Top 10 African Immune Boosting Foods for Infection Prevention and Fighting Backed By Research and Science




Having a strong immune system helps you stay strong and prevent illness. There are 5 key factors to keeping your immune system strong. These factors are:


Adequate Sleep
Low Stress
Proper Hydration
Proper Nutrition
Adequate Physical Activity

This post in particular will focus on nutrition and certain foods in Africa that research has shown can be used like natural medicine to boost your immune system and fight infections to prevent from getting sick and recover from illness faster. Besides the 10 foods listed here, eating an abundance of all fruits and vegetables can help boost your immune system as well, due to a surplus of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in fruits and veggies. Remember "let food be thy medicine." If you want to know the top 10 African foods to fight infection and boost immunity keep reading.




1. Neem


Neem is a tree native to India and Sub Saharan Africa. All parts of the tree including the bark, leaves, fruit, seeds, and oil produce so many powerful medicinal benefits. One should ask what does it not treat. Research Suggest neem in particular neem oil may aid with eye disorders, stomach upset, skin ulcers, cardiovascular disease, fevers, diabetes, gum disease, and liver disease among other things. It is believed to help treat chicken and small pox

Interestingly before the use of toothpaste and brushes by western civilization, africans have long been using neem twigs as chewing sticks to clean their teeth. And if you are the organic all natural type of person, now there are several brands that make all natural neem based toothpaste sold in many organic stores and on amazon. Another part of the plant that is commonly used medically are the leaves. Neem leaves are often steeped in hot water for several minutes to make neem tea.

Benefits and Uses of Neem By Plant Parts

  1. Bark/twigs: antidermatic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, antibacterial, antitumor. Used to clean teeth and skin preparations 
  2. Leaves: antidermatic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antiseptic, antiviral. Used in medicine, teas, cosmetics, insecticides, insect repellent, and fertilizers
  3. Seed: antimalarial
  4. Oil: anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, fever reducer, blood sugar lowering, bactericidal, antimalarial, antifungal, pain reducing, antiprotozoal, antiviral, used in cosmetics, insecticide, insect repellent, shampoos, soaps, toothpaste


2. Moringa 

In recent times Moringa has been touted as a super food in the western world, but has long been used throughout parts of africa and asia medicinally. It is a flowering tree native to africa and asia and all parts of the tree including the bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, and flowers are used medicinally. Moringa leaves commonly steeped for tea or in skin preparations are rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin A, beta carotene, Vitamin K, manganese, and protein. The seeds are rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium and manganese. Research suggest moringa has several medicinal properties including being antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antitumor, anticancer, blood sugar lowering, and as a  antioxidant. 

Due to its several medicinal properties it may help to treat several disease including:
  1. Respiratory Infections
  2. Asthma
  3. High Blood Pressure
  4. Diabetes
  5. Cancer
  6. Liver damage
  7. Vascular Diseases
  8. Bacterial Infections caused by salmonella and E.coli
Moringa can typically be found as whole dried leaves, in teas, or as powder to add to drinks and recipes.


3. Scent leaves 


Scent leaves are also known as Nchanwu in Nigeria, Nunu Bush in Jamaica, or simply African Basil. Its scientific name is Ocimum gratissimumNchanwu is know to be rich in flavonoids and has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti diabetic, and antibacterial effects in the body. Nchanwu has long been used by Africans to treat a range of ailments. Medicinal uses of scent leaves include treatment of different respiratory disorders, cough, catarrh, stomach pain, diarrhea, cholera, chronic dysentery reduce fever, and vomiting. It can also act as a repellent to mosquitoes and other insects. Research has also found it to inhibit certain strains of pneumonia in particular. It is believed that one active ingredient in the leaves is menthol. Scent leaves can be steeped in water and drunk as a tea or used as a flavouring spice in any dish. It is commonly used in pepper soup recipes by many in Nigeria. It can also be sauteed with onions, and tomatoes and served with rice or any starchy tuber. I primarily use scent leaves in soup as well. As scent leaves are native to Africa it is nearly impossible to find fresh leaves outside of Africa. However dried leaves are available in most african markets in the US and even can be purchased on amazon dried or fresh.



4. Hibiscus


Hibiscus is a flowering plant native to tropics across the globe including much of Africa. It has long been used to make herbal drinks in many countries. In Nigeria hibiscus drink is called Zobo, while across the globe it is also called roselle juice, bissap, or sorrel. The plant is rich in flavonoids and antioxidants which may be why its purported to work for treatment of colds.  Research suggest it may have several medicinal properties including being antibacterial,  kidney and liver protective, effects on lipid metabolism (anti-cholesterol), anti-diabetic by lowering blood sugar, and anti-hypertensive by lower blood pressure among other health effects on the body.

