Many Egyptians will celebrate Easter and the spring holiday Sham el-Nessim on Monday by eating fesikh (fermented and salted fish) and salt herring. Doctors, however, warn against the practice, saying that it weakens the immune system and could facilitate coronavirus infection.
Abdel Hady Mesbah, Professor of Immunology, explained that — contrary to popular belief — salted fish such as fesikh, do not reduce the impact of colds and influenza, nor do they contain antioxidants or have a high nutritional value.
On the contrary, he said, these foods weaken the immune system, especially since they cannot be washed before eating.
Even if it is prepared safely, fesikh can cause many problems in the digestive system and liver, a result of it having high levels of salt and bacteria. Fesikh can include diarrhea and vomiting lasting for one to two days, Mesbah told the health website Sehtak Bedenyah (Your Health and the World).
Bacteria can also cause increased stomach acidity, bloating and gas, which weakens the immunity system, Mesbah added.
“Eating fesikh and herring is very risky,” he said, “especially in light of the coronavirus outbreak, and especially if it is purchased from an untrustworthy source.”
The fish, if it contains a large number of bacteria, can also lead to food poisoning, which further harms the immune system.
When the immune system reacts to the presence of large numbers of bacteria, microbes, and toxins, it activates a certain type of bacteria, which secretes a toxin that can attack the nerves and lead to blurry eyesight, difficulty in speaking, as well as weakness in the limbs. That weakness can also reach the muscles of the respiratory system and cause respiratory failure and death, Mesbah added.
The high salt content in fesikh, meanwhile, affects the arteries leading to the heart, brain and legs, and can causing swelling in the legs.
Patients who suffer from digestive problems such as stomach infections and ulcers should avoid fesikh completely due to its high salt content. For those people, consuming the fish could lead to ascites or a hepatic coma , Mesbah said.
Fesikh can carry parasites that can be transmitted to humans, and which can cause severe cramps, vomiting and blood clots. It can also contain anaerobic bacteria that cause paralysis in the nerves and respiratory muscles, possibly leading to death.
Mesbah advised avoiding eating fesikh entirely. He said, however, that it is fine to eat salt herring in small quantities, as long as you place it on the fire before eating, to kill any bacteria that may be present.
Mesbah stressed that fending off the coronavirus requires a strong immune system to deal with infection.
He advised eating healthy, nutritious foods that are rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants in order to boost immunity. He recommended eating a lot of green salads, and fruits such as oranges, mandarins and guava. He also recommended drinking large quantities of water and warm beverages such as cinnamon, mint and anise.
In addition, he recommended maintaining good ventilation at home and exposing the skin to sunlight in order to increase the body’s level of vitamin D, which also boosts the immune system.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm