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Restoration of Sigiriya frescoes vandalized in 1967

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Excerpted from SIGIRIYA PAINTINGS by

Raja de Silva , Retired Commissioner of Archaeology

On the morning of October 15, 1967, the Archaeology Commissionner, Dr. CE Godakumbure, instructed me to go immediately to Sigiriya and take necessary action to remove the green ink (S. theentha), which, according to an incoherent message received from the Overseer, was understood to have been splashed on the paintings in the fresco pocket by vandals during the previous night.

I arrived that evening at Sigiriya with my conservation staff and the onset of the rainy season of the North-East Monsoon, and with liberal quantities of chemicals for the removal of ink. I was informed that the priceless paintings had been daubed not with ink but with a green paint. The paintings were inspected the next morning in the company of the Police, who had locked with a new padlock, the door leading to the fresco pockets at the head of the spiral staircase, after their investigations the previous day. It appeared from the police investigations that the vandals had surmounted two locked gates and opened the final padlocked door of the fresco pocket with a key.

The greatest problems of conservation and restoration that were faced at Sigiriya were those attendant on the vandalism that took place in October, 1967 when a commercial green paint was daubed on 14 of the 19 paintings extant in the fresco pockets (five in pocket A and 14 in pocket B). 12(a). In addition two of the disfigured paintings had been physically damaged beyond repair, by hacking away the head of one figure (pocket B, No. 3) and the portion above the waist of the next (pocket B. No. 4). 7(a), 10, 10(a). The very next painting (pocket B, No.5) was stabbed at with a pointed instrument – “the most unkindest cut of all”.

The paintings in pocket A which had been covered by the daubing of green paint were Nos. 3 and 4; the panels in pocket B which had been similarly disfigured were Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. Broken fragments of the painted plaster were strewn on the floor of pocket B and the paint had trickled on to the lower parts of the ground and the floor of the other pocket as well. Much of the paint had not dried and the cool weather due to the monsoonal rains had inhibited the drying process. No test for the removal of the paint were possible as the chemicals brought from Colombo were for the purpose of removing ink stains, misconstrued as the material strewn on the paintings (the Sinhalese word for ink being the same as that for paint). A full photographic record in black and white and in colour was taken together with samples of the paint and the broken plaster, and conservation team returned to Colombo on 16 October.

No time was lost in conducting experiments for the expeditious removal of dry and drying paint from the fragments of the Sigiriya plaster (without damage to the original painted surface) and from similar wall surfaces in the laboratory. The keystone of the tests was to devise a method of dissolving the paint and removing it from the surface of the wall before the dissolved paint solution had time to penetrate into the lime plaster (intonaco). A suitable method of treatment was successfully devised in Colombo, and the conservation party left for Sigiriya on October 19.

On October 20, a successful method of cleaning the greater part of the vandals’ paint was devised in the fresco pockets and by end of the day about half the area of pocket B, No. 10 was cleaned. In patches where the original paint layer had fallen off in the past revealing the intonaco, there was a light blue colour due to the constituent of the paint of this colour; which turned out to be Prussian Blue, being absorbed in such areas. On returning to Colombo on October 21 a conference was held the next day chaired by the Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs; in immediate response to a Government request from the International Centre for the Study and Preservation of Cultural Property, Rome, for the services of the best available expert to restore the paintings, Luciano Maranzi, an alumnus of this Centre was selected and had arrived in the Island for a period of two weeks.

The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, had readily agreed to bear the expenses involved. After briefing the Minister and discussing the problems involved whilst in Colombo, Maranzi, Raja de Silva and his technical staff left for Sigiriya the next day with materials for restoration from the Archaeological Laboratory as well as from Italy. Maranzi conducted experiments for two days and devised a quicker method of cleaning the paintings than had been used a few days earlier by de Silva, with the use of the same solvent, trilene. Maranzi expressed no great surprise at this coincidence as he recalled seeing me at the Rome Centre in 1956 when I was on a short training course there.

Maranzi, however, used to good effect other materials too that had been brought by him, and adopted a faster and more efficient method of cleaning the paintings than we had used. Maranzi and the Archaelogical Survey Department (ASD) staff worked in the fresco pockets from early morning till fading light of the evening (food being brought up daily) until November 3, 1967; he left the Island on November 4 after completing the initial part of his programme of work and advising us on how to continue the restoration work pending his return in 1968.

The programme of restoration and conservation was phased out as follows:

 

1

. Removal of the yellow and green constituents of the vandals’ paint

 

In this process, the modern restorations carried out by the ASD were also largely removed, the exception being the resistant green paint, easily recognizable as not original from slight impasto nature, that may have been done by the “lasting spirit fresco medium” recorded by Bell.

The method adopted by Maranzi was the application of Decapex (Nitrosmalti, Via Quattro Novembre, Roma) a jelly like proprietary brand of mild paint remover. A small pad of cotton wool was then dipped in trilene, firmly held with the fingers and thumb and drawn across the painted area already treated with Decapex. By repetition of this procedure, the green and yellow constituents of the vandals’ paint were removed. On conducting this part of the cleaning operation, it was found that in certain areas where the original paint had fallen off in the past (and the intonaco had been exposed) the blue constituent of the vandals’ paint had been absorbed on the intonaco, and was resistant to the paint remover. However, dark growths of algae around some of the panels as well as most of the restorations of the ASD were removed.

 

2. Consolidation of the plaster of the physically damaged figures

An emulsion of polyvinyl acetate, Vinamul (ICI, London), known locally as Chemifix, further diluted with water was introduced using a hypodermic syringe and needle at the broken edge formed by the destruction of parts of B3 and B4. The exposed rock surface (seen to be pitted all over as a “key” for the laying of the ground) resulting from the vandalism on panels B3 and B4 was plastered with a mixture of sand, lime and polyvinyl acetate emulsion. Before the work was completed on B5, a memento in the form of two coins of the day engraved with the names of Maranzi and de Silva and dated March 25, 1967, were inserted in the fresh plaster mix at the edge of the broken ground of the wall painting, to be found at some distant date when the applied plaster is removed or falls away.

 

3. Removal of the resistant Prussian Blue

 

This constituent of the vandals’ paint can be decolorized by the use of alkalies. The application of inorganic alkalies such as even very dilute sodium hydroxide can lead to complications later due to the conversion of any excess into sodium carbonate. The Rome Centre advised the use of a volatile organic base, normal butyl amine, which was found to be satisfactory for our purpose. The application of the amine entailed the use of a cotton-wool padded glass rod.

 

4. Restoration by Maranzi of the areas exposed by the removal of modern restoration work by the ASD.

 

The “many lamentable pitting” on the paintings found by Bell had been modeled in and touched up in his time by using modern colours that extended beyond the repaired areas. The white frame left on the removal of Murray’s tissue papers had been restored using colours that did not blend well with the background colour laid on the plaster in ancient times. All these having been removed in the cleaning process of 1967, Maranzi did the minimum amount of restoration necessary, using emulsion paints (Reeves polymer colours) and Aqua Tee acrylic polymer emulsions (Bocour Artists, Colombo, New York). This work was done in an acceptable manner. so as to enable the viewer to recognize which areas had been restored. SM Seneviratne, Draughtsman and MWE Karunaratne, Photographer, assisted Maranzi in this part of the programme.

 

5. Application of a Preservative Coating

 

The painstaking and unstinted assistance given by SM Seneviratne, MWE Karunaratne, and RA Wilson, WK Samaranayake and Lokubanda of the Archaeological Laboratory, is placed on record.

Maranzi returned to the country on March 4. 1968 to personally undertake the remaining phases of the restoration work, i.e., touching up, and the application of a preservative coating of an easily removable synthetic resin, Paraloid B72, dissolved in trilene. This served also to enhance the clarity of the paintings. Maranzi copied (from existing photographs) in the fresco technique, the damaged panels B3 and B4, on an asbestos sheet plastered with a lime mix – the only example of a fresco painting in the country, which is exhibited in the archaeological museum, Sigiriya. He left Sri Lanka on April 11, 1968. It may be noted here that we were able to obtain Maranzi’s services on several later occasions, when he trained our conservation staff, and restored our paintings elsewhere in the country.