You can typically either buy dried hibiscus flowers to steep in hot water. When boiling the leaves, ginger, sugar, or pineapple may be added to the water to enhance the flavour. Or you can buy pre packaged herbal tea with hibiscus used as an ingredient. There are numerous varieties of herbal tea on the market containing hibiscus. 


5. Wormwood 

Wormwood aka "Artemisiais the main ingredient behind Madagascar's purported Coronavirus Cure. But what does the research say. Artemisia has over 400 species, but there are 2 species in particular that can be found in africa with purported medicinal benefits. Artemisia Afra known as African wormwood, and Artemisia Annua known as sweet wormwood. 

Lets first discuss Artemisia Afra. It is one of the most popularly used traditional medicines in north, southern, and eastern africa. The essential oil from the plant is what is primarily used. Research has found this plant to have several properties including antiparasitic, antispasmodic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antihypertensive, and antidiabetic.
It has long been used to treat respiratory issues and infections like colds, nasal congestion, coughs, bronchitis, and asthma through inhalation of infusions of the leaves or the essential oil vapors. It is also frequently used to calm GI problems like heartburn, dyspepsia, indigestion, and constipation. Its purported to have an analgesic effect to treat headaches, joint pain, and rheumatism when used with a warm compress.


Artemisia annua and its derivative artemisinin has well know and researched anti-malaria effects and is now the base of many commercial malaria medications used in Asia and Africa.  Artemisinin is in fact toxic to malaria parasites by disrupting the heme metabolism capacity of the parasite. Unlike traditional african medicine, traditional chinese medicine is well studied and many pharmaceutical companies around the world even invest money in the study of traditional chinese medicine. Because of this artemisia annua is well researched as it is native to asia though now widely cultivated in the southern regions of Africa. Other than malaria, it is also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties used to treat many of the same ailments as artemisia afra. Currently there is no evidence that supports its use against Covid-19, however the African Union is currently conducting research to study its potentially efficacy against Covid-19.


6. Soursop

Soursop also known as guanabana or graviola is a tropical fruit of the annona muricata tree native to Africa and other tropical regions. It is known to be rich in flavonoids, vitamin C, B vitamins, phosphorus, calcium and fiber. One of its most researched health benefits is cancer prevention. In an article written by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, they state that studies suggest that soursop may be effective against some types of cancers. Some research even suggest that soursop may be more potent in killing cancer cells and inhibiting tumor cell growth than chemotherapy while not disturbing normal cells as much as chemotherapy. It has been found to be most effective against prostate and pancreatic cancers. Other than cancer soursop has been purported to help treat respiratory infections, diabetes, rheumatism, high blood pressure, parasitic infections, pain, UTIs, stomach upset, and anemia. It used to be very difficult to find soursop products outside of the tropics, but now online you can find soursop leaves, juices, oil and even capsules containing soursop derivatives.  



Benefits of Soursop by plant part:
  1. Leaves: cystitis, headaches, insomnia, cancer
  2. Fruit/juice: arthritis, neuralgia, diarrhoea
  3. Seeds: parasitic infections


7. Fermented foods

Research shows that fermentation of foods increases the nutritive value food. In particular, fermented foods have been found to be richer in minerals, protein, fiber, and probiotics than there non-fermented counter parts. For instance adding fermented oils seeds like ogiri, dawadawa, and iru to your cooking add nutritive value to the food unlike bouillon cubes which add no nutritive value and actually make your food less healthy. Adding protein and fiber to your meals helps to keep you fuller longer and slows down the absorption of sugars in the body decreasing insulin spikes aiding in preventing diabetes. Probiotics help with digestion of food by maintaining and restoring good bacteria in your gut. Other Potential benefits of consuming probiotics include treatment and prevention of:
  • diarrhea 
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • ulcerative colitis
  • H. pylori (the cause of ulcers)
  • vaginal infections
  • UTIs
  • recurrence of bladder cancer
  • infection of the digestive tract caused by Clostridium difficile
  • eczema in children.
Other fermented foods eaten in africa include ogi and gari in Nigeria, Kenkey in Ghana, kefir in North Africa, busa and uji in East Africa among several other foods.  For those of us living in the diaspora it may be difficult to find fermented food products, however you can now find some african food products on Amazon! Including some fermented foods.



8. Ginger
Ginger can be considered a superfood with well researched strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Well known for its ability to improve stomach ailments like nausea and vomiting, it is also purported to prevent cancer, decrease pain and protect against arthritis due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Research has also shown that it can aid in treating and preventing diabetes by helping lower blood sugar levels.


