Diet and Covid-19, the role of nutrition in the development of severe forms

At least prevent some of the severe forms of Covid-19 can be: at the table, making specific choices. The association between certain types of nutrition and the incidence of particularly severe symptoms has been suggested by various researches, but never clearly proven. Now an international study is trying, conducted on a particularly reliable population: that of doctors at the forefront of the battle against the pandemic, adhering to the Survey Healthcare Globus. It is a survey conducted in six countries – Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States – and contains a lot of information on diet, health, medical history and lifestyle.

In the specific case, the responses of over 2,800 doctors and nurses were evaluated, relating to 47 types of food consumed or not consumed in the previous year, collected in the period between July and September 2020. Eating habits were divided into three types: plant-based (i.e. with many vegetables, legumes, dried fruit, few white, red or processed meats), pescetarian (like the previous one but with, in addition, fish eaten regularly) and low in carbohydrates and high in protein.

Researchers investigated the role of diet on Covid-19 severity in a large population of doctors and nurses

In total, 568 people tested positive for a swab or had symptoms of Covid-19 (recognized by themselves, and therefore with a professional evaluation). Of these, 138 said they had a severe form, while the others said they had a mild one.

As reported on the British Medical Journal Nutrition, Prevention & Health, those who followed a plant-based diet had a 73% lower risk of having a severe form. Those who followed a pescetarian had a 59% decrease in risk, compared to those who did not fit into one of these two dietary models. Conversely, a high-protein diet was associated with a four times higher risk of developing severe Covid-19 than those who followed a plant-based diet. The association remained significant even after corrections based on habits, age, body mass index, and taking into account the different food cultures of the six countries.

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A plant-based or pescetarian diet has been associated with a lower risk of severe Covid-19

The explanations, according to the authors, they are quite clear. Fresh vegetables contain polyphenols, carotenoids and other substances that strengthen the immune system and allow it to function at its best. In fish, then, there are vitamin D, which is also essential for a good immune response, and omega 3 fatty acids, which exert an anti-inflammatory action.

How have they underlined the authors, it is an observational study, based on what the participants report, and therefore with many limitations. However, there is no doubt that a careful diet, focused on foods with high nutritional value, contributes greatly to keeping the immune system active and this, in turn, limits the risk that, in the event of infection, the disease evolves towards more serious forms. .

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Roberto La Pira

Agnese Codignola

science journalist

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