What should we do to avoid the virus – or a virus – and can a plant-based diet help?
Dr. Michael Greger: There are amazing studies that show that simple foods can boost your immune system. Like randomized double-blind studies showing that eating broccoli sprouts can decrease viral load for influenza, decrease virus-induced inflammation, and increase our antiviral activity of natural killer cells – all just from eating broccoli, but COVID-19 is not the flu.
Unlike other common viruses, coronaviruses have not been shown to cause any more severe illness in immunocompromised patients. Why? Because your own immune response is the main driver of lung tissue damage during infection.
From the second week of symptoms onwards, the virus can trigger what is known as a cytokine storm, an autoimmune reaction in which your body overreacts. When the coronavirus attacks, your lungs get caught in the crossfire. If we burn the village down to save it, we may not survive the process.
I certainly support general, sensible advice for staying healthy during the crisis – getting enough sleep, staying active, relieving stress, keeping in touch with friends and family (albeit remotely), and eating healthy – but I wouldn’t go out of the way of you taking supplements or eating foods to boost elements of your immune system until we know more about this virus.
What do you eat in a day – and how much vitamin C or D or A are you aiming for?
Dr. Michael Greger: Whole foods on a plant basis. Pretty self explanatory, isn’t it? But aren’t some plant foods better than others? You can apparently live longer and eat practically nothing but potatoes, which by definition would be a whole food plant-based diet – but not a very healthy one. Not all plant foods are created equal.
The more I researched over the years, the more I realized that healthy foods are not necessarily interchangeable. Some foods and food groups contain specific nutrients that are not found in abundance elsewhere. As the list of foods I wanted to incorporate into my daily diet grew, I created a checklist that became the Daily Dozen.
I recommend at least three servings of beans (legumes) every day., two servings of berries