Maranzi had come, revivified the divine females of the fresco pocket to their pristine beauty, and had departed, leaving these specimens of ancient pictorial art for present and future generations to delight in. The entire nation and lovers of art outside our shores are surely indebted to him for the excellence of his restoration work.

On May 8, 1968, the fresco pocket was ceremonially opened to the public by the Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs in the presence of a distinguished gathering and thousands of citizens, after a historic meeting held at the Audience Hall Rock.



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Features

The ‘Cheena Abhagya’ on the rise

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There is a big China Hurry in the government that seems much higher than any hurry about controlling the Covid pandemic.

The debate of the Colombo Port City Commission was scheduled for May 5, without even receiving the Supreme Court decision on the many petitions filed before it. This is a complete and shameless shift from the very process of parliamentary debate, the stuff of democracy.

A debate in parliament is based on the material — the facts, plans, decisions, proposals etc – placed before the members. This government with its Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour has no interest in the democratic process. They decide on a date for a debate on what is the most important piece of legislation today, with the MPs not given even an hour to know and study the decision of the Supreme Court on the subject. In fact, it is also a huge insult to the Supreme Court and the judicial process, too.

This decision and its refusal to agree to the Opposition calls for more days for this debate, showed how the government is ready, and determined, to use its two-thirds majority, post 20A, to have no respect for the democratic process.

Although this shameful move by the government failed, due to the Supreme Court decision not reaching the Speaker by that time, the mockery of democracy continues, with the next date for the debate on the Port City subject being fixed for May 18, again with no opportunity for all MPs to read and study the court decision/s on so many matters raised by the petitioners, some of whom were members of parliament too.

This is the China Hurry – Cheena Hadissiya – being displayed, just the initial moves to use the Sinopharm Covid Vaccine on the people of this country, while it has not been approved by the WHO and the responsible Health and Medical officials in this country.

This is the ‘Cheenabhagya’ doing much more than the Saubhagya Dekma of Gotabhaya Power. A rising ‘Abhagya’ or misery to the people.

This Cheenabhagya is certainly impacting others in the government, such as Minister Gamini Lokuge, who decided to arbitrarily lift the lockdown and travel restrictions in Piliyandala. There will be much more Cheena benefits and power in the coming weeks, as the country keeps reeling with the spread of the latest variant of Covid-19. 

The Cabinet move to import gyms to strengthen the muscles of the people is certainly a move to reduce the thinking power of the people. Muscle Power is the stuff of rulers who have no faith in the Brain Power of people, who would dare to question the decisions taken by rulers. The use of this Brain Power is the very substance of the Buddhist thinking that has been the core value of Sri Lanka through the centuries. This is the substance of the Buddha Dharmaya as against the Buddha-agama that has distorted Buddhist teachings. Are the plans to build a Sri Lankan temple, in the premises of the ancient and first Buddhist White Horse Temple in China, a show of the Cheena Dekma – or Chinese Vision – that holds sway among those attached to what will soon be the Cheena Rajavasala in Hambantota. Maybe, we will soon change the name of Hambantota to a Maha Cheenatota, and wipe off the arrival of Hamban people to this country.

Rishad Bathiuddin remains in the spotlight today. His moves with different governments, from the Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Yahapalana have been the cause of much criticism and court orders such as replanting torn down jungles. He is now detained as a terror suspect, and the Cheena Balaya does not want him to attend parliament. Sarath Weerasekera, Minister of Public Security, does not want him in the House, as he will violate the legal process that holds him in custody, as he would most likely reveal the secrets of terrorism inquiries supposedly now underway, and may even help other un-arrested terror suspects to flee the country. This is against the official thinking of the Attorney General, who certainly knows more about law, than a retired armed services officer.

