Studies suggest vegan diet boosts vaccine efficacy, reduces COVID-related morbidity and mortality

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In addition to vaccinations, healthcare workers should recommend plant-based diets to help patients improve their health and decrease vulnerability to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to new research commentary published In the American Journal of Medicine.

The authors point to a new study of healthcare workers whose immune response to the Pfizer vaccine was inversely associated with waist circumference. A 2021 study of healthcare workers in six countries revealed that those following largely plant-based diets had 73 percent lower odds of developing moderate-to-severe COVID-19, compared with those following other diets.

To improve health and decrease vulnerability to COVID-19 and other illness, the authors suggest three key strategies. First, doctors should encourage patients to improve underlying health conditions, including adopting healthful dietary habits, particularly a renewed emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, and plant-based diets. This recommendation aligns with the June 2021 American Medical Association policy urging governmental leaders to encourage individuals with underlying health conditions associated with COVID-19 morbidity and mortality to see their doctors to institute (or resume) appropriate treatment “for those underlying conditions.”

Second, medical practitioners should refer appropriate patients to registered dietitians as a matter of medical urgency. They should provide nutrition information and code nutrition messaging into their electronic medical records to be automatically given to patients at check out. Lastly, hospitals should provide information about good nutrition to patients, families, visitors, and staff, and should model it with the foods they serve.

“This benefit may come from the fact that plant-based diets are associated with significantly lower body weight, lower risk of hypertension, lower plasma lipid levels, and lower risk of diabetes,” said Saray Stancic, MD, director of medical education of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and faculty member of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, in a statement. “A healthy vegan diet can benefit a large group of individuals who fail to respond adequately to vaccination yet do not have a classic immunosuppression condition.”

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.