Sunday 31.05.2020

Nutrition, chronic illnesses and Covid-19, a vegan glimpse

Some doctors claim a plant-based diet can reduce risks of developing severe coronavirus.
Nutrition, chronic illnesses and Covid-19, a vegan glimpse

A growing body of evidence is linking consumption of animal products to the increased risk for developing chronic health problems like obesity and heart disease.

Those same conditions are the most important predictors for developing severe Covid-19.

An increasing number of doctors advocate adopting a plant-based diet, claiming that it can prevent and even reverse chronic diseases. But does it work against corona? 

Coronavirus is dangerous for people who present inappropriate immune responses to the virus infection, like the individuals whose immunity is already compromised due to some chronic illness, the highest risk being heart disease.

The preliminary research results from the US and France, however, point to obesity, especially in patients under the age of 60, as the most significant risk factor for being hospitalized with severe Covid-19, second only to old age.

This has not yet been scientifically explained, but obesity is known to correspond with the chronic low-level inflammation, which is in turn related to more severe reactions to viral infections.

This is worrisome, given the alarming prevalence of obesity and high blood cholesterol in Finns.

THL blames lifestyle

Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reports that “among over 30-year-old Finns (of the working-age), only one in four are of normal weight”, while “55% of Finns have high cholesterol, which is one of the biggest risk factors for developing heart disease."

THL links this with eating too much “hard fats” and proposes that “effective prevention of heart disease requires changes in the diet at the population level”.

The cause of the increased level of cholesterol in the blood is dietary cholesterol; the only foods that contain cholesterol are meat, eggs, dairy and junk with trans fats.

Risk of chronic diseases

In the article “Eating For the Environment” by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), for example, “dairy has been linked to early death and increased risk of ovarian, lung, breast, and other cancers”, while “eliminating red and processed meat from the diet can lead to a reduced risk for heart disease, diabetes, and colorectal cancer”. 

Physicians and nutritionists who are driving a plant-based movement for healthy eating, claim that adopting the so-called “whole-food plant-based” diet has a proven potential to reverse diseases. 

Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn and Dr Dean Ornish (among others) are reporting reversing heart diseases, Dr Kate Marsh and Dr Neal Bernard, successfully reversing diabetes in their patients.

According to Dr Bernard, MD, FACC, Professor at the George Washington University and President of the PCRM, there is a proof that a whole food plant-based diet reverses erectile dysfunction which also corresponds with the risk of stroke and sudden heart failure.

They propose eating only unprocessed plant foods, raw and cooked, paying attention to the intake of the important nutrients and their balances, and completely eliminating all animal products and processed foods, including sugar, oil and salt.

Dr Esselstyn, director of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Reverse program at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, additionally advises patients with heart disease against foods that contain too much saturated fat like avocado, nuts, peanut butter or cashew sauce and particularly against drinking coffee with caffeine.

Science-based nutrition is a website developed by Dr Michael Greger, American physician and author of the bestseller “How Not to Die”. 

He reads all studies published in medical journals in the English language related to health and nutrition and interprets their findings in a popular form.

He created a comprehensive set of guidelines for a science-based diet called “Daily dozen” - 10 groups of foods everyone should eat every single day, plus beverages and exercise.

Foods on the list are beans, berries, other fruits, cruciferous vegetables, greens, other vegetables, flaxseeds, nuts & seeds, whole grains, and herbs & spices. Eating the recommended number of servings of each of them should ensure the proper intake of all nutrients. 

Recently, Nutrition facts launched a Daily dozen App with a check-list where one can follow their own score throughout the day and over a period of time.

Food plant-based diet and Covid-19

According to Dr Greger, who has been very active in discussing pandemic and publishing his findings, the anti-inflammatory diet reduces the symptoms in respiratory infections.

Foods shown to reduce inflammation are fibers, colorful fruits, nuts and seeds, and particularly, according to Dr Greger, white mushrooms, wakame seaweed, flaxseeds, coloured and cruciferous vegetables, garlic, green tea, nutritional yeast (though nutritional yeast should be avoided in some chronic conditions) and fresh ginger.

In April, Dr Greger held a webinar “How Not to Die in a Pandemic”. The second part is scheduled for May 27th. He also prepares a book “How to Survive a Pandemic” and audio and e-book versions are expected by the end of May.

The studies and statistics about the dietary preferences of Covid-19 patients are yet to come but Dr Kim Williams, Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Rush University, who actually works with coronavirus patients in the hospital, said in an interview given to Chef AJ, that “there is actually good medical evidence that viral illnesses are less severe if you have lower levels of inflammation and higher levels of interferon, which is typically what happens when you have good, vitamin and mineral plant-based diet”.