Diet and healthy eating may affect the risk and severity of COVID-19: Study
Washington: In a recent study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and published in Gut, people whose diet was based on healthy plant foods had lower risks in both cases. The positive effects of diet on the risk of COVID-19 appeared to be particularly relevant for those living in areas of high socio-economic disadvantage. Although metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes have been linked to an increased risk of COVID-19 and an increased risk of serious symptoms after infection, the influence of diet on these risks is unknown.
“Previous reports suggest that poor diet is a common trait among groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic, but data are lacking on the relationship between diet and COVID-19 risk and severity,” said lead author Jordi Merino, PhD, Research Associate at the Diabetes Unit and Center for Genomic Medicine at MGH, and Lecturer in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
For the study, Merino and his colleagues examined data from 592,571 participants in the smartphone-based COVID-19 symptom study. Participants lived in the UK and US and were recruited from March 24, 2020 and followed up through December 2, 2020. At the start of the study, participants completed a questionnaire asking about their pre-pandemic eating habits. Nutritional quality was assessed using a healthy Plant-BasedDiet Score, which highlights healthy plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables.
During follow-up, 31,831 participants developed COVID-19. Compared to people in the lowest quartile of the diet score, those in the highest quartile had a 9 percent lower risk of developing COVID-19 and a 41 percent lower risk of developing severe COVID-19. “These results were consistent across a range of sensitivity analyzes that take into account other healthy behaviors, social determinants of health, and community virus transmission rates,” said Merino.
“While we cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces, our study suggests that individuals also have the potential to reduce their risk of developing COVID-19 or getting poor results by watching their diet, ”said co – senior author Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, gastroenterologist and director of clinical and translational epidemiology at MGH.
The researchers also found a synergistic association between poor diet and increased socioeconomic deprivation, with a risk of COVID-19 greater than the sum of the risk associated with each factor alone.
“Our models estimate that nearly a third of COVID-19 cases would have been prevented if one of two exposures – diet or deprivation – weren’t there,” Merino said.
The results also suggest that public health strategies that improve access to healthy food and address social determinants of health can help reduce the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our results are a call to governments and stakeholders to prioritize healthy eating and wellbeing with effective measures. Otherwise, we risk losing decades of economic progress and a significant increase in health inequalities, ”Merino said.
The study was co-led by researchers from Kings College London. Co-authors are Amit D Joshi, Long H Nguyen, Emily R. Leeming, Mohsen Mazidi, David A Drew, Rachel Gibson, Mark S Graham, Chun-Han Lo, Joan Capdevila, Benjamin Murray, Christina Hu, Somesh Selvachandran, Alexander Hammers , Shilpa N Bhupathiraju, Shreela V Sharma, Carole Sudre, Christina M Astley, Jorge E Chavarro, Sohee Kwon, Wenjie Ma, Cristina Menni, Walter C Willett, Sebastien Ourselin, Claire J Steves, Jonathan Wolf, Paul W Franks, Timothy D Spector , Sarah Berry and Andrew T. Chan.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute for Health Research, the UK Medical Research Council / Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness, the American Gastroenterological Association, and American Diabetes Association, the Alzheimer’s Society, and Zoe Ltd.