Plant-based diet may reduce risk of severe COVID-19

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In a recent paper, researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) presented a plant-based diet as an effective tool in reducing risk of severe novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

The paper was published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine and co-authored by Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, and Neal Barnard, MD, both researchers for PCRM. In the paper, the authors drew parallels between the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic and provided evidence from both pandemics that suggested that people who consumed plant-based diets were less likely to get severely ill from the viruses.

According to the authors, during the H1N1 influenza pandemic reports showed that a community who ate a plant-based diet had reduced risk of developing severe illness compared to the rest of the American population.

“In looking for solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, we found important lessons in the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 1918–1919,” said Kahleova, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee. “During that pandemic, the best outcomes were reported by a Seventh-day Adventist seminary, where a plant-based diet of grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables was provided.”

The paper also cited more recent studies on how nutrition affects COVID-19 patients. One study, which involved 600,000 participants, showed that high levels of fruit and vegetable consumption reduced COVID-19 infection by nine percent and severe COVID-19 infections by 41 percent. The authors also described a study in which healthcare workers who ate a plant-based diet had a 73 percent lower risk of moderate to severe COVID-19.

In the paper’s conclusion, the authors urge the medical community to consider plant-based diets for prevention of severe COVID-19.

“Based on the lessons from 1918 and the recent nutrition research in COVID-19, it seems probable that a healthful plant-based diet is a powerful tool to decrease the risk of severe COVID-19,” Kahleova said. “For this reason, plant-based nutrition should be promoted as one of the key public health measures in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and fighting today’s pandemic.”