Thursday, 21 November 2013

Towards building a stronger, healthier and more immune nation

Sitting in my balcony one fine Sunday morning I looked out. The courtyard in the 80+ Apartments Complex was deserted. The silence, the closed windows of other apartments, the lack of human activity around sent me back down memory lane. Time was when we used to wait for that Sunday morning just to get out of the house and have fun with friends in sun, in sand, in mud, in water. The neighbourhood would be alive by 5 in the morning with the ‘Suprabhatham.’ I felt pity for the innumerable children restricted to such Apartment complexes and houses. They are brought up in closed units of 400 to 2000 sq.ft. right from their birth. They grow up as caged beings thereby losing out on health both mental and physical..

The strength of a building as we all know depends upon the strength of its foundation. A building cannot be erected in a single day. Each part requires some time to set before the next stage of work can begin. Same is the case with the human body. To build a race of strong, healthy and immune individuals we have to lay a strong foundation. This takes time but it is worth it.

Beginning of Life:

For some life starts when the seed is sown in the mother’s womb, for others when a baby enters the world. But for me life starts the day two people decide to tie the knot. Why?

The other day a young couple came to meet me with their child of two. The child looked thoroughly malnourished. The couple was healthy, but the child looked sickly. I did not have to go far to know the reason. The couple was first cousins. Now what is wrong in that?  From the social and cultural angle maybe there is nothing wrong. But from the health aspect, yes everything is wrong. Children of first cousin marriages are at a higher risk of genetic disorders because married couples that possess higher than normal consanguinity share identical DNA and genetic material. They have an increased chance of sharing genes for recessive traits.

The increased risk of birth defects and mortality that children of such marriages face is comparable to the risk of birth defect and mortality that the children of a woman who conceives them at 40+ face. Hence it is not advisable to marry within the family. This is the first step towards building a strong, healthy, immune and vibrant nation. Necessary awareness is to be created among the people in this respect.

Immunity building and the mother:

The seed is sown. You need to water it, nourish it and provide it with sufficient sunlight to enable it grow strong. How?

The mother starts taking care of the child even before he/she is born. She sends her own regiment of soldiers to protect the baby, in the form of antibodies. These are sent through the placenta. The immune system of the foetus starts developing from the 9th week and is totally dependent on the mother until the 14th week by when its own immune system is nourished and trained to take care of itself. The T and B lymphocytes and the antigen presenting cells are gradually developed during the intra – uterine life of the child. These help in the development of the various defense mechanisms of specific immunity.

Nutrition provided in the prenatal stage plays a vital role in the development of the foetus. Apart from transporting antibodies from mother to child, the placenta also transports the much needed nourishment. Hence pregnant women should consume food rich in Iron, folate, choline, potassium, Vitamins, Omega-3, Magnesium, Calcium, protein, copper, beta-carotene and zinc. Regular intake of eggs, fish rich in Omega -3, nuts, sweet potatoes, orange juice, yoghurt, green leafy vegetables, beans and fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, papaya, berries etc. is advisable. Each of the above have an important role to play in the baby’s overall development. Lack/ insufficient supply of any one element can have disastrous consequences. Example.- lack/ insufficient supply of magnesium can affect the baby’s nervous system, short supply of Vitamin A can result in poor eyesight, bone structure and skin quality.

However, while consuming fish one needs to be careful against the possibility of mercury contamination.

Immunity, Growth and Development - Post Natal and later stage

The larva feeds on leaves but the butterfly seeks nectar. Similar is the case with a baby. Till such time it is in the womb it takes in anything supplied by the mother through the placenta. But once out, its needs change; its tastes become more refined. The meaning of care changes.

Breast feeding-

The initial milk produced by the mother is known as colostrum. Colostrum is a thin yellowish fluid packed with Immunoglobulin IgA and proteins. Immunoglobulin IgA coats the gastrointestinal tract of the baby and provides the baby the required immunity till such time its own immune system is ready to take over. It also contributes to the growth of the baby’s digestive system. After the initial 3-4 days the colour and consistency of breast milk changes. The benefits of breast feeding are long lasting. Some o the benefits are lowered risk of SIDS, asthma, dental problems, obesity in later life and autism.
Though the WHO recommends exclusive breast feeding for the first six months of life, in Kerala right from the 28th day of birth till the “annaprasam”” day, the child is fed on Ragi/ dried banana ( Nenthravazha type) pudding or smashed baked banana in addition to mother’s milk twice a day. This is said to help make the baby strong.

