Ditch Animals, Eat Plants

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, diabetes, cancer, smoking, kidney disease and COPD are the main underlying causes making Covid-19 more likely to result in severe, life-threatening disease.* A vegan diet can help you lose weight, reverse diabetes, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing your risk of severe Covid-19.

*(Emami et al., 2020; Finer et al., 2020; Yang et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2020; Zheng et al., 2020; Zhou et al., 2020) 

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Try Vegan with V7

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Switching from animal products to plant-based ingredients can have huge benefits for the planet and your health. A vegan diet can help you lose weight, reverse diabetes, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing your risk of severe Covid-19. So there’s no better time to try V7.

The threat of factory farming

Factory farms breed pandemics

As factory farms spread across the globe, diseases follow, spreading through densely populated sheds. Stressed animals, confined in filthy surroundings, are more susceptible to disease. Bred for fast growth, their immunity is low. It’s an ideal environment for a mutating virus.

A classic example of a zoonotic disease (that spreads from animals to humans), is the bird flu H5N1 virus, which has been infecting poultry and other birds since the 1950s. In 1996, a highly pathogenic strain killed more than 40 per cent of birds infected. The virus has become deadlier directly due to factory farming where conditions enable viruses to mutate and spread. Commercial poultry and pig farms, wet markets, slaughtering facilities, human dietary habits and the global trade in exotic animals are all implicated in the spread of zoonotic diseases.

Several strains of bird flu have infected humans – H5N1, H7N9 and H9N2. H5N1 is a particular concern as the death rate in humans is a terrifying 60 per cent – seasonal flu kills about 0.1 per cent of those infected. Globally, more than 15,000 outbreaks with H5N1 were reported in domestic birds such as chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese between 2005 and 2018. Since 2006, more than 240 million poultry either died or were slaughtered to prevent the spread. Since 2003, over 800 people have been infected with H5N1 and over 450 have died. Most infections involved individuals handling, slaughtering or consuming infected poultry but if the virus changes to become more easily spread between humans, like in Covid-19, we could be facing a deadly pandemic the likes of which we have never seen.

WATCH: Our Live Q&A About Slash the Risk

Find out how vegan diets help protect you with the latest science simply explained! Exclusive talk by Juliet Gellatley – Viva! founder and director, (BSc Zoology & Psychology; nutritional therapist, DIP CNM;Dip DM) and health expert Veronika Charvátová (MSc) on how to slash your risk of severe Covid-19.

Risk factors for Covid-19

Obesity

Why is it a risk factor for Covid-19?

Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) over 30. To calculate your BMI you divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. A BMI over 30 doesn’t mean just carrying some extra weight. Obesity may also bring serious health issues with it, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, reduced lung capacity, depression and more. That’s why it is a serious health concern.

Obesity sends your immune system into constant overdrive which makes it exhausted and weakens your immune reaction to viruses. It also makes it harder for the body to get rid of the virus so it stays in the body for longer and can cause complications.

Obesity doubles the risk of severe Covid-19 – it makes you at least twice more likely to develop life-threatening symptoms and need assisted breathing compared to people who are not obese. Some research suggests that obesity increases the likelihood that you’ll need assisted breathing more than seven-fold.

What can be done about it?

When you eat healthy foods, such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds, it has an immediate positive effect on your health, even if you are obese. It supports your immune system so it can start functioning better.

A healthy vegan diet can also help you lose weight and maintain it. In fact, it’s the most effective diet to achieve a healthy weight loss! In the process, it also reduces other common problems, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. 

According to scientific studies, a vegan diet may reduce the risk of heart attacks by 40 per cent, the risk of stroke by 29 per cent, the risk of developing metabolic syndrome (abdominal obesity, high blood cholesterol and blood sugar) by 50 per cent and the risk of type 2 diabetes also by 50 per cent – all that while helping you achieve a healthy weight!

Read the evidence

Obesity poses a high risk in relation to Covid-19 because it weakens your immune system. When you carry large amounts of fatty tissue, it becomes chronically inflamed and causes activation of the immune system (Connaughton et al., 2016). That leads to the immune system becoming exhausted which weakens the adaptive (emergency) immune reaction to viruses (Zhou et al., 2020). It also slows down the virus clearance (the virus stays in the body for longer) and results in higher rates of infection complications.

Obesity doubles the risk of severe Covid-19 – meaning it puts your life in danger and makes you more likely to need hospitalisation and assisted breathing (Connaughton et al., 2016; Korakas et al., 2020; Tamara and Tahapary, 2020; Zhou et al., 2020). One study revealed that obesity increases the likelihood that you’ll need assisted breathing more than seven-fold (Simonnet et al., 2020).

Covid-19 infection can cause severe breathing difficulties. Obese people need more oxygen just to keep the lungs working, they are likely to suffer chronic inflammation of the airways, reduced lung capacity and increased risk of pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lungs) – these issues may increase the risk of respiratory failure or even multiple organ failure after Covid-19 infection (Zhou et al., 2020).

Healthy foods, such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds rich in omega-3 fats (flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seed and walnuts) have an immediate anti-inflammatory effect, even if you are obese (Connaughton et al., 2016). This means your immune system is supported and can start functioning better. So you can start improving your health straight away by changing your diet, even if you carry extra weight – a vegan diet will help you lose the extra pounds.