The innocence of an unconvicted person until conviction by a court, is part of our democratic and judicial processes. Weerasekera is wholly pleased to have within the government ranks, in parliament, a person convicted by the courts for the crime of murder in the Ratnapura district, Premalal Jayasekera. Is this power prospect for future murderers, convicted by a court of law? This Cheena Havula also had in its ranks Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan – Pillayan, while he was held in custody for the murder of a former MP in a Batticaloa church, many years ago. Well, well – he has since been acquitted and released by the Batticaloa High Court

It is not our delight that Rishard Bathiuddin is the focus of a call for democracy within parliament. We are aware of how his party, and the Muslim Congress too, gave support to pass the 20A, and its huge blow to democracy. But the rights of a citizen and an elected MP, have to be protected, whatever the politics and the other stuff of a person may be. To give him the right to attend and speak in parliament is a core value of the democratic process. This cannot be torn away under the Cheena thinking, which is fast taking us to the manipulations of the Chinese Communist Party, in its governance of China.

We are in the throes of a pandemic that is certainly sweeping the country. The need is to guide and handle the fight against it, and save the people of the horror we see just across the Palk Strait. Narendra Modi, who was honoured by his BJP for the so-called success in defeating Covid-19, is now facing humiliating defeats, electorally, socially and globally too. Our fight against this pandemic must be through the values of the democratic process. The values we have seen till 1977, after independence, which have been distorted and destroyed by JRJ and down to the Cheenabhagya of Gotabhaya.

The fight against Covid-19 must be a fight to restore Democracy too, in every form of the people’s rights and freedoms.

Let’s move to Janatha Bhagya, away from the rising Cheena Abhagya of today!

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From Cylinder to Liquid Oxygen Plant

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Story of Oxygen supply at National Hospital –

The National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL) is the largest and best equipped Teaching Hospital in the country with a bed strength of nearly 4,000. It has 26 operating theatres, 28 Intensive Care Units (ICU) and several institutes including one for Cardiology housed in a large number of buildings. It is located on a 32-acre land standing in the middle of Colombo.

NHSL is circled by a ring of busy public roads while some roads are running through the premises. Hospital premises and surrounding roads are always filled with hurriedly pacing medical staff, siren blaring ambulances, patient-carrying trolleys, distressed relatives and tired visitors. One would not miss the sight of a cylinders loaded truck crawling across in this melee and wonder why the truck. They ensure continuous and uninterrupted supply of most essential medical oxygen for the patients treated in ICUs and those undergoing surgery in operating theatres.

A few years ago, a visitor would not have missed the outside walls of these operating theatres and ICUs each of which decorated with 6-7 hanging jumbo oxygen cylinders. When I made the morning strolls down the hospital corridors my eyes always caught the sight of these cylinders. Oxygen is taken through a copper tubing system fixed to these cylinders to the respective destinations. i.e. Oxygen outlet in the bedside of patients treated in ICUs and in operating theatres. Hospital had a sufficient number of cylinders filled with oxygen. Employees efficiently replaced empty cylinders with new ones.

Every day employees collected empty cylinders, loaded them on a truck and transported to the Oxygen Company in Mattakkuliya for refilling. On certain days when the oxygen consumption was high, this operation has to be doubled. Hospital had its own truck and a group of specially trained skilled employees assigned for the task. Loading and unloading of these jumbo cylinders was a specialised job.

I noticed this operation during my afternoon inspection tour. In fact, the noise made in loading unloading as well as dismounting and mounting cylinders on the walls and the sight itself, to say the least, was a nuisance. Once the truck returned, the refilled cylinders were immediately distributed among the theatres and ICUs. Needless to say this was a hectic task considering the large number, and the spread of theatres and ICUs in the hospital.

There were tensed situations when the truck did not return on time due to a break down, a traffic congestion or an accident on the way. Thought of the delay of the truck with refilled oxygen cylinders gave me many sleepless nights. I was waiting to welcome the irritating noise made when cylinders fell on one another during unloading. While others were cursing, I got a sense of relief as it was an indication that the oxygen truck has arrived. My official residence was in very close proximity to the Merchants Ward where many cylinders were unloaded. No sooner had I heard the clattering sound than I ran to the window to witness the unloading.

As the Director of the country’s largest hospital, I was responsible for the overall smooth functioning of the hospital itself and that of men, material and machinery. And among all, ensuring the continuous and uninterrupted supply of oxygen for patients who were critically ill and those undergoing surgery was foremost.

Majority staff including doctors and nurses did not know the complexity behind the smooth flow of oxygen through the outlet whenever they open the valve to administer oxygen to a patient. Only a handful of people knew the complexity of the ‘oxygen supply operation’ in the hospital. It was a nightmare for me personally and all my predecessors.

While worrying over this cumbersome complex manual operation, I was wondering how fitting this type of oxygen supply for a Teaching Hospital of the magnitude of the National Hospital. My mind was busy in exploring and weighing alternatives.

While listening to the clattering of cylinders and watching the swift movements of workers’ hands in the unloading operation in the middle of the night, with a cup of steaming coffee in my hand, a thought struck my mind. I heard my own voice shouting over the clattering sound of falling cylinders; Hey! Man, be practical, install a Liquid Oxygen Plant in the hospital premises itself.

Early next morning ignoring the supervision tour, I was busy preparing a comprehensive proposal to the Ministry of Health with a clear justification of the investment. Having submitted the proposal followed by a few telephone calls the Ministry responded by approving the proposal.

The proposal was designed to have a Liquid Oxygen Plant with the highest capacity for the hospital and another with less capacity dedicated for the Institute of Cardiology located a little away from the main hospital premises across the street.

A few moons later, a Liquid Oxygen Plant near Ward 13 and a separate smaller plant on the premises of Institute of Cardiology rose to the sky. The copper pipelines were laid connecting all the operating theatres, intensive care units and high dependency units which required continuous uninterrupted supply of oxygen. The project was completed within a matter of a few months providing a great sense of relief to me.

The company which installed the two oxygen tanks is attending to maintenance and repairs. The company regularly monitors the level of consumption and replenishes the tanks. The hospital staff need not intervene.

Needless to mention the relief it brought to me. It was in the year 2006 during which the Hospital installed the two oxygen plants. Since then we did not have to wait for the truck or bother about cylinders. There has not been any loading unloading or clattering of cylinders. I wanted to ensure that my successors would have a permanent reliable source of Oxygen supply for our patients and avoid sleepless nights unlike me and my predecessors.

After the COVID-19 pandemic Oxygen has become the mostly used word among the healthcare workers. After retirement today, I reminisce my time as the Director of NHSL and recall how the disturbed night dawned upon me the idea to install a Liquid Oxygen Plant to ensure the continuous supply of Oxygen to patients gasping for oxygen.

Our neighbouring India is losing thousands of young lives a day due to unavailability of Oxygen. I am happy about the forethought I had 15 years ago long before the term ‘COVID-19 Pandemic’ entered our vocabulary.

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Boosting immune system to fight Covid-19: Is it possible?

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By Saman Gunatilake

Emeritus Professor of Medicine

University of Sri Jayewardenepura

Immune boosting is a trending topic these days with the COVID-19 pandemic. The concept of “immune boosting” is scientifically misleading and often used to market unproven products and therapies. There is no current evidence that any product or practice will contribute to enhanced “immune boosting” protection against COVID-19. This lack of evidence has not stopped wellness gurus with vested interests, and commercial entities from propagating notions of boosting immunity. Internet and popular press are flooded with messages of this nature resulting in an abundance of misinformation circulating online. The public is increasingly going online for health information and questions persist around the kinds of inaccurate information the public is absorbing and the impacts it may be having on health-related decisions and actions.

 

What are Immunity Boosters?

Immunity boosters are products which claim to be able to support your immune system so you aren’t as likely to get sick. Additionally, if you do get sick, taking the supplements will make your illness pass faster. There is no scientific and clinical evidence in humans to support claims of ‘immunity boosting’ foods and other products which supposedly enhance immunity. The body has its own immune system which fights against viral and bacterial invaders. With a normal immune system, we are capable of protecting ourselves against most infections but with certain situations the infection manages to overcome our immune system and cause serious disease and even death. The current Covid 19 pandemic is such a situation. We are in the grip of a spike in infection with over 1000 cases per day seen during the last few days. Total deaths from the pandemic in our country is nearing 700 and the total cases up to now amounts to around 111,800.

