One of the crucial shields against Covid-19 is immunity. Research reports suggest that patients with good immunity levels are able to fight the infection better. Scientists and doctors have said that a fair dose of millet intake would help people boost their immunity levels, which would come in handy in their fight against the virulent Novel Coronavirus.
Scientists at the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) point out that the most important elements that maintain our immune system is a healthy balanced diet, which contains all vitamins and minerals in balanced proportion. Millets, which contain minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, would fit the bill.
There are many sources of foods that are known as immunity boosters, and being a staple cereal, millets may prove to be a promising source, especially relevant to the times of Covid-19 virus pandemic situation, they said.
Millets (lately known as nutricereals) are nutritionally superior to major cereals (wheat and rice) for carbohydrate and energy, and serve as a good source of protein, high dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, antoxidants and micronutrients, VA Tonapi, Director of IIMR-ICAR, has said.
“Finger millet grains contain essential minerals such as calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P) and vitamins. Pearl millet grains contain Fe, which is the highest (6.4 mg/100 g) among various cereals. It is rich in resistant starch, soluble and insoluble dietary fibres, minerals, and antioxidants,” he said.
“The rich source of vitamins and minerals of millets perform different functions in our body to boost our immune response towards pathogens,” Raj Bhandari, Senior Paediatrician, and Member, National Technical Board of Nutrition and Health at NITI Aayog, has said.
“Immunity provides protection to life, mediated through cellular response, and humoral immune response. And the body promotes systematic immune processes by regulating the formation of T lymphocytes, antibodies, and cytokines,” he said.
Finger millet is rich in calcium (364 mg/100 g), more than double that available in milk. The protein content of proso millet was significantly richer in essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and methionine) than wheat protein. Thus, the presence of all the required nutrients in millets helps to maintain the body’s immune system.
Health benefits of millets
Millets have nutraceutical properties in the form of antioxidants which prevent deterioration of human health. “The alkaline nature of millets offers natural protection against many diseases including cancer. Another emerging health problem is metabolic syndrome, a condition characterised by increased insulin resistance and visceral adiposity,” Tonapi said.
B Dayakar Rao, Principal Scientist and Chief Executive Officer of Nutrihub, lists out the attributes of millets that help boost immunity.
“Vitamin A, which is found in abundant quantities in millets, is involved in the development of the immune system and plays a regulatory role in cellular immune responses and humoral immune processes. Vitamin B9 plays a role in immunity enhancement,” he said.
“Several traditional household food processing and preparation methods, including soaking, fermentation, germination and malting, can also be used to enhance the bioavailability of micronutrients,” Dayakar said.
Probiotic, gut microbiota
Millets are also good to promote probiotics, the micro-organisms that are quite helpful for digestion. “Probotic foods from millets are rich in phytochemicals including phytic acid and phytates, which are known to have lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer,” he said.
The gut microbiota includes bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses. “Trillions of bacteria colonize the gut. They have a big role in prevention of leaky gut syndrome caused due to disruption of the gut barrier by pathogens and opportunistic fungal infection,” he said.
“The anti-inflammatory property of millets could well be suited to prevent environmental enteropathy and inflammatory bowel disease,” he said.
“The gut microbiota plays an important role in the normal functioning of the host organism. The benefits are mutual ― the micro-organisms are supported by the food that the humans eat and play a key role in (maintaining good) health throughout human life,” Dayakar said.
They also play a good role in strengthening the immune system and building defences against pathogens.
“The gut microbiota provides essential capacities for the fermentation of non-digestible substrates like dietary fibres and endogenous intestinal mucus. This fermentation supports the growth of specialist microbes that produce short chain fatty acids,” he said.
“The high levels of tryptophan in millets produce serotonin, which is calming to our moods,” he added.
“Adequate and appropriate nutrition is required for all cells to function optimally and this includes the cells in the immune system. The immune system’s demands for energy and nutrients can be met from exogenous sources such as millet diets,” Bhandari said.
Some micronutrients and dietary components of millets have very specific roles in the development and maintenance of an effective immune system throughout the course of life, as well as in reducing chronic inflammation.
Tags: immunity, Indian Institute of Millets Research, IIMR, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, ICAR, Covid-19, Novel Coronavirus, cereals, probiotics, vitamins, minerals, Hyderabad.