “My body started producing a lot of heat which I believe was due to the heavy intake of all these homemade drinks. I started feeling a lot anxious and had trouble with my sleep cycle. So, I consulted my ayurvedic doctor and she asked me to stop taking them for some time,” she said.
Immunity: The new buzzword
The fear of the deadly contagious disease resulted in a 500 percent spike in the search for the word “immunity” on Google, in 2020. Searches for vitamin C (150 percent), Giloy (380 percent), and ayurvedic home remedies such as Kadha (90 percent) also increased a few weeks into the lockdown.
The word “immunity” has again gained traction with the second Covid wave as it reached the highest point on the chart of search interest in India between April 5- May 1, 2021, according to Google Trends Analytics.
Although the cause and effect of the dreaded virus remained unclear, the reports of the havoc it had created around the world showed that the stronger is our immune system, the greater chances we have of surviving an infection, be it coronavirus or any illness for that matter.
As a result, the government introduced various measures and a lot of them included the promotion of immunity boosting products. The Ministry of Ayush has issued many advisories and self-care guidelines for preventive health measures with a claim to “boost” immunity.
Since there is a growing need for immunity-boosting products in the wake of Covid-19, the India immunity-boosting packaged goods market is expected to rise rapidly during the forecast period, reaching $ 347 million by FY 2026, according to a TechSci Research report.
Pharmacies have seen a surge in demand for immunity-boosting supplements and medicines as people hope it will keep COVID-19 at bay. G Mahesh of Yasho Pharmacy on Residency Road, Bengaluru said that before Covid, immunity boosters were a very niche segment and probably two percent of the Indian population used to take such products but now as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that sales of immunity boosters are rising.
“There is an increase in sales of immunity boosters by many folds. Now, at least 75 percent of the Indian population know about Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12,” he said. He added that there is a demand for Vitamin C, D, Zinc, and a combination of all three with curcumin among consumers.
According to the findings of Dentsu India’s latest survey, The Next Normal: The Rise of the Contactless Economy, the Covid-19 epidemic has resulted in a significant increase in the market for immunity boosters. Supplements and superfoods flew off the shelves of many metro cities almost instantly as people tried to protect themselves. About 61 percent of Generation Z and 59 percent of millennials used immunity boosters to improve their immunity.
The study further mentions that there is an increased demand for Ayurvedic products in the country. In contrast to allopathic therapies, the research shows a significant increase in demand and preference for Ayurvedic treatments in improving immunity.
Can the immune system be boosted?
Too much importance is being given to the immune system based on information on the internet during the covid pandemic. But the question remains whether the immune system can be boosted or not? The answer, experts say, is no.
Immunologist Dr. Nagendra Prasad, Bengaluru Allergy Centre said that body immunity has its own role of action. “There is nothing to boost. The immune system is already there in your body and it is working well. There are various claims made that the immune system can be boosted which are not true. The immune system is a lot more complex. It gets activated when a foreign substance enters the body,” said Dr. Nagendra.
He further explains that the common mistake people make with immunity boosters is that they overdose on them. Immunity boosters can do more harm than good if taken in large quantities.
“There are some cases where people have overdosed on a particular substance but within a few days, they come back to normalcy. Excess of anything can be toxic. If you consume half or one kg of curcumin in a day that will have its own side effects. The idea is to aid your immunity, so the optimum dose that is suggested is about 200-500 micrograms. Overdosing is not advisable because the body takes a lot of struggle to eliminate it from the system. Similarly, the case with other things too, including vitamin D,” he said.
Dr. Nagendra added that there is no scientific evidence that immunity boosters help in preventing covid infection. A moderate dose is required to supplement the immune system. “There are places where we can support the immune system and help it to work to the optimum level with the help of proper nutrition and exercise. These are very important and basic elements which are required to supplement the body and see that the immune system is regularly maintained.”
However, Dr. Nidhi Sharma, an assistant professor of All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA) says that improving the natural protection mechanism i.e., immunity of the body plays a significant role in the preservation of good health.
“Ayurveda has played a big role in the medicinal history of our country. It does strengthen your immunity, flush out toxins from your body, and modifies your diet and lifestyle. If you follow an adequate diet and lifestyle, it will automatically boost your immunity,” Dr. Sharma said.
“Immunity is the strength required by your body to combat diseases. For example, the TB bacteria lives inside you but the moment your immunity is down you contract the disease. It is not necessary that you get contaminated from outside. We keep coming in contact with various bacteria and viruses every day and it is only immunity which keeps us safe from it,” she added.
Dr Sharma further said that there have been cases where people are cured of Covid-19 with the help of Ayurveda. “In AIIA, we have seen that patients with mild and asymptomatic cases have been cured with ayurvedic medicines and immunity boosters. But, in the case of patients with comorbidities, they have to be treated for their comorbid condition first. So, it totally depends on the condition of the patient. Ayurveda is more of a therapeutic treatment that has been a part of our medicinal history. It focuses on prevention along with curative aspects. Even if people have followed allopathic treatment, then alongside they have also followed ayurvedic methods.”
While Pragya has stopped the intake of immunity boosters for the time being, on her doctor’s advice but she says it won’t stop her from consuming them again in the future. “I am not taking immunity-boosting supplements as of now but that does not mean I won’t take them again. I still consume chawanprash in a gap of about two days at least,”
She added, “Immunity boosters do aid your immune system in some ways, and including them in your diet will definitely help but this time I will remember that I don’t consume them in excess like how I was doing before.”
The allopathy and ayurvedic debate is long going. Recently, Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev made a remark against allopathic medication. On Thursday, the Delhi High Court issued summons to Baba Ramdev on a petition accusing him of making allegations against allopathic medications and claiming Patanjali’s Coronil kit is a treatment for COVID-19.
As the second wave of Covid wreaks havoc around the world, the sales of immunity boosters continue to rise. “Still pandemic is on, so people who have finished their stock, they’ll again come back and take it. This is a temporary phenomenon. If things become normal the sale will come down. As of now, the sale is rising.” said G Mahesh.