Likewise eating ginger can help prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Least but not least, it has strong anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties helping to fight infection. Ginger can easily be bought at any local grocery store whole, but is also available in powder form to easily add in any recipe and as as tea.


9. Garlic

Like ginger, the health benefits of garlic are very well researched. Research suggest that garlic can help boost the immune system, is antimicrobial, lowers blood cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and decrease risk of some cancers, though there is no evidence that it can help treat cancer. In Africa garlic is commonly used to "cleanse the blood," for the treatment of hypertension, colds, respiratory infections, and upset stomach.

10. Bitter leaf


Bitter leaf know as onugbu in the Igbo language of Nigeria has several purported health benefits. It is used to prepare several soups and stews in Africa, but has also long been used by traditional african doctors to treat malaria, parasitic infections and diarrhea. In Nigeria the twigs and sticks have also been used as chewing sticks to clean the teeth. But, what does the research say. The plant is rich in fiber alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, and tannins, iron, manganese, zinc, and a good source of plant protein. Research suggest bitter leaf has an anti-diabetic effect through blood sugar lowering, blood pressure lowering, and anti-inflammatory activity in the body. 
Another study found antimicrobial properties of the plant with potent inhibition of staphylococcus aureus and pseudomonas aeruginosa, which may be why it's taught to be effective in treating infections in the body. Honestly I've never been a fan of bitter leaf in my egusi soup, but now I just might think twice about not using it. The value of bitter leaf is now well know it can be found online in capsule, tea and dried leaves.

In Conclusion

The immune system is an essential part of body to help protect and fight against infections and disease. Nutrition plays an important role with boosting our immune system along with adequate, hydration, sleep, exercise, and decreased stress levels. So if you want to stave off illness and in particular new variants of diseases like Covid-19 its important to take appropriate healthy lifestyle measure to ensure you have a strong immune system. This article is meant for informative purposes only, please consult with your physician before trying any herbal or natural remedies.


Try these 10 African Foods to fight infection and boost your immune system:


  1. Neem
  2. Moringa
  3. Soursop
  4. Wormwood
  5. Hibiscus
  6. Bitter leaf
  7. Scent leaf
  8. Fermented Foods
  9. Ginger
  10. Garlic

References

Elekwa I, Okezie E, Ugbogu E, et al. A Review of selected medicinal plants with potential health benefits in south-eastern Nigeria. International journal of pharmaceutical and chemical sciences. 2017;6(4)162-171.

Girish K, Shankara B. Neem A Green Treasure. Electronic journal of Biology. 2008;4(3):102-111.

Razis A, Ibrahim M, Kntayya S. Health Benefits of Moringa oleifera. Asian Pac Journal of Cancer Prev. ;15(20):8571-8576


Ikegbunam M, Achugbu A, Nwachukwu J, et al. Combined activities of some selected nigerian medicinal plants against ESBL producing strains of Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumonia. EC Microbiology. 2018; 361-373.

Yajid A, Rahman H, Wong M, et al. Potential Benefits of Annona muricata in combating cancer: a review. Malays J Med Sci. 2018;25(1):5-15.

Memorial Sloan Cancer Center. (2020). Graviola. Retrieved From https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/graviola

Memorial Sloan Cancer Center. (2020). Garlic Retrieved From https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/garlic

Memorial Sloan Cancer Center. (2020). Ginger Retrieved From https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/ginger

Johnson M, Kolawole O, Olufunmilayo A. Phytochemical analysis, in vitro evaluation of antioxidant and antimicrobial activity of methanolic leaf extract of vernonia amygdalina (bitter leaf) against staphylococcus aureus and pseudomonas aeruginosa. Int J Curr Microbiol App Sci. 2015;4(5):411-426.


Rocha I, Bonnlaender B, Sievers H, Pischel I, Heinrich M. Hibiscus sabdariffa L. - A phytochemical and pharmacological review. Food Chemistry. 2014;156:424-443.

Memorial Sloan Cancer Center. (2020). Artemisia annua. Retrieved from https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/artemisia-annua

Dabe N, Kefale A. Antidiabeti effects of artemisia species: A systematic Review. Anc Sci Life. 2017; 36(4): 175-181.

Van Wyk B. A broad review of commercially inportan southern african medicinl plants. Journal of Ethnopharmocology. 2008; 119: 342-355.

Liu N, VanderKooy F, Verpoorte R. Artemisia afra: A potential flagship for african medicinal plants. south african journal of botany. 2009; 75(2): 185-195.

Oyewole, O. Lactic fermented foods in Africa and their benefits. Food Control. 1997;8(56):289-297.



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