Baby bath and massage:

Ayurveda strongly advocates Abhyanga or massage with baby oil for promoting the growth and overall development of the baby. There are a number of traditional as well as branded ayurvedic baby oils to choose from. Some of them are Balathailam, Ksheerabalathailam, Shashtika Tailam Balaswagandhadhi Thailam, Lakshadi Tailam and Dabur Lal Tail. Olive oil and virgin coconut oil are also used for massaging the baby. Regular massage contributes to proper blood circulation and the proper development of the bones and muscles.

In most Keralalite Hindu homes the baby is administered ‘Vayambu’ after massage and bath from the 28th day till the “annaprasam” day. What is ‘Vayambu?’

Vayambu is a collection of ten ayurvedic/ herbal items i.e Vayambu (Vacha), Erattimadhuram (Mulhati, Jetimad), Kadukka (Harad), Masikka (Muphal), Nellikka (Amla), Thannikka (Bahera), idam piri valam piri ( Marorphali),, Rudraksham, sandal and gold. These are rubbed on a ‘channa’ (a stone on which we rub sandal wood to make a paste) to get a small quantity of paste. This paste is then mixed with breast milk and administered on the babies tongue. The goodness of all these contribute to the baby’s heath and development both mental and physical.

After 6 months of age

From the 6th month onwards babies should be fed with solid food rich in nutrition.  Some Ayurvedic practitioners also recommend the administering of Balaguti for a period of one year to improve the baby’s immunity.

Children should be fed on foods rich in carbohydrates, proteins, calcium, iron, vitamins and essential fatty acids. The best solution is organically grown vegetables and fruits. They are not only free from harmful chemicals but are also rich in minerals. Paneer, milk and pulses provide the much required protein and strength. Nuts, brown rice, raisins, amla, ginger and turmeric are highly recommended. These items help in the growth and development of the immune system. One should also recognize the benefits of Neem, Aswagandha, Giloy, Mulethi and Tulsi and include them in their daily life.

Image courtesy of Suat Eman at
Children can be provided some additional nutritional supplements also in consultation with a doctor. Older children as well as adults can take ayurvedic supplements such as ‘Chyawanprash.’ Laced with the goodness of the innumerable ingredients that go in its making, ‘Chyawanarash’ is said to have anti oxidant properties. It also helps strengthen the body’s internal defense mechanism. There are many brands of Chyawanaprash in the market today. Some of the most trusted ones are from the House of Dabur, Kotakal Arya Vaidya Sala and Coimbatore Arya Vaidya Sala.

Apart from the above adequate intake of pure water and proper immunization in the form of vaccinations prescribed by Doctors and Authorities are also necessary to ensure good health.

Physical exercise and good health-

There was a time when children climbed trees at a very tender age, played all sorts of rough games, were close to Mother Nature. Children went to school on foot enjoying each bit of that exercise, falling and fighting, caring and sharing. My mother tells me that they often fell on the way and searched for their own remedy in the wayside plants. They would just pluck some leaves, rub it on the palm and squeeze the juice on the wound. Of course they were all well aware of the harmful weeds and plants and never touched those. Their immunity level was high and so was their knowledge of the benefits of herbs and shrubs.

Only yesterday I read an advertisement in a leading National Daily about  The Springs Continental School in Manjeri organizing ‘Mud Day’. Now isn’t that great?  A day dedicated to mud. A day when the children and adults are invited to splash in mud, enjoy the feeling of being close to Mother Earth and revel in her goodness. In olden days children reveled in mud, played in wet fields in fact some also tasted mud. Yet, they were strong and healthy. We miss those sights these days. Forget playing in mud, children don’t have the time and inclination for outdoor games and activities. They are just busy poking on their electronic gadgets.

Playtime and PT time in schools are not what they used to be earlier. Today children try to make all sorts of excuses to avoid them. They try and avoid the sun which itself is a great source of immunity.  Just as the brain needs books to feed on, the body needs regular exercise, fresh air and the goodness of mud to ensure the proper development of the physique and mental health. The inhalation of fresh air makes the body’s power house, the lungs strong. The Heart too is at an advantage. Hence it is not advisable to restrict children from coming into contact with mud and water.

In the end I would just like to say that the key to a strong, healthy, immune and vibrant nation is there in ourselves and in Nature, We just have to understand it, explore it and put it into practice, We also need to be patient. No shortcuts.

 This post is written for the  Dabur Chyawanprash Immune India contest on indiblogger

Here we were required to write a post on "How to build a stronger, healthier and more immune India"

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