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Nutrition & Covid-19 Infection Severity

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

It's no secret that fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains are healthy.

Enough studies have been done. The consensus and evidence say: "eat more of them".

They are the foundation of sustaining life and provide our bodies with the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, flavonoids, proteins and healthy whole fats that we need to survive and thrive.

What isn't fully understood and appreciated about them, is their incredible power to reverse disease and prevent infections from intensifying.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal, found a correlation between plant-based diets and less severe outcome of covid-19.

This population-based-case-control study was co-authored by 9 medical doctors, looking at the relationship of dietary habits and Covid-19 infection severity in 6 countries.

Healthcare workers (doctors and nurses) with substantial exposure to Covid-19 patients were the subject of the study. Of the 2884 participants, 568 were infected with Covid-19.

After adjusting for important cofounders, the study found:

  • Participants following plant based diets had a 73% lower risk of moderate-to-severe Covid infection.

  • Participants following plant-based or pescatarian diets (some fish added) had a 59% lower risk of moderate-to-severe Covid infection.

  • Participants following a low-carb, high-protein diet (meat /dairy/egg based) had a 48% higher risk of moderate-to-severe Covid infection

Those eating plant strong but who added fish into their diet had a 14% greater chance of having moderate-to-severe Covid-19 symptoms than those eating fully plant based. Those eating lower plant based, low carb with higher animal food consumption had a four-fold increased risk of having moderate-to-severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Although this is a preliminary study and further research will continue to present useful and possibly life-saving information, the authors of the study concluded:

" Individuals who reported following plant-based diets or pescatarian diets had lower odds of severe COVID-19-like illness. Individuals who reported following low carbohydrate, high protein diets had higher odds of severe-COVID-19-like illness. Our results suggest that a healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19."

what to learn from this study?

Plant based diets are protective and help to lower the severity of moderate-to-severe Covid risk. Risk increases with low-carb, high protein animal based diets.

Plant foods have a dose-dependent effect, meaning the more one eats, the greater protection and higher level of health they create.

Another publication of interest, a review published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition, looked at the role of nutrition and supplementation in relation to Covid-19.

This review found that to reduce the risk of viral infections, the actions of inflammation must be regulated through adaptable risk factors such as diet, exercise and healthful lifestyle habits. "Adopting a consistent, long-term dietary pattern is the only way to benefit human health."

Findings of this review include:

  • poor nutritional status appears to be a predictor of mortality in acute viral infection and critical disease, particularly for elderly subjects

  • it is necessary to develop new effective interventions in order to reduce adverse viral effects

  • a convincing strategy is to provide an adequate dietary regimen in order to stimulate the immune system

  • to improve the efficiency of the immune system, it would be advisable to include specific foods in the diet as good sources of antioxidants, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, soy, nuts and omega-3 fatty acids all being low in saturated fats and trans fats

  • optimized diet influences the immune system through the modification of signaling molecules, influencing the cellular activation, and gene expression

  • various nutrients are also determinants of gut microbial composition and shaping immune responsiveness in the body

  • viral infections are marked by impairment of the immune system with a deficiency of vitamins such as B6, B12, C, D, E, and folate and the minerals zinc, iron, selenium and magnesium

  • the above vitamins and minerals with essential fatty acids and essential amino acids can improve the immune response

  • vitamin D insufficiency occurs in approximately 50% of the world’s population and is a risk factor for total mortality

  • reduced levels of vitamin D are strictly related to the development and progression of several chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and depression. It may be related to a worsening of bone health and inadequate immune function.

  • vitamin D deficiency is often linked to an increased risk of respiratory infections

  • the micronutrients with the strongest evidence for immune support are vitamins C and D, and the mineral zinc

  • while there are contradictory data, current research indicates that supplementation with multiple micronutrients could be considered important both in the prevention and in the management of the COVID-19 infection

  • analyzing the data about COVID-19 patients, the worst outcomes occur in subjects with one or more comorbidities strictly related to metabolic diseases

  • for these reasons, it is important to take into account the influence of lifestyle habits such as unhealthy diets, on COVID-19 susceptibility and recovery

This report was optimistic, in its viewpoint that our current pandemic can be looked at as a moment of opportunity. That we can learn from all the available nutritional science and use high-quality, immune-boosting plant foods to improve our health, increase our internal defences and decrease our risk of infection and chronic disease.

"The onus is on those in authority to promote and facilitate a nutritional culture on the population to achieve behavior change and on healthcare professionals to embed nutritional care into routine practice."

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