The Magic Immunity Pill: Lifestyle comes at the perfect time. Co-authored by Holistic Lifestyle Coach — Integrative Medicine Luke Coutinho and actor, entrepreneur and wellness influencer Shilpa Shetty Kundra — this is an A-Z manual for better living, minus the meds. Expect simple but powerful lifestyle changes suggested by way of tangible action steps. Antiviral foods, movement as medicine, and quality sleep are just tasters of what is in store. In a way, as we grapple with more symptoms caused by the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 — this book puts the control back in your hands. Apart from the obvious buzzword of the times in its title — these pages take you from an ambiguous place of ‘what if’ to ‘here’s what I can do’.
Published by BUUKS and over 300 pages long — we can tell you straight off the bat that there are no promises of instant fixes here. Although, we do like that we can seek out specific remedies for ailments ranging from insomnia to acidity to clearing up our sinuses. A quick browse also reveals that it covers alternative modalities to wellness, such as boosting your immunity through music and the impact of prayer on a genetic level. As you can tell, the stairway to good health has multiple doorways. What’s liberating is that the keepers of these keys are giving away all of this knowledge for free.
Can you take us through a quarantine day in your life?
The day starts early. By 7.30 am, I start my routine and check on work scheduled for the day. From 8.30 am to 10.00 am — I am with my son and daughter. Then, I get into practicing yoga, which is followed by giving my newborn a massage, feeding her, and tucking her into the bed. Lunch is where the whole family eats together, after which we play some games. During the afternoon, I am busy attending some work calls and spending time with my daughter. In the evening, we usually take a stroll in the garden or meditate for about 15 to 20 minutes. This is followed by dinner with the family. It’s just a regular kind of day for me. My husband and I watch a movie or perhaps catch up on a new series. By 10.30 pm, my day ends and it’s time for bed.
What Shilpa eats in a day
7.30 am: Giloy tea and papaya
8.00 am: Overnight soaked oats in almond milk, with flax and chia seeds along
with mango and pomegranate
10.30 am: Tea with almond milk, ginger, cinnamon and cloves
Lunch at 1.15 pm: Steamed peanut corn salad, aloo gobi, turai, steamed beet, jowar roti with ghee. Followed by homemade organic jaggery chikki with black and white sesame seeds and saunf.
2 pm: Fresh Coriander, Cumin and Fennel tea (CCF tea)
Post work out at 4.45 pm: Rava uttapam
5.30 pm: Tea with almond milk, ginger, laung, and coconut sugar
7 pm: Lauki soup with garlic and leeks
Dinner at 7.30 pm: Oats khichdi with spinach, cauliflower and carrot
8 pm: CCF tea again
What have you been doing to boost immunity levels at home under lockdown?
I actually have been trying new things to ensure we’re all eating clean and healthy, especially in times like these. Some of the concoctions I recommend are:
Ginger, tulsi, cinnamon, Pepper, Amla (Indian gooseberry), haldi (turmeric) and jaggery
Giloy: First thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
Amla, dudhi (bottle gourd), adrak (ginger), tulsi (Holy basil) and pink salt.
CCF tea (cumin, coriander seed, fennel). Have this an hour after food.
What was the process of co-writing this book with Luke Coutinho like?
When Luke suggested the idea of this book, I didn’t even need a second to decide because I know that Luke is the best in this milieu; he is an authority in the field of nutrition. But for me, he is someone whose sensibilities I can trust implicitly. While most of us do things and then obviously expect payback, Luke and I believe in the philosophy of giving back.
Are there any memorable conversations or Zoom calls that led to chapters in the book?
We did not have any Zoom calls, but we did have a couple of sessions filled with intense discussions and conference calls regarding chapters of the book, followed by generating the content, putting all of it together, editing, and proof-reading. All of this was done at breakneck speed as there was a lot of material to compile. It was done with good intent and I am really happy that we have received positive reactions for the book, which has been downloaded by so many people. I am glad to be able to play a catalyst in getting people to improve their immunity and have better health.
Moms around the country are going a little crazy right now with kids not in school, domestic chores piling up, topped off with all the anxieties that emerge in the face of a global pandemic. As a mom, how are you doing? And what would you say to other mothers who need a little pick-me-up right now?
I went crazy myself with all my son’s virtual schooling so it can be very difficult. I totally get it but thank God for my husband who is technologically savvy (I take a long time to get my head around these things). So, I just think you should ask for help and I hope that you have partners who also share the responsibility with you and don’t expect that it is only the woman’s job to teach.
