The world’s journalists report every day about the importance of masks and social distancing. But they have virtually nothing else to tell you about protecting yourself from Coronavirus.
At the same time, we commonly hear in the news, the virus hits hard people with comorbidities, including lifestyle ailments such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.1
The logical corollary to the news about comorbidities, is that you can protect yourself from a Covid death by giving more attention to your overall health. Why doesn’t mass media have more to say about this? 2
How to achieve this protection? There are different approaches. Spoiler alert: the one described here has to do with food.
Americans generally fall into one of two mind-sets about the relationship between food and disease. I call them the activists and passivists.
- Activists believe you can improve your health by dietary choices. They seek out advice of nutrition gurus. They worry whether they are eating the right thing.
- Passivists think illness is mainly caused by germs, genetics, and bad luck. They doubt that food is a major determinant (though they may take some vitamins just in case). They eat what they like and don’t worry.
This information is for activists. If you are a passivist, this won’t impress you; you might as well look elsewhere for your health advice.
A long list of writers in the past decade or two have either:
- Warned about exotic diseases and future pandemics.3
- Advised us to protect our health with superfoods and supplements.4
I want to point out in particular, one health guru who tied the two issues together. Here is what Joel Fuhrman, M.D., said a decade ago in his book Super Immunity:
“Today we are exposed to more dangerous infections from around the world than ever before. We are routinely in airports and jets crowded with world travelers who have come in contact with exotic and newly created microbes, and we are in schools and hospitals with bacteria circulating that have developed antibiotic resistance. Scientists suggest that environmental, social, and nutritional changes have helped trigger an unprecedented explosion of infection: more than thirty-five new infectious diseases have burst upon the world in the past thirty years…. With two billion people traveling by air each year, the potential for serious viral illnesses looms even larger in our future.”Super Immunity, Joel Fuhrman, 2011 (p.3)
What to do? Fuhrman’s advice is to strengthen your immune system to defend against the inevitable. If you want to know how, I do counsel you to read the book.5 But the short version is as follows.
You’ve heard the terms before. Antioxidants. Flavonoids. Omega-3 fatty acids. Polyphenols. Anthocyanins. And on and on. The trouble is, there are thousands or tens of thousands of these chemicals (micronutrients) that our bodies need. Scientists have studied only a small selection in depth. Some are found in only extremely small quantities in food sources. In our bodies, the number of interactions among them could be astronomical.
But science broadly has figured out one important thing: In general, the more micronutrients we get, and in greater variety, the better for resistance to disease, and even recovery from disease. (And micronutrients are calorie-free!) But science also has found no magic bullet: supplements can provide only a small proportion of the micronutrients you obtain from real food.
Fuhrman teaches that to optimize immune function, aim to maximize your ratio of micronutrients per calorie. That leads to a so-called whole-food plant-based diet. Animal products (providing chiefly protein and fat) are low in micronutrients per calorie. Getting your protein and fats from mainly plant sources provides a double benefit by bringing the immune-boosting phytochemicals along for free.
You most probably don’t get even the U.S. government’s recommended amount of vegetables and fruit. (That is, if you are American, or eat like one, as so many do around the world these days.) I know this because the statistics tell us 90% of Americans don’t.6 And Fuhrman’s recommendations go far beyond that. Some of his major points of advice:
- Favor the foods he calls GBOMBS: Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, and Seeds. 7
- Eliminate all sugar/sweeteners, refined grains, high-sodium items, oils, junk food, fried food.
- Variety is significant. Diversify your choices within each GBOMBS category and among other fruits and veggies too.
- Some micronutrients are more bioavailable from raw foods; others from cooked. For example, use raw cabbage but cooked tomatoes. So in general, he says aim for a diet of half raw and half cooked food.
- Fuhrman is cautious regarding supplements and says only a few are essential, in conservative doses; and watch out, some popular vitamin supplements are harmful.
What’s above is the beginning of a longer story. The details are worth learning and could make the difference between having a severe case of Covid-19 and having an asymptomatic case.
If you’ve been paying attention to some of the medical details about Covid-19, you may have heard that it can bring on a cytokine storm. This is essentially an overactive immune response similar to an auto-immune condition. People with suppressed immune systems surprisingly seem to suffer no worse symptoms than others, and perhaps their condition even protects them from the effects of coronavirus. 8
Dr. Fuhrman’s take on this, is that the diet style he recommends “…supplies the vital micronutrients and phytochemicals to prevent inflammation, preserve normal immune function, and protect us against this excessive reaction, called cytokine storm. Only a properly nourished immune system can react quickly, appropriately to prevent viral replication and invasion and resolve infection without over-reacting.”9
Was there ever a better time to clean up your diet than now?
- Example: “Comorbidities Increase COVID-19 Deaths by Factor of 12.” Medscape, 17 June 2020
- Update, Jan. 2021 — a rare exception: “How the American Diet Turbocharges COVID-19: The pandemic’s toll is further proof that we’re eating ourselves sick.” Mother Jones, Jan.-Feb. 2021.
- See for example The New Killer Diseases How the Alarming Evolution of Mutant Germs Threatens Us All, Elinor Levy & Mark Fichetti, 2003; also “Disease: Twenty-First-Century Plague”, chapter 5 of End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, Bryan Walsh, 2019.
- See for example How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, Michael Greger & Gene Stone, 2015
- Fuhrman’s website is somewhat of a mishmash. What a difference an editor makes, such as the one his book publisher HarperCollins provided!
- “Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables” https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1116-fruit-vegetable-consumption.html
- Fuhrman adopted the GBOMBS acronym after the book was published; in the book he uses GOMBBS.
- Michael Greger M.D., “The Immune System and COVID-19 Treatment”, 29 June 2020 (transcript) https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-immune-system-and-covid-19-treatment/
- Fuhrman, “Cytokine Storm: When the immune system goes awry“, Eat-To-Live Blog, 18 Aug. 2020