An article from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC has been published this month in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine about the role of nutrition in COVID-19 as well as in the 1918 flu pandemic.  They point out that a plant-based diet supports immune function and may play an important role in resisting severe infection from these viruses.

The researchers found that in 1918, people at a Seventh-day Adventist seminary where they followed a plant-based diet consisting of grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, had the best outcomes.  Of 120 faculty and students at the seminary, 90 of them became infected with the flu but none developed pneumonia and none died.  By comparison, in the US Army at that time, 17% of those who were infected developed pneumonia and 40% of those with pneumonia died.  Even at that, the soldiers’ fatality rate was considerably lower than that of the general civilian population.  Other Adventist facilities also showed much better outcomes.

COVID -19 studies involving 600,000 participants showed that those with a high consumption of fruits and vegetables had a 41% lower risk of severe COVID, and healthcare workers on a plant-based diet had a 73% lower risk of moderate-to-severe COVID-19.

Plant foods contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that strengthen immunity and help prevent respiratory tract infections.  Nitrate-rich plant foods like dark green leafy vegetables increase the body’s production of nitric oxide, which is important for heart health and defense mechanisms in the cells.  Nitric oxide also interferes with the influenza virus’ and the SARS coronavirus’ ability to replicate.  The authors of the article, Dr. Hana Kahleova and Dr. Neal Barnard,  suggest that “adopting a healthful plant-based diet may be a powerful tool to decrease the risk of severe COVID-19 and should be promoted as one of the public health safety measures”.

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