With no scientifically established cure for Covid-19 yet and the available recommended treatments limited to severe cases and being not so effective, recovery in most cases has largely been reliant on the human body’s natural defence, the immune system. Fighting the infection by boosting our immune systems had been the buzzword since the beginning of the pandemic. This has led to many misconceptions, misinforming and misleading the public. Improving the diet, taking vitamins and herbal products, lifestyle changes are proposed as ways of doing this. As a result, the market has been flooded with an array of products that claim to boost one’s immunity.

One of the common misconceptions is that high doses vitamin supplements and other minerals and nutrients boost one’s immunity. Ayurvedic concoctions, fruit juices, vitamin pills, zinc tablets have flooded the market with an array of products that claim to boost one’s immunity. Promoters of these products indicate that the body’s natural defences can be strengthened or enhanced by the consumption of certain foods, herbal products or the use of specific products.

Is there robust scientific evidence to support these claims for immune system boosting? The answer is no. Immunology experts believe that there is no way for healthy adults to improve their immunity through foods or other products. The immune system is very complex and these claims about boosting immunity are irrational and unscientific.

 

The Immune System

The immune system is activated by things that enter the body that the body doesn’t recognise as its own such as bacteria, viruses or even particles that cause allergy, like food, drugs and pollen. Most pathogens have a surface protein on them that the immune system recognizes as foreign. These are called antigens. Then the immune system sets in motion a complex process that fights the invader – this is the immune response.

There are two kinds of immune responses in the human body. The innate immune response is the first to kick in and is common among all animals. It is non-specific and immune cells mount an immediate attack on antigens. The response is subsequently replaced by the adaptive immune response, which tailors defences based on the kind of pathogen that is being encountered. The innate immune response consists of white blood cells like neutrophils, macrophages, and monocytes, while the adaptive response involves Lymphocytes -T cells and B cells, as well as antibodies produced by these cells as a specific response to the invader’s antigens. Stimulated immune systems release chemical proteins known as pro-inflammatory cytokines in large numbers, which can cause soreness and pain. So boosting immunity may lead to unwanted inflammations causing swelling, redness and pain locally and fever and other organ damage.

The Internet searchers will find that the myth of “boosting immunity” is extremely pervasive. Of the approaches that claimed to boost immunity, the top ones were diet, fruit, vitamins, antioxidants, probiotics, minerals. Interestingly, vaccines, the only proven method that enhances our immune response to an infection is ranked very low. One of the biggest misconceptions is that consuming more vitamins than required helps the immune system. It has been proven, time and again, that mega-doses of Vitamin C or of any kind of vitamin are not effective on the body at all. Another misconception is that zinc tablets can play a role in mitigating Covid-19. However, this isn’t backed by evidence either.

Zinc is not an immunity booster. It is an essential mineral for the body which is a ‘cofactor’ for a large number of proteins and enzymes. A cofactor is a non-protein chemical compound or metallic ion that is required for an enzyme’s activity as a catalyst. Like zinc, vitamin C is also a cofactor, and is important for the body to function. So, if you have a deficiency of these essential micronutrients, you will face a problem. But, if a person does not have any such deficiency, an excess amount of these taken does not improve one’s chances of fighting off a virus. Vitamin C and Zinc deficiencies are very rare unless someone is starving or following an extreme diet depleted of nutrients. Iron and Iodine deficiencies are seen in communities and more than immune deficiency they cause other problems.

An extremely active immune system, can also be problematic. In severe Covid-19 cases, the body launches an aggressive immune response resulting in the release of a large amount of pro-inflammatory proteins. This is known as a cytokine storm and is one of the common causes of death in Covid-19 patients. A cytokine storm occurs when the body’s immune system goes into an overdrive, killing healthy cells and causing organ failures. Several research studies suggest that the cytokine storm causes lung injury and multi-organ failure. So, if this is the case boosting the immune system in a Covid patient is not a wise thing to do.

 

Market interests add to the myth

The truth is natural immunity in normal people cannot be improved. There are immunocompromised individuals with a poor immunity who are susceptible to infections due to certain illnesses, and how can they stay safe from this highly infectious virus that spreads rapidly? The most effective way is by keeping our communities safe.

 We can do this by attending to the public hygiene of the population exposed to the infection. Providing safe drinking water, providing clean air, providing adequate nutrition — are ways of keeping the people healthy and strong to fight any infections. There are parts of our country fortunately not as bad in India, without access to these basic health requirements. Achieving social distancing in these communities that live in overcrowded households is impossible.

This background, and a new infection with no treatment, led to various interested parties with good and bad intentions in promoting the myth of immune boosting. They have become self-proclaimed experts exploiting this crisis, putting forth all kinds of miraculous non allopathic substitutions. As allopathic medications to be approved, a rigorous procedure has to be observed, they resorted to the easier approach of promoting quick remedies in traditional and herbal products. Unproven ‘natural’ remedies came to the fore in our country in this background where people felt helpless. The vaccine, the only proven way of boosting the immunity of an individual and the population against a specific disease was not available around this time.

There are added dangers in such situations. There may be a lot of drug-drug interactions. If people are consuming allopathic medicines, and then also start consuming these medicinal herbs, the components of the herb will interact with the drug resulting in unknown complications. These unapproved medications can have toxic effects on your kidney, liver and other organs.

Even during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 companies jumped in on the opportunity to hail themselves as immunity boosting drug producers. However, no products were ever proven to be effective in improving immune responses.

Maintaining a normal immune system

A poor immune system is seen in people with certain ailments. Some are born with defects in their immune system and they are known as immunodeficiencies. People with chronic illnesses like diabetes and auto immune disorders are also vulnerable to catch illnesses easily as their immune systems are weak. People on immunosuppressant medications like steroids and cancer drugs also have a weakened immune system and easily catch infections and develop serious complications easily.

Lifestyle is key for keeping your immune system normal and ready to act with an adequate response when necessary. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle, exercise and enhanced immune function. Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise and stress on the immune response. There are indeed processes that do affect our immune cells and improve their responses. The best one of them, perhaps, is exercise. Many studies have shown that moderate exercise of less than 60 minutes can improve the circulation of anti-inflammatory cytokines, neutrophils, natural killer cells, T cells and B cells. This can work effectively — not for combating diseases at a specific point in time, but to combat stress hormones in general, which can suppress immune cell function. Extremely high intensity exercise leads to a short duration of compromised immunity, increasing risk for disease in this time period. This is one of the reasons marathon runners or professional sports persons tend to catch a fever or cold in the days following a sporting event. Regular exercise is known to improve cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight. Therefore, adopting general healthy-living strategies make sense since they are likely to have other proven health benefits. But whether they help to boost the immune system is a controversial issue with no proven answers.

The immune system can also be compromised by many lifestyle habits such as smoking, which is known to affect T and B cells, among a host of other parameters. Diseases like diabetes by themselves result in compromised immune systems. This is why diabetic patients are particularly susceptible to infections. Obesity is another condition with a weak immune system as it predisposes to the development of other illnesses like diabetes and hypertension. There appears to be a connection between poor nutrition and immunity and this is a problem especially in the elderly. Poor nutrition can lead to micronutrient malnutrition, in which a person becomes deficient in some essential vitamins and trace minerals. Deficiency of these can result in a poor immune response to infections. Older people tend to eat less and often have less variety in their food. In them dietary supplements may have some beneficial effects and they should discuss this with their doctors. Taking mega doses of vitamins do not help and can even be harmful.

Every part of your body, including your immune system that fights against infections function better when protected from unwanted damage and bolstered by healthy-living styles. These are – not smoking, taking a diet high in fruit and fibre, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol or consuming in moderation, getting adequate sleep, washing hands regularly, developing good food habits, minimizing stress.

However, there currently exists no evidence of any consumable foods or products being able to induce an improvement in immune function. Although some preparations have been found to alter some components of the immune system, so far there is no evidence that they actually boost your immunity to the point where you are protected against infection. The only scientifically proven way to boost immunity, the immune system, and an immune response is through vaccinations. Vaccines prime your immune system to fight off infections before they take hold in your body.

So, where do we stand today? Vaccines to boost our immunity against Covid, prevention of spread and catching infection by proper wearing of masks, washing hands and maintaining social distance. These are the scientifically proven methods and others appear to be market-driven myths.

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