The impact of nutrition on COVID-19 susceptibility and long-term consequences.
Brain, behavior, and immunity. 2020
Plain language summary
The impacts of Covid-19 are being felt across the world, affecting health, healthcare and economies. Statistics from across the world are showing that the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions and under-represented minority groups are particularly vulnerable to severe complications and have a higher risk of dying of Covid-19. This opinion piece presents arguments for the importance of focusing on diet to support health resilience in general and the immune system in particular, to minimise the impact of this and future viruses. Research is presented on excessive intake of saturated fat leading to chronic activation of the innate immune system (first line, rapid defence against infection), resulting in inflammation, and associated heightened susceptibility to complications of viral infection. The standard western diet (high saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and sugars, low levels of fibre, unsaturated fat and antioxidants) has also been shown to affect the adaptive immune system (second line, delayed defence against infection), depressing its action against infection. The piece also discusses possible long-term, future impacts of those recovered from Covid-19 infection, particularly in relation to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The authors call for fresh, healthy wholefoods to be readily available and affordable to everyone in society.
While all groups are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly, underrepresented minorities, and those with underlying medical conditions are at the greatest risk. The high rate of consumption of diets high in saturated fats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates (collectively called Western diet, WD) worldwide, contribute to the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and could place these populations at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 pathology and mortality. WD consumption activates the innate immune system and impairs adaptive immunity, leading to chronic inflammation and impaired host defense against viruses. Furthermore, peripheral inflammation caused by COVID-19 may have long-term consequences in those that recover, leading to chronic medical conditions such as dementia and neurodegenerative disease, likely through neuroinflammatory mechanisms that can be compounded by an unhealthy diet. Thus, now more than ever, wider access to healthy foods should be a top priority and individuals should be mindful of healthy eating habits to reduce susceptibility to and long-term complications from COVID-19.