Wholefood vegan diets are extremely effective at achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, even without portion restriction (Huang et al., 2016; Turner-McGrievy et al., 2015 and 2017; Najjar and Feresin, 2019). Unlike all other diet groups, vegans have a consistently healthy BMI across studies and populations (Tonstad et al., 2009; Rizzo et al., 2013; Le and Sabaté, 2014; Najjar and Feresin, 2019).

Going vegan doesn’t automatically take you to your ideal weight but a wholefood vegan diet is the best way to achieve it in the long-term. In the process, it also reduces chronic body inflammation and helps to prevent and treat a number of chronic health problems (Mishra et al., 2013; Eichelmann et al., 2016; Kahleova et al., 2018; Najjar and Feresin, 2019).

As research shows, wholefood plant-based diets may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease events (heart attacks) by 40 per cent, the risk of stroke by 29 per cent, and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome (abdominal obesity, high blood cholesterol, blood sugar) and type 2 diabetes by 50 per cent while helping you achieve a healthy weight (Tonstad et al., 2009; Le and Sabaté, 2014; Kahleova et al., 2017).

The reason healthy vegan diets work so well in terms of healthy weight maintenance is that they are lower in fat than diets including animal-based foods, have a much healthier fat profile (less saturated and more essential unsaturated fats), contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, beneficial fibre, important nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals, and tend to limit calorie intake without portion restriction (Berkow and Barnard, 2006; Huang et al., 2016).

References

Berkow SE and Barnard N. 2006. Vegetarian diets and weight status. Nutrition Reviews. 64 (4) 175-188.

Connaughton RM, McMorrow AM, McGillicuddy FC et al. 2016. Impact of anti-inflammatory nutrients on obesity-associated metabolic-inflammation from childhood through to adulthood. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 75 (2) 115-124.

Huang RY, Huang CC, Hu FB et al. 2016. Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 31 (1) 109-116.

Kahleova H, Levin S, Barnard N. 2017. Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients. 9 (8) 848.

Korakas E, Ikonomidis I, Kousathana F et al. 2020. Obesity and COVID-19: immune and metabolic derangement as a possible link to adverse clinical outcomes. American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism. 319(1):E105-E109.

Le LT, Sabaté J. 2014. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 6(6):2131-2147.

Najjar RS, Feresin RG. 2019. Plant-Based Diets in the Reduction of Body Fat: Physiological Effects and Biochemical Insights. Nutrients. 11(11):2712.

Rizzo NS, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Sabate J, Fraser GE. 2013. Nutrient profiles of vegetarian and nonvegetarian dietary patterns. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 113(12):1610-1619.

Simonnet A, Chetboun M, Poissy J et al. 2020. High Prevalence of Obesity in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) Requiring Invasive Mechanical Ventilation. Obesity (Silver Spring). 28(7):1195-1199.

Tamara A, Tahapary DL. 2020. Obesity as a predictor for a poor prognosis of COVID-19: A systematic review. Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome. 14(4):655-659.

Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. 2009. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 32(5):791-796.

Turner-McGrievy GM, Davidson CR, Wingard EE, Wilcox S, Frongillo EA. 2015. Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: a randomized controlled trial of five different diets. Nutrition. 31(2):350-358.

Turner-McGrievy G, Mandes T, Crimarco A. 2017. A plant-based diet for overweight and obesity prevention and treatment. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology. 14(5):369-374.

Zhou Y, Chi J, Lv W, Wang Y. 2020. Obesity and diabetes as high-risk factors for severe coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews. 2020;e3377.

Diabetes type 2 

Why is it a risk factor for Covid-19?

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the pancreas failing to produce the hormone insulin or producing only a very small amount. The more common type of diabetes, type 2, is usually caused by insulin resistance – whereby cells in the body stop responding to insulin.

Type 2 is closely linked to diet and lifestyle – being obese puts you at a much higher risk. However, you don’t have to be obese to develop type 2 diabetes – eating too much of the wrong kind of foods together with your genes can make you diabetic whatever your weight.

Diabetes of any kind causes increased levels of inflammation in the body and weakens your immune system – that’s why it’s a problem when it comes to Covid-19. It doubles the risk of severe symptoms and the need for hospitalisation – some research suggests it more than triples the risk.

What can be done about it?

A healthy vegan diet helps to treat type 2 diabetes and can even completely reverse it. A number of studies have shown that following a low-fat vegan diet can help people reduce medication and even come off it altogether. This is because it reduces fat inside your cells, lowers blood fats including cholesterol, increases insulin sensitivity (crucial for sugar metabolism), reduces blood sugar levels and helps you achieve weight-loss.

Being vegan and having a healthy diet can also help prevent type 2 diabetes – vegans are 50 per cent less likely to develop the disease!

Read the evidence

Studies reveal that people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of dying in hospital with Covid-19, compared to people without diabetes (Barron et al., 2020). However, by far the strongest risk factor for dying with the virus is age, and people with type 1 diabetes are on average younger than people with type 2 diabetes – which is why type 2 poses a bigger risk.

