Tue | Mar 28, 2017

Eating healthy strengthens the body against chikungunya

Published:Wednesday | September 24, 2014 | 9:00 AM

Chikungunya is a disease that is spread by mosquitoes, so you may be asking "what does nutrition have to do with this disease?"

Well, good nutrition is important to building a strong immune system, not to prevent chikungunya, but to lessen the effects of the symptoms. It has been proven that persons with a strong immune system recover much faster from chikungunya and other illnesses that attack the body. A weak immune system makes you more prone to contracting, ailing longer and even dying from a number of illnesses, that's why it is very important to practice healthy eating habits.

The purpose of our immune system is to:

Identify foreign bodies such as bacteria, viruses (as in the case of chikungunya).

Protect the body from the full, debilitating effects of the illness.

Research has shown that persons who regularly consume a variety of nutrient-rich foods are less likely to get sick and, if they get sick, it will be to a lesser degree when compared to persons who do not make healthy food choices. However, consuming too much or too little of certain nutrients may have a negative effect on one's immune system, so a balanced diet is very important.

Most nutrients in foods play a role in maintaining the immune system. Eating a variety of foods from the six Caribbean groups in the recommended amount is important to boost the immune system.

The following foods, nutrients and substances, if consumed on a daily basis, will make the body strong to fight illnesses such a chikungunya.

Colostrum - the first liquid from the breast after giving birth, that is clear in colour. Colostrum is rich in immunoglobulins that protect the newborn from diseases such as chikungunya.

Breast milk also has substances and nutrients that continue to protect an infant from diseases. And in cases where infants get diseases such as chikungunya, the effects will not be as bad as compared to a non-breastfed infant. BREASTFEED!

Fruits are high in Vitamins A, B, C and are needed to protect against and/or reduce the effects of the symptoms of diseases such as chikungunya. Fruits also provide quick energy for persons who are feeling weak and fatigued from chikungunya.

Vegetables are a good source of Vitamins A, B, C, E, folate, iron and magnesium. These nutrients also help healing of the rashes on skin caused by chikungunya. The nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables are also important to reduce the inflammation that results in joint pain caused by the chikungunya virus.

Peas, beans and nuts provide protein, manganese, folate and vitamin E. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are very important to building strong bones and muscles and making the joints supple.

Foods from animals that are low in fat provide high-quality protein, iron, vitamin B, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium. Eating fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, tuna is also important.

There is really no need for persons with chikungunya to use dietary supplements at this time, but instead eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods to help rid the body of the virus and build back the immune system to protect from future illnesses.

USEFUL TIPS

In addition to proper nutrition and good environmental practices, it is also important to have proper hygienic practices. Here are some useful tips on healthy eating during and after chikungunya:

Wash hands with soap and clean water before, during and after food preparation.

Wash hands with soap and clean water before and after feeding infant or child.

Wash hands with soap and clean water before and after using toilet, scratching skin and blowing nose.

Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, especially important for children, pregnant women and the elderly. Soup and porridge are excellent choices at this time. Drinking is very important, especially when there is fever and headache.

Consume small, frequent balanced meals. Make sure foods selected are from at least three different food groups, to include fruits or vegetables and protein-rich foods such as peas, beans and foods from animals. Fever increases the energy used up by the body, therefore, it is important to make healthy food choices that are high in energy.

Include healthy snacks such as crackers, cheese and fresh, unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice to provide energy and reduce fatigue.

Consume less foods with a strong smell if experiencing nausea (bad-feeling). Do not eat and drink at the same time; eat about 15 to 30 minutes before drinking or vice versa.

Rest is important to help the body get over the illness while it makes healthy cells.

Chikungunya is a disease that can be controlled and prevented. Nutrition plays a major role in keeping you healthy, so that if the virus enters the body, it will not cause any serious problems that will make you or your family less productive at home, work or school.

Play your part. Make healthy food choices to build your immune system and fight chikungunya.

Marsha N. Woolery, RD, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay, and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.