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"Blue zone" diets reduce the risk of severe COVID-19

A new commentary published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that people should adopt a plant-based diet to help reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 and mortality. The experts refer to several studies which confirm that a “blue zone” (or plant-based) diet can help prevent a dangerous COVID-19 infection. 

“It represents the most cost-effective approach and should be largely promoted and incorporated in everyday practice,” wrote Dr. Hana Kahleova and Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “This is a booster that is needed at this unprecedented time and that may actually work to mitigate COVID-19.”

In Okinawa, the fifth largest island of Japan, the predominant diet is plant-based and rich in sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, and soy products. The island is one of the world’s “blue zones,” where the population has a life expectancy that is substantially higher than the global average. The experts noted that Okinawa has a much lower COVID-19 mortality rate than Tokyo, which is similar in size.

“In addition to their high life expectancy and low mortality from cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers, Okinawans have enjoyed a remarkable resistance to Covid-19 mortality,” wrote the experts. 

“As of June 16, 2021, the Covid-19 mortality in Okinawa, Japan, was 0.08 percent (163 deaths out of 19,782 cases), which is one-sixteenth that of Tokyo (mortality rate 1.3 percent; 2183 deaths out of 167,416 cases.”

Dr. Kahleova and Dr Barnard also pointed to the results of a recent study which showed that a healthy, plant-based diet was associated with a 41 percent lower risk of severe COVID-19. A separate study focused on healthcare workers with a high risk of Covid exposure revealed that that those following a plant-based diet had a 73 percent lower risk of developing moderate-to-severe infection. 

“The effectiveness of vaccination, as measured by antibody titres, may be significantly reduced by the presence of chronic conditions, particularly central obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and smoking,” said the commentary authors. 

“Covid-19 deaths are considerably more common in the context of advanced age or chronic diseases, such as excess body weight, coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and chronic lung disease.”

“In turn, these conditions are strongly linked to diet and lifestyle choices that can be changed. Indeed, those people who have made lifestyle changes have demonstrable protection against the virus.”

In addition to Okinawa, a few other areas of the world have been identified as blue zones: Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece. People in these regions live longer lives, with a greater sense of purpose and well-being, than anywhere else in the world. While the exact foods that are eaten in blue zones vary by culture, the diets are the same in that they are about 95 percent plant-based, including vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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