Diabetes causes increased levels of inflammation in the body and impairs the immune system to a certain degree – that’s why it’s a problem in relation to Covid-19. It doubles the risk of severe symptoms and the need for hospitalisation (Hussain et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2020) – some research suggests it more than triples the risk (Zheng et al., 2020).

A vegan diet based on wholegrains, pulses, fruit and vegetables, and nuts and seeds helps to treat type 2 diabetes and can even completely reverse it – it reduces fat accumulated inside cells, lowers blood fats including cholesterol, increases insulin sensitivity (crucial for sugar metabolism), reduces blood sugar levels and helps you achieve weight-loss (Kahleova et al., 2011; Mishra et al., 2013; McMaken and Shah, 2017; Kahleova et al., 2018; Najjar and Feresin, 2019; Salas-Salvadó et al., 2019).

Being vegan and having a healthy diet can also help prevent type 2 diabetes – vegans are 50 per cent less likely to develop the disease, they have more efficient blood sugar control and higher insulin sensitivity (crucial for correct sugar metabolism) than other dietary groups (Tonstad et al., 2009; Appleby and Key, 2016; Cui et al., 2019; Salas-Salvadó et al., 2019).

References

Appleby PN, Key TJ. 2016. The Long-Term Health of Vegetarians and Vegans. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 75 (3) 287-293.

Barron E, Bakhai C, Kar P et al. 2020. Associations of type 1 and type 2 diabetes with COVID-19-related mortality in England: a whole-population study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinology. 8 (10) 813-822.

Cui X, Wang B, Wu Y et al. 2019. Vegetarians have a lower fasting insulin level and higher insulin sensitivity than matched omnivores: A cross-sectional study. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 29 (5) 467-473.

Hussain A, Bhowmik B, do Vale Moreira NC. 2020. COVID-19 and diabetes: Knowledge in progress. Diabetes Research in Clinical Practice. 162, 108142.

Kahleova H, Matoulek M, Malinska H et al. 2011. Vegetarian diet improves insulin resistance and oxidative stress markers more than conventional diet in subjects with Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Medicine. 28 (5) 549‐559.

Kahleova H, Tura A, Hill M et al. 2018. A Plant-Based Dietary Intervention Improves Beta-Cell Function and Insulin Resistance in Overweight Adults: A 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 10 (2) 189.

McMacken M, Shah S. 2017. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology. 14 (5): 342–354

Mishra S, Xu J, Agarwal U, Gonzales J, Levin S, Barnard ND. 2013. A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a plant-based nutrition program to reduce body weight and cardiovascular risk in the corporate setting: the GEICO study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 67(7):718-724.

Najjar RS, Feresin RG. 2019. Plant-Based Diets in the Reduction of Body Fat: Physiological Effects and Biochemical Insights. Nutrients. 11(11):2712.

Salas-Salvadó J, Becerra-Tomás N, Papandreou C, Bulló M. 2019. Dietary Patterns Emphasizing the Consumption of Plant Foods in the Management of Type 2 Diabetes: A Narrative Review. Advances in Nutrition. 10 (Suppl_4): S320‐S331.

Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. 2009. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 32(5):791-796.

Wang B, Li R, Lu Z, Huang Y. 2020. Does comorbidity increase the risk of patients with COVID-19: evidence from meta-analysis. Aging (Albany NY). 12(7):6049-6057.

Zheng Z, Peng F, Xu B et al. 2020. Risk factors of critical & mortal COVID-19 cases: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Journal of Infection. 81(2):e16-e25.

Hypertension, heart disease and stroke

Why is it a risk factor for Covid-19?

People with cardiovascular diseases (conditions that affect your heart or circulation) are at risk for complications from any infection because they tend to make your heart work harder and can even trigger a heart attack. Covid-19 causes breathing difficulties which put extra pressure on the heart.

Having high blood pressure doubles the risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms and the need for hospitalisation. Heart disease and stroke are worse still as they triple the risk of severe, life-threatening Covid-19 – another study shows they raise the risk five-fold. 

What can be done about it?

Vegans and people who eat predominantly plant-based diets have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than all other diet groups and a much lower risk of heart disease – 25-57 per cent. Compared to meat-eaters, vegans have a 63 per cent lower risk of high blood pressure. If you already suffer from it, a wholefood vegan diet can help you lower your blood pressure more effectively than a vegetarian diet.

If you suffer from heart disease, a healthy vegan diet can dramatically improve your health, reduce the need for medication and may even reverse the condition. In fact, a wholefood plant-based diet is the only diet that has been able to completely reverse heart disease.

Read the evidence

Having high blood pressure doubles the risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms and the need for hospitalisation (Hussain et al., 2020; Zheng et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2020). Heart disease and stroke is worse still as it triples the risk of severe, life-threatening Covid-19 (Aggarwal et al., 2020; Hussain et al., 2020; Yang et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2020) another study found it raised the risk five-fold (Zheng et al., 2020).

Vegans and people who eat predominantly wholefood plant-based diets have consistently lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than all other diet groups and a much lower risk of heart disease – 25-57 per cent (Bradbury et al., 2014; Le and Sabaté, 2014; Appleby and Key, 2016; Dinu et al., 2017; Benatar and Stewart, 2018; Kahleova et al., 2018; Korakas et al., 2018; Matsumoto et al., 2019).