Meditation is a great escape and tremendously calming, so that would be my suggestion… take some time out to just calm your nerves down and you will find a way to get around it.
Have you picked up a lockdown hobby that you might not have otherwise had the time to try?
Well, I don’t have the luxury of time to start a new hobby, because I have a newborn daughter and my eight-year-old son who is not going to school currently, so I am totally occupied. I am also working from home so that keeps me busy.
My husband and I have turned to vegetarianism. We take time out to meditate, read, and write. We also try and catch up on some movies and show while feeding my daughter. I think my favourite hobby currently is to try out new dishes along with my son, who has a keen interest in cooking. This way I also spend more time with him. Alongside, I also spend time doing more yoga.
Acidity: Mandukasana, Pawanmuktasana or Paschimottanasana
Insomnia: Definitely Savasana
For menstrual problems: Dhanurasana
(The accurate way to perform all the asanas are available on the Simple Soulful App by Shilpa Shetty)
Our bodies can heal themselves: Luke Coutinho
How long have you been working on this book?
In our line of work, immunity has been the basic foundation for health and wellness always. I believe that a strong immune system is the first and last line of defence and thus most of our content, coaching, and teachings are immunity centered. We have been harping about the importance of having a strong immune system for the longest time, and have done various videos on this topic right from the right nutrition to emotional wellness.
When the thought about writing this book crossed my mind, I quickly got my team and Shilpa on a call and shared the idea. Since most of our content was ready, we literally took 10-12 days to put it all together because we had a timeline to follow. Luckily, everything worked out in our favor. We got timely support and help from BUUKS, our publishing partner as well. Largely, it was only possible because ways to boost immunity has always been our core focus.
And what made the both of you, mutually decide to give it away for free?
Considering that a strong immune system is the need of the hour, we wanted to share information free of cost hoping that it will help add value to lives and health in the easiest and simplest ways. Access to the right information around immunity is everyone’s right and we wanted to provide this experiential and research-backed information to every single person on this planet.
Cuddles, soil & coconut oil
Oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone, is number one on your prescription for immunity beyond medicine. But given that we can’t touch people anymore as a precautionary measure to COVID-19 — what are some alternatives to help our bodies produce it?
Even when family members hug or hold hands, oxytocin release is stimulated. Lovemaking and physical intimacy between partners also release oxytocin. Even pets, gifts, exercise, breastfeeding are various ways to stimulate the release of oxytocin. Apart from that, the right kind of nutrition, gut health, and sleep habits are also crucial for the adequate release of this neurotransmitter.
You recommend playing with soil for a few minutes each day to prevent and heal allergies. How does this work?
It helps to play in the mud and soil because the microbes in them get into our fingernails, skin and reach the gut, making the gut as well as their immunity extremely strong. Handling soil also improves the ratio of good bacteria versus bad bacteria (basically the gut microbiome), making your immunity grow stronger. Strong immunity means better prevention of allergies that you currently have, and possibly healing them. However, if you don’t live in a place where you have access or you have a limitation on space, you must think of investing in building a microbiome or mud box. It contains organic soil and a few leaves (to basically generate and feed the microbes). It is therapeutic; it connects you with nature. This way, you can get microbes into your system; natural microbes that will feed your gut better than any supplement. It will make your child’s and your immunity much stronger. It’s fun and healthy too. After playing, wash your hands but not with soap.
Could you give us a quick list of antiviral foods?
The first is pure cold-pressed coconut oil. This is because of the presence of monolaurin. The rest include garlic, holy basil or tulsi, green tea, fresh and local berries if in season, black pepper, turmeric, oregano, star anise, amla, and neem.
How can prayer affect us on a genetic level?
Prayers have the ability to awaken certain emotions in our system that have the ability to turn on (upregulate) and turn off (downregulate) certain genes. Every gene has an activation or deactivation switch and our lifestyles have a huge role to play here. This is called epigenetics, where ‘epi’ stands for the environment (both internal and external) and how it can control the functionality of a certain gene. In fact, a study found that women with metastatic breast cancer who highly valued spiritual expression had significantly increased immune function (increased white cell counts and lymphocytes).
It’s not common to find a chapter on forgiveness in a book centered around nutrition and health. What is the connection between unforgiveness and disease?
There is a huge connection between unforgiveness and disease and today science is proving the same. In our line of work, we get to interact with terminal stage patients and when we spend time diagnosing the root cause and lifestyle history, we notice the inability to forgive as one of the biggest dampeners of their health and immunity, and the moment they begin to start forgiving, they feel liberated from their own prisons and start to feel better. It lifts off a huge load from the heart and the immune system.
Forgiveness is releasing, and releasing is healing in every way. Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can lower the risk of heart attack, improve lipid profiles, reduce pain and blood pressure, improve sleep quality, and levels of anxiety. Studies also point out the correlation between an increase in forgiveness and health as we age. There are various ways to express this: send a forgiveness note, message, text or email or silently offer a prayer for them or talk to them and express your feelings.
Similarly, what is the correlation between meditation and immunity?
Meditation helps in shifting our body from a state of stress to a state of calm. While stress increases a hormone called ‘cortisol’ in the body, meditation helps reduce its levels and teaches you to not react and respond to the stress in your life. This is not to say that meditation will make your problems disappear in one go. What it means is that meditation puts you in a space of clarity and thoughtfulness so you know how to tackle a particular stressor. We have two choices to respond to a stressor: either act or react. Meditation encourages the former and not being a victim of the stressor. An elevated level of the stress hormone, aka cortisol is one of the most potent suppressors of our immune system. Apart from managing stress levels, meditation improves sleep, cellular oxygenation, mood, emotions, instills mindfulness — all of which help in improving our immunity in the long run.
Sugar, according to the book, is the number one immunity suppressor. But how do we replace it in a sustainable fashion? After all, sugar is in everything from our morning chai to kitchen staples like ketchup and cornflakes.
Going back to roots, our ancestors always used natural forms of sweeteners like raw honey, dates, jaggery (gud), raisins to sweeten food. These are far better and nutritious than white refined sugar that is completely stripped of any nutrition. A little bit of sugar, in maybe a cup of tea or an occasional cookie, is fine, the problem is over-consumption of sugar and unfortunately, sugar is lurking in every single processed and packaged food. Hence it’s always better to cook fresh or read ingredient labels if buying packaged foods to be sure of the sugar quantity.
Oh sheep, I can’t go to sleep!
Sleep is a non-negotiable aspect of health, and there is no replacement for sleep. When it comes to insomnia, firstly, be sure if it’s actual insomnia. A couple of nights of sleep deprivation because you were emotionally disturbed doesn’t mean you have to tag yourself as an insomniac. Sometimes the way we tag ourselves plays a huge role in determining our behavior. Secondly, be self-disciplined around your sleep routine and for that, one needs to have a sleep routine, to begin with. Most of us do not have a sleep routine which is necessary to disconnect ourselves from the day time chaos. We may have the best of sleeping gadgets, aids, and other tools, but without self-discipline, all of this is useless. Thirdly, set bedtime rituals as this helps train our mind and body to fall asleep easily and are a great way to unwind.
• Reduce the blue light (artificial light) exposure in the evening by switching off all gadgets and screens.
• Avoid eating heavy meals right before your sleep. Leave a minimum of two hours gap. A sunset-to-sunrise-fast works wonders for sleep.
• Do not take caffeine late in the day. Wind down with an herbal tea if you wish to have a warm beverage before bed.
• Exercise regularly but do not exercise just before going to bed.
• Practice deep breathing to shift your body to a relaxed and calm state.
• Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Have a set routine around sleep and wake cycle to allow the melatonin to naturally work.
• Get some sunshine. You must try looking straight at the sun during early sunrise or sunset when the sunlight is not very strong. This helps in absorbing sunlight through your eyes and in turn resetting one’s circadian rhythm which is crucial for us to fall asleep.
Having said that, take professional help if you need to. In severe cases, you may need to get on a melatonin supplement since your body is unable to produce it. It is easy for our body to get used to sleeping pills and supplements, so one must take it with a parallel focus on
lifestyle so you can eventually wean off those pills.
Your list of Indian superfoods includes sambar and rasam, which are much-loved staples at every South Indian table. Do break down their benefits for us.
Rasam is an elixir of health. If you have a cold, have a warm bowl of rasam and notice how it helps loosen up your mucous and congestion — an indication that it’s helping you heal. Rasam, rich in spices like kali mirch (black pepper), kadi patta (curry leaves) and jeera (cumin), has the ability to break down the mucus in your lungs faster. Some people even add lentils or veggies to them. Similarly, sambar contains turmeric, lentils, black pepper, and pumpkin as well. Pumpkin is an amazing vegetable when it comes to boosting the immune system.
Another important ingredient of sambar is the drumstick. Drumstick, also known as moringa, is an excellent immunity booster too. The leaves and seeds of drumstick are beneficial for your health. Sambar is the perfect balance of good protein, fiber, zinc, folic acid, iron, vitamins, and minerals, which boost your digestion and your immunity. And the best part about these dishes is that both rasam and sambar are easy to digest.
Four pillars of immunity
When we take into account each of these pillars and make an effort to improve on them, we build a great platform of health and immunity. We can go on popping supplements and eating all superfoods, but if we are feeding our minds with negative emotions and toxic thoughts – we are still feeding a disease. Every cell in our body is affected by the way we eat, sleep, move, and think. Not just immunity, but every single condition and concern around human health needs focus on each of these four pillars. This is holistic health.
• Balanced nutrition: We believe, as did the Hippocrates, that ‘food is medicine’. It’s information to our genes and nourishes every single cell we are made up of. The right kind of food can promote good health, while the wrong kind of food can deteriorate our health. Balanced nutrition means you don’t eat too much or too little, you eat in moderation and strike the right balance of nutrients — carbohydrates, proteins, fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and not just focus on one specific nutrient. We do not believe in any fad diets or restrictive eating plans and give equal importance to every nutrient unless a clinical condition demands otherwise. Additionally, how we digest and absorb food is also as important as how we eat, which makes gut health for effective digestion, absorption, assimilation, and elimination one of our primary areas of focus.
• Adequate exercise: Our bodies have been designed to move. While being sedentary is unnatural, movement is medicine for us. With adequate movement, we enable better circulation of oxygen, nutrients, and effective detoxification of wastes from our body. Also, it is not just about exercising the body, but also the mind with tools like meditation and pranayama.
• Quality sleep: Sleep is the in-built intelligence of our body that allows true healing to take place. We need sleep for hormonal balance, weight loss, growth, repair, recovery, recharging every single cell in our body, to boost immunity, detoxification. Sleep deprivation is the no.1 reason for low immunity, poor growth, delayed healing, bad moods, mood swings, cravings, crippled metabolism, belly fat, and rapid aging. Also, it is not just about sleeping long enough. It’s also about sleeping well enough. Quality sleep over quantity sleep. Thus, we focus on investing in good sleep for good health and life.
• Emotional health: This is perhaps the most important. What we feed our minds and souls is as important as what we feed our bodies. Trillions of cells in our body respond to every thought that crosses our minds. While a happy and positive thought/emotion can take us a step forward, a negative thought/emotion can move us a few steps backward in our journey towards good health. Thus, tools like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, gratitude, visualisation, hope, belief and faith are some of the important aspects of our treatment plan.
One of the more serious symptoms of the coronavirus is difficulty breathing. And in your book, we stumbled upon a mention of zinc which can help prevent respiratory problems. What are the best food sources of this mineral and what can we do to ensure our bodies effectively absorb it?
Zinc is a powerful trace mineral for boosting immunity. Apart from zinc supplements, zinc is naturally found in oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, moringa, roasted channa and pine nuts. Zinc is easily absorbable when it comes through animal sources because most plant sources have anti-nutrients in it that inhibit absorption, hence a thorough soaking of nuts, seeds, lentils, pulses, and dals is recommended to get rid of these phytonutrients. Secondly, zinc and copper can inhibit each other’s absorption. So a gap between two is advised.
What are some of the meal staples in your household?
It’s mostly khichdi, dal-rice, Goan fish curry, and rice and vegetables cooked the Indian way.
And we are curious. What are you currently researching for your next book?
We are currently researching ways to motivate and help people to go back to their roots.
You write that we should instill in our children and loved ones the belief that: our bodies can heal themselves. How far does this apply — ranging from a cough to cancer, how fast and how do we get started?
Absolutely, for every single thing right from a bruise to cancer. The subconscious mind of our children from the age of two to seven years is like a sponge. Teach them things that they will absorb and remember well forever. In parenting, we can make use of this quality and help them believe the amazing capacity of our body as well. I encourage all parents to teach their kids to affirm that our body heals itself. When they know that the body heals, they start to respect their bodies. As they grow up, they may experiment in their teenage years, but in the end, they will believe that their body must not be abused. It is the need of the hour to program our subconscious mind every single day.
The Magic Immunity Pill: Lifestyle published by BUUKS is available for free download online.