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Vegetarian diet lowers the risk and severity of COVID-19

Scientists have found that people whose diets are based on healthy vegetarian foods have a reduced risk of COVID-19 and a lower probability of experiencing serious symptoms. The study, which was conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), investigated the correlation between diet and the risk and severity of COVID-19 infection.

Although metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and obesity have already been linked to an increased risk of Sars-Cov-2 infection as well as probability to develop life-threatening symptoms, the relation between such risks and nutrition has not been previously explored.

“Previous reports suggest that poor nutrition is a common feature among groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic, but data on the association between diet and COVID-19 risk and severity are lacking,” said study lead author Jordi Merino, a research associate at the Center for Genomic Medicine at MGH. 

In order to clarify these issues, Merino and his colleagues examined data on 592,571 US and UK participants of the smartphone-based COVID-19 Symptom Study. At the start of the study, in March 2020, participants were asked to fill a questionnaire about their dietary habits. 

By the end of the year, 31,831 of participants developed COVID-19. The researchers found that participants whose diets were healthier, consisting of large quantities of fruits and vegetables, had a nine percent lower risk of developing the disease and a 41 percent lower risk of experiencing severe symptoms. 

“Although we cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, our study suggests that individuals can also potentially reduce their risk of getting COVID-19 or having poor outcomes by paying attention to their diet,” explained co-author Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at MGH.

The findings show that public health strategies which improve access to healthy foods can significantly help reduce the burden of the pandemic. 

“Our findings are a call to governments and stakeholders to prioritize healthy diets and wellbeing with impactful policies, otherwise we risk losing decades of economic progress and a substantial increase in health disparities,” concluded Merino.

The research was published in the journal Gut.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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