Compared to meat-eaters, vegans have a 63 per cent lower risk of high blood pressure (Pettersen et al., 2012). If you already suffer from it, a wholefood vegan diet can help you lower your blood pressure more effectively than a vegetarian diet (Lee et al., 2020).

If you suffer from heart disease, a healthy vegan diet can dramatically improve your health, reduce the need for medication and may even reverse the condition (Esselstyn et al., 2014). In fact a wholefood plant-based diet is the only diet that has been able to reverse heart disease (Kahleova et al., 2018).

Plant-based diets have such a positive effect on our heart health because they contain less saturated fat, no cholesterol, plenty of fibre and many beneficial phytochemicals that actively help to make your blood vessels and heart healthier, and can reduce cholesterol plaques in your arteries.

References

Aggarwal G, Cheruiyot I, Aggarwal S et al. 2020. Association of cardiovascular disease with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Severity: A meta-analysis. Current Problems in Cardiology. 45 (8) 100617.

Appleby PN, Key TJ. 2016. The Long-Term Health of Vegetarians and Vegans. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 75 (3) 287-293.

Benatar JR and Stewart RAH. 2018. Cardiometabolic risk factors in vegans; A meta-analysis of observational studies. PLoS One. 13 (12) e0209086.

Bradbury KE, Crowe FL, Appleby PN et al. 2014. Serum concentrations of cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I and apolipoprotein B in a total of 1694 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 68 (2) 178-183.

Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF et al. 2017. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 57 (17) 3640-3649.

Esselstyn CB Jr, Gendy G, Doyle J et al. 2014. A way to reverse CAD?. Journal of Family Practice. 63 (7) 356-364b.

Hussain A, Bhowmik B, do Vale Moreira NC. 2020. COVID-19 and diabetes: Knowledge in progress. Diabetes Research in Clinical Practice. 162, 108142.

Kahleova H, Tura A, Hill M et al. 2018. A Plant-Based Dietary Intervention Improves Beta-Cell Function and Insulin Resistance in Overweight Adults: A 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 10 (2) 189.

Korakas E, Dimitriadis G, Raptis A, Lambadiari V. 2018. Dietary Composition and Cardiovascular Risk: A Mediator or a Bystander? Nutrients. 10 (12): 1912.

Le LT, Sabaté J. 2014. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 6(6):2131-2147.

Lee KW, Loh HC, Ching SM, Devaraj NK, Hoo FK. 2020. Effects of Vegetarian Diets on Blood Pressure Lowering: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis and Trial Sequential Analysis. Nutrients. 12(6):1604.

Matsumoto S, Beeson WL, Shavlik DJ, Siapco G, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fraser G, Knutsen SF. 2019. Association between vegetarian diets and cardiovascular risk factors in non-Hispanic white participants of the Adventist Health Study-2. Journal of  Nutrition Science. 8:e6.

Pettersen BJ, Anousheh R, Fan J, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fraser GE. 2012. Vegetarian diets and blood pressure among white subjects: results from the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2). Public Health Nutrition. 15(10):1909-1916.

Wang B, Li R, Lu Z, Huang Y. 2020. Does comorbidity increase the risk of patients with COVID-19: evidence from meta-analysis. Aging (Albany NY). 12(7):6049-6057.

Yang J, Zheng Y, Gou X et al. 2020. Prevalence of comorbidities and its effects in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Infectious Diseases. 94:91-95.

Zheng Z, Peng F, Xu B et al. 2020. Risk factors of critical & mortal COVID-19 cases: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Journal of Infection. 81(2):e16-e25.

Cancer

Why is it a risk factor for Covid-19?

Cancer puts people at a higher risk from Covid-19 complications because cancer (and some of the treatments for it) can weaken the immune system and cause other health issues.

It is common for cancer patients to have decreased levels of white blood cells that are crucial for a healthy immune response – this is a big risk factor for Covid-19. Hospital data show that cancer doubles the risk of infection with severe symptoms requiring hospitalisation.

What can be done about it?

Cancer is a very complex, serious condition and a diet change alone cannot cure it. However, if we change our diet and lifestyle, we can significantly lower our chances of developing it in the first place.

According scientific studies, if you’re vegan, you have around 19 per cent lower risk of developing cancer (in general) compared to meat-eaters. Vegans also have a 34 per cent lower risk of female-specific cancers, a whopping 63 per cent lower risk of stomach cancer and also a lower risk of colon cancer.

This health-protective effect of vegan diets is due to the fact that they contain more fruits and vegetables, pulses and wholegrains which contain phytochemicals, antioxidants, fibre, flavonoids and vitamin C, all of which have protective effects against the development of cancer. This is complemented by the absence of red and processed meat which has been strongly associated with colon, oesophagus, liver, lung, breast and prostate cancers; and the absence of eggs that may lower the risk of pancreatic cancer.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) actually classified processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic.

Cutting out dairy can also help to protect you from developing hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast or prostate. By avoiding milk and dairy products, you’re avoiding consuming hormones and other substances that may encourage cancer growth.

Read the evidence

Cancer patients tend to have decreased levels of white blood cells that are crucial for a healthy immune response – this is a big risk factor for Covid-19 (Gosain et al., 2020). Hospital data show that cancer doubles the risk of infection with severe symptoms requiring hospitalisation. (Dai et al., 2020; Sidaway, 2020).

Cancer is a very complex, serious condition and a diet change alone cannot cure it. However, we can significantly lower our chances of developing it by changing our diet and lifestyle.

According to a large study from Oxford University, if you’re vegan, you have a 19 per cent lower risk of developing cancer compared to meat-eaters (Key et al., 2014). This result corresponds with other scientific studies that show 15-18 per cent lower cancer rates in vegans (Huang et al. 2012; Tantamango-Bartley et al., 2013; Dinu et al., 2017; Segovia-Siapco and Sabaté, 2019). One of these studies also revealed that vegan women had a 34 per cent lower risk of female-specific cancers (Tantamango-Bartley et al., 2013).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, since food passes through the stomach, vegetarians were shown to have a whopping 63 per cent lower risk of stomach cancer (Appleby and Key, 2016). Lower down the digestive tract, it’s clear why fibre from plant foods is so important – there is a 10-13 per cent decrease in the risk of colorectal cancer for each 10 grams of fibre consumed from plant-based wholefoods (Aune et al., 2011; Murphy et al., 2012).

Gray et al. (2020) suggested several mechanisms for the protective effects of plant-based diets – vegans tend to have healthier weight which lowers the risk of obesity-related cancers, such as colon, breast and prostate cancers; vegan diets contain more fruits and vegetables, which contain phytochemicals, antioxidants, fibre, flavonoids and vitamin C, all proposed to have protective effects against the development of cancer; and high consumption of pulses may decrease the risk of prostate cancer. This is complemented by the fact that the absence of red meat is also an important factor since it has been strongly associated with the development of colon, oesophagus, liver and lung cancers; and the absence of eggs in vegan diets may lower the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Vegan diets containing soya and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, watercress, rocket, radishes and cabbage) may also offer additional cancer protection. Soya consumption has been linked to a lower risk of certain types of cancer – breast, prostate, ovarian and bowel cancers (Chatterjee et al., 2018; Rizzo and Baroni, 2018). And cruciferous vegetables contain natural compounds that actively combat cancer cells and help protect our long-term health (Soundararajan and Kim, 2018).

Meat has been repeatedly linked to cancer, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic (Bouvard et al., 2015). Even small amounts of red and processed meat have been shown to increase your risk of colon, breast and prostate cancer (Wolk, 2017).

Cooking meat at high temperatures produces dangerous compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and heterocyclic amines. These have a very high potential for causing cancer (Jariyasopit et al., 2014; Papaioannou et al., 2014). Some substances added to processed meat, such as nitrites, can lead to the formation of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds, which is another reason why processed meat poses such a big cancer risk.

Then, there are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These industrial pesticides were banned worldwide more than 30 years ago because of their toxicity but they are still present in our environment. Once in the body, PCBs accumulate in the fat tissue and can cause serious health issues, including cancer. A review on PCBs revealed that in the food chain, fish, dairy, hamburgers and poultry are the most contaminated foods (Crinnion, 2011).

And there’s yet another reason why animal products may increase your cancer risk – insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). It’s a growth hormone naturally produced by your liver, vital to childhood growth and stimulating cell growth and reproduction in adults. However, IGF-1 also promotes cancer cell growth and that’s why increased IGF-1 levels are considered dangerous (Jenkins et al., 2006). Scientists warn that whey proteins from dairy products cause a rise in insulin, IGF-1 and growth hormone levels in the human body (Melnik et al., 2011). The association between dairy intake and cancer is the strongest for prostate cancer (Travis et al., 2016) and there is also substantial evidence for the same mechanism and breast cancer (Bradbury et al., 2015). It’s worth noting that vegans have been found to have significantly lower levels of IGF-1 than meat-eaters (Allen et al., 2000 and 2002; McCarty, 2014).

References

Allen NE, Appleby PN, Davey GK et al. 2000. Hormones and diet: low insulin-like growth factor-I but normal bioavailable androgens in vegan men. British Journal of Cancer. 83 (1) 95-97.

Appleby PN, Key TJ. 2016. The Long-Term Health of Vegetarians and Vegans. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 75 (3) 287-293.

Aune D, Chan DS, Lau R et al. 2011. Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. British Medical Journal. 343, d6617.

Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ et al., International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. 2015. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology. 16 (16) 1599-600.

Bradbury KE, Balkwill A, Tipper SJ et al. 2015. The association of plasma IGF-I with dietary, lifestyle, anthropometric, and early life factors in postmenopausal women. Growth Hormone and IGF Research. 25 (2) 90-95.

Chatterjee C, Gleddie S, Xiao CW. 2018. Soybean Bioactive Peptides and Their Functional Properties. Nutrients. 10 (9) pii: E1211.

Crinnion WJ. 2011. Polychlorinated biphenyls: persistent pollutants with immunological, neurological, and endocrinological consequences. Alternative Medicine Review: a journal of clinical therapeutic. 16 (1) 5-13.

Dai M, Liu D, Liu M et al. 2020. Patients with cancer appear more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2: a multicenter study during the COVID-19 outbreak. Cancer Discovery. 10 (6) 783-791.

Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF et al. 2017. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 57 (17) 3640-3649.

Gosain R, Abdou Y, Singh A et al. 2020. COVID-19 and Cancer: a Comprehensive Review. Current Oncology Reports. 22 (5) 53.

Gray A, Dang BN, Moore TB et al. 2020. A review of nutrition and dietary interventions in oncology. SAGE Open Medicine. 8, 2050312120926877.

Huang RY, Huang CC, Hu FB et al. 2016. Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 31 (1) 109-116.

Jariyasopit N, McIntosh M, Zimmermann K et al. 2014. Novel Nitro-PAH Formation from Heterogeneous Reactions of PAHs with NO2, NO3/N2O5, and OH Radicals: Prediction, Laboratory Studies, and Mutagenicity. Environmental Science and Technology. 48 (1) 412-419.

Jenkins PJ, Mukherjee A and Shalet SM. 2006. Does Growth Hormone Cause Cancer? Clinical Endocrinology. 64 (2) 115-121.

Key TJ, Appleby PN, Crowe FL, Bradbury KE, Schmidt JA, Travis RC. 2014. Cancer in British vegetarians: updated analyses of 4998 incident cancers in a cohort of 32,491 meat eaters, 8612 fish eaters, 18,298 vegetarians, and 2246 vegans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 100 Suppl 1:378S-385S.

McCarty MF. 2014. GCN2 and FGF21 are likely mediators of the protection from cancer, autoimmunity, obesity, and diabetes afforded by vegan diets. Medical Hypotheses. 83 (3) 365–371.

Melnik BC. 2011. Evidence for acne-promoting effects of milk and other insulinotropic dairy products. Nestle Nutrition Workshop Series: Pediatric Programme. 67:131‐145.

Murphy N, Norat T, Ferrari P, Jenab M et al. 2012. Dietary fibre intake and risks of cancers of the colon and rectum in the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (EPIC). PLoS One. 7 (6): e39361.

Papaioannou MD, Koufaris C and Gooderham NJ. 2014. The cooked meat-derived mammary carcinogen 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP) elicits estrogenic-like microRNA responses in breast cancer cells. Toxicology Letters. 229 (1): 9-16.

Rizzo G and Baroni L. 2018. Soy, Soy Foods and Their Role in Vegetarian Diets. Nutrients. 10 (1): 43.

Segovia-Siapco G, Sabaté J. 2019. Health and sustainability outcomes of vegetarian dietary patterns: a revisit of the EPIC-Oxford and the Adventist Health Study-2 cohorts. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 72(Suppl 1):60-70.

Sidaway P. 2020. COVID-19 and cancer: what we know so far. Nature Reviews. Clinical Oncology. 17(6):336.

Soundararajan P and Kim JS. 2018. Anti-Carcinogenic Glucosinolates in Cruciferous Vegetables and Their Antagonistic Effects on Prevention of Cancers. Molecules. 23(11). pii: E2983.

Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G. 2013. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. 2013. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 22 (2): 286-294.

Wolk A. 2017. Potential health hazards of eating red meat (Review). Journal of Internal Medicine. 281: 106–122.

Asthma and COPD

Why is it a risk factor for Covid-19?

Asthma causes inflammation and irritation of the airways and because one of the key organs that Covid-19 targets is the lungs, this double whammy may be an extremely heavy burden for asthma sufferers. Research shows that people who suffer from non-allergic asthma are at an increased risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the generic name for a cluster of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. People with COPD have difficulties breathing, primarily due to the narrowing of their airways and the condition progressively worsens over time. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the air passages which limits the airflow and causes a long-term cough with mucus. Emphysema is a condition causing destruction of the lung tissue.

COPD can increase the risk of severe Covid-19 up to six times. It’s not only the damaged airway tissues that pose a serious health risk but also the fact that people with COPD tend to have at least one of the other conditions that increase Covid-19 severity – high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease or cancer.

What can be done about it?

Wholefood vegan and plant-based diets help lower the risk of asthma and COPD, and reduce the symptoms in people who already have these conditions. This is likely due to the anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, low saturated fat and high fibre content in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds.

Studies also warn against the consumption of processed and red meat which have multiple negative health effects. Nitrites, used as preservatives and colour-stabilisers in processed meat, also have the potential to damage the lining of the airways. And as if that wasn’t enough, saturated fat found mostly in animal products, also negatively impacts COPD and so does sugar, sweetened beverages and sugary foods. In general, Western diets are bad news for COPD whilst plant-based diets centred on wholefoods cut the risk.

Read the evidence

Asthma causes inflammation and irritation of the airways and because one of the key organs that Covid-19 targets is the lungs, this double whammy may be an extremely heavy burden for asthma sufferers. Research shows that people who suffer from non-allergic asthma are at an increased risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms (Zhu et al., 2020).

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the generic name for a cluster of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. COPD can increase the risk of severe Covid-19 up to six times (Wang et al., 2020). It’s not only the damaged airway tissues that pose a serious health risk but also the fact that people with COPD tend to have at least one of the other conditions that increase Covid-19 severity – high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease or cancer (Yin et al., 2017).

Wholefood vegan and plant-based diets help lower the risk of asthma and reduce the symptoms in people who already have it (Alwarith et al., 2020). This is likely due to the anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, low saturated fat and high fibre content in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds. Studies also consistently show the importance of these nutrients in COPD prevention and treatment (Scoditti et al., 2019).

At the same time, these studies warn against the consumption of processed and red meat which have multiple negative health effects. Nitrites, used as preservatives and colour-stabilisers in processed meat, also have the potential to damage the lining of the airways (Scoditti et al., 2019). And as if that wasn’t enough, saturated fat found mostly in animal products, also negatively impacts COPD and so does sugar, sweetened beverages and sugary foods. In general, Western diets are bad news for COPD whilst plant-based diets centred on wholefoods cut the risk.

Varraso et al. (2015) analysed data from a large study of over 120,000 people in order to study the effect of diet on the risk of COPD. There was a significant negative association between the risk of COPD and a healthy diet. People eating the healthiest diet (based on wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, pulses and low in red and processed meats, refined grains and sugary drinks) had 33 per cent lower risk of developing COPD.

 

References

Alwarith J, Kahleova H, Crosby L et al. 2020. The role of nutrition in asthma prevention and treatment. Nutrition Reviews. 13; nuaa005.

Scoditti E, Massaro M, Garbarino S, Toraldo DM. 2019. Role of Diet in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Prevention and Treatment. Nutrients. 11(6):1357.

Varraso R, Chiuve SE, Fung TT, Barr RG, Hu FB, Willett WC and Camargo CA. 2015. Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010 and risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among US women and men: prospective study. BMJ. 350:h286.

Wang B, Li R, Lu Z, Huang Y. 2020. Does comorbidity increase the risk of patients with COVID-19: evidence from meta-analysis. Aging (Albany NY). 12(7):6049-6057.

Yin HL, Yin SQ, Lin QY, Xu Y, Xu HW, Liu T. 2017. Prevalence of comorbidities in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients: A meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 96(19):e6836.

Zhu Z, Hasegawa K, Ma B, Fujiogi M, Camargo CA Jr, Liang L. 2020. Association of asthma and its genetic predisposition with the risk of severe COVID-19. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 146(2):327-329.e4.

Kidney disease

Why is it a risk factor for Covid-19?

Kidney disease can pose a serious health risk when it comes to Covid-19 because it greatly increases the likelihood of severe complications and death. Patients with chronic kidney disease are three times more likely to develop severe Covid-19 symptoms. Moreover, the virus can cause serious and permanent damage to the kidneys.

What can be done about it?

Kidneys are our trustworthy filtration system, removing waste products from the blood and excreting them in urine. What we eat determines how hard the kidneys have to work – if you regularly overload them, there’s a higher chance of them wearing out and of you developing kidney disease. If, on the other hand, you eat foods that are easy on the kidneys, you are insuring your kidney health for the long-term.

Animal protein from meat – red and processed in particular – is bad news for the kidneys and increases the risk of kidney disease later in life. On the other hand, plant protein from pulses and nuts has the opposite effect – it lowers the risk and seems to have a kidney-protective effect.

However, it’s not just the origin of protein that matters – it’s the total package of nutrients in plant foods that makes them so good for us and our kidneys. In fact, a wholesome vegan diet is so great for the kidneys that it’s even recommended for people with kidney disease to prevent further damage.

Read the evidence

Kidney disease can pose a serious health risk when it comes to Covid-19 as it significantly increases the risk of severe complications and death (Cheng et al., 2020). Patients with chronic kidney disease are three times more likely to develop severe Covid-19 symptoms (Henry and Lippi, 2020). Moreover, the virus can cause substantial and permanent damage to the kidneys.

Data from a study spanning over 23 years suggest that animal protein from meat – red and processed in particular – is bad news for kidneys, seriously increasing the risk of kidney disease later in life (Haring et al., 2017). The same study also revealed that plant protein from pulses and nuts has the opposite effect – it lowers the risk and seems to have a kidney-protective effect.

Other studies agree and it’s been highlighted that it’s not merely the origin of protein that matters – it’s the total package of nutrients in plant foods that makes them so good for us and our kidneys (Gluba-Brzózka et al., 2017; Kalantar-Zadeh and Moore, 2019). Plant foods produce less acid in the body than animal foods and they provide healthy alkaline salts that kidneys like. A wholesome vegan diet is so great for the kidneys that it’s even recommended for people with kidney disease to prevent further damage (Gluba-Brzózka et al., 2017).

References

Cheng Y, Luo R, Wang K et al. 2020. Kidney disease is associated with in-hospital death of patients with COVID-19. Kidney International. 97 (5) 829-838.

Gluba-Brzózka A, Franczyk B, Rysz J. 2017. Vegetarian diet in chronic kidney disease – a friend or foe. Nutrients. 9 (4) 374.

Haring B, Selvin E, Liang M et al. 2017. Dietary Protein Sources and Risk for Incident Chronic Kidney Disease: Results From the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Journal of Renal Nutrition. 27 (4) 233-242.

Henry BM, Lippi G. 2020. Chronic kidney disease is associated with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection. International Urology and Nephrology. 52 (6) 1193-1194.

Kalantar-Zadeh K, Moore LW. 2019. Does Kidney Longevity Mean Healthy Vegan Food and Less Meat or Is Any Low-Protein Diet Good Enough?. Journal of Renal Nutrition. 29 (2) 79–81.

Covid-19 specific diet effects

The Western diet...

The Western diet, high in animal products, saturated fats, processed and sugary foods, has multiple negative effects on your body which pose a serious threat when it comes to Covid-19 (Butler and Barrientos, 2020). It causes chronic activation of the immune system making it work extra hard which then blunts its ability to react to new threats. It effectively reduces white blood cell function (the immune system’s ‘soldiers’) and results in a weakened immune system. The authors of this study concluded: Therefore, it is our recommendation that individuals refrain from eating foods high in saturated fats and sugar and instead consume high amounts of fibre, whole grains, unsaturated fats, and antioxidants to boost immune function”.  

Another recent study highlighted how a healthy diet promotes a healthy immune system and lowers the risk of diseases that increase your vulnerability to Covid-19 complications. In particular, the authors suggested it’s crucial to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and consume enough vitamin C, D, E, zinc, copper, and fibre from plant foods (Zabetakis et al., 2020).

Another study, considering how diet impacts the immune system in relation to Covid-19, sent an even clearer message (Iddir et al., 2020):

  • Plant-protein sources are anti-inflammatory, animal protein sources are pro-inflammatory
  • Polyunsaturated fats (mostly from plant sources) are anti-inflammatory while saturated fats (mainly from animal sources) are pro-inflammatory
  • Refined carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, cake) stimulate a strong inflammatory response while complex carbs (from plant-wholefoods) are protective and support beneficial gut bacteria
  • Phytochemicals from plant foods reduce inflammatory molecules in the body, improve blood vessel health and reactivity, and blood fat composition
  • Beta-carotene (vitamin A) from plants has multiple health-protective effects

References

Butler MJ and Barrientos RM. 2020. The impact of nutrition on COVID-19 susceptibility and long-term consequences. Brain, Behavior and Immunity. 87, 53-54.

Iddir M, Brito A, Dingeo G et al. 2020. Strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress through diet and nutrition: Considerations during the COVID-19 crisis. Nutrients. 12 (6) 1562.

Zabetakis I, Lordan R, Norton C, Tsoupras A. COVID-19: 2020. The Inflammation Link and the Role of Nutrition in Potential Mitigation. Nutrients. 12(5):1466.

Additional risk factors for Covid-19...

Covid-19 is more dangerous for older people simply because as we age, our immune system gradually weakens (Montecino-Rodriguez et al., 2013). There isn’t much we can do about aging but ensuring good nutrition is important for our immune system to be at its best.

Several other factors, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and conditions, such as sickle cell disease and HIV/AIDS, also increase the risk of life-threatening complications.

While we cannot entirely protect ourselves from infection, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to our lifestyle habits. A healthy vegan diet can make your immune system more efficient and ready to defend you from anything!

References

Montecino-Rodriguez E, Berent-Maoz B, Dorshkind K. 2013. Causes, consequences, and reversal of immune system aging. Journal of Clinical Investigations. 123(3):958-965.

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In the media

15 experts call for Britain to embrace veganism to slash the risk of severe Covid-19 

EARLIER this year a study published in the Obesity Reviews journal revealed people living with obesity who contract coronavirus are more than twice as likely as people of a healthy weight to be admitted to hospital. This group was almost three-quarters more likely to need intensive care, and 48 percent more likely to die. [1]

In July Whitehall launched a new strategy in a bid to tackle the threats posed by obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.[2] The Government is set to ban junk food adverts before 9 pm and end buy-one-get-one-free promotions. These are positive steps but the strategy roundly fails to mention possibly the single biggest thing as Britons we can do to tackle the obesity crisis.

Experts agree eating a vegan diet may help people who are overweight reduce body fat and promote weight loss without restricting calories. A 2019 Harvard study of more than 300,000 participants revealed eating a vegan diet can cut a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes by almost a quarter.[3]  In the same year a study of 12,000 people found those who ate mostly plant-based foods were 32 percent less likely to die from heart disease.[4]

Going vegan is one of the simplest, cheapest things Britons can do to slash the risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19. Now more than ever before it’s time to embrace the benefits of a plant-based diet before it’s too late.

An edited version of this letter appeared in the Sunday Times 0n November 22nd 2020.

Signatories

Juliet Gellatley, Director, Viva!

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock, Emeritus Professor of Healthcare Leadership, Plymouth University

Professor Emanuel Goldman, Professor of Microbiology, Rutgers University

Elena Holmes, Senior Associate, The Royal Society of Medicine

Dr Shireen Kassam, Consultant Haematologist and Honorary Senior Lecturer, King’s College Hospital

Professor Richard Kock, Wildlife Health and Emerging Diseases, Royal Veterinary College, University of London

Rosie Martin, Registered Dietitian, Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust

Dr Ulrich Bartels, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Mayo General Hospital

Dr Laura Freeman, General Practitioner

Professor Andrew Knight, Director, University of Winchester

Dr Josh Cullimore, General Practitioner

Dr Isabelle Benard, General Practitioner

Dr Leila Dehghan, Nutritionist

Karine Stephan, Registered Nutritional Therapist

Colette Fox, Nutritional Therapist

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