Is Non-Vegetarian safe in Covid-19 times?

Author: Praveen Budhrani, INFS alumini and Fittr coach

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak exposed our world to a threat that was not seen by humanity in the last two decades. The impact that this outbreak is having in terms of deaths and infections is exponentially more than what happened in the past pandemics. Coronavirus is a big disaster causing sickness, death, isolation, depression and anxiety, unemployment, closure of small businesses and collapse of the economy in some countries.

However, what is more disheartening is that some people are using this sensitive issue as an opportunity to propagate their beliefs. The very recent propaganda that caught my attention is people claiming that vegetarians are safe from corona virus outbreak and that there is no vegetarian that has died from the 5 million plus positive cases from across the globe. To know if there is any truth to this, let us breakdown the issue and understand the reliability of the above claim.

What is Covid-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by newly discovered coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

How does Covid-19 spread?

COVID-19 spreads mainly by droplets produced as a result of coughing or sneezing of a COVID-19 infected person. This can be through coming in direct contact with the infected person when they fail to cover their mouth while coughing / sneezing or indirectly when droplets survive on surfaces or clothes for few days.

A report from WHO on “COVID-19 and food safety: guidance for food businesses” [1] confirms the fact that “There is no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food”.

Further, WHO also goes on to confirm that COVID-19 spreads through human-to-human transmission. The possible animal source of COVID-19 has not yet been confirmed but research is ongoing [2].

Immunity against Covid-19

Our Immunity system is like an army of organisms who are constantly working towards protecting our body from getting attacked from millions of outside organisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi etc. With the increase in age, the immune system undergoes a wear and tear and leads to decline in various immune cell functions.

As per the research conduction by Christopher Weyh and colleagues on 30th January, 2020 on how “Physical Activity and Diet Shape the Immune System during Aging”, there is no sufficient evidence to conclude that specific dietary preference (vegetarian, vegan or otherwise) can be considered effective against the immunity aging, however the same research mentions that regular exercising and physically active lifestyle can have positive impact against the  immunity aging [3].

Further, another research done on 150 healthy adults found out that vegetarians have lower RBC and WBC counts. [4]. Having very low levels of these WBC cells is not ideal as it can affect the body’s ability to fight infection [5].

On the flip side vegetarians showed lowered levels of inflammation, however reason for the same remains to be investigated. This could probable be attributed to consumption of high amounts of anti-oxidant properties, fibers, vitamins, minerals rich foods. [6]

Reliability of the Hypothesis “No Vegetarian that Has Died of Covid-19”

Also, statistically it is difficult to claim that all the persons who died were vegetarian or non-vegetarians, as there is no official government database or a statutory identity that bifurcates citizens of any country according to their food preference as these preferences can be dynamic in nature. So even if there happens to be any positive correlations between non-vegetarians and people who died from COVID-19, it can be termed as spurious in nature and cannot be given cause effect relationship.

should i be turning vegetarian?

All of a sudden going vegetarian may not be suitable for everyone and a new eating pattern without understanding the potential impacts can derail the person’s progress. Further, Vegetarian diets that are inappropriately balanced can lead to an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies leading to sub optimal WBC production and compromised immune system [7].

So, whether you’re vegetarian or not, focusing on incorporating more variety of vegetables in your existing diets makes more sense rather than changing your dietary preference all together. 

references

[1] https://www.who.int/publications-detail/covid-19-and-food-safety-guidance-for-food-businesses

[2] https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

[3] https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/3/622

[4] https://journals.indexcopernicus.com/api/file/viewByFileId/676203.pdf

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3635622/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23865797

[7] https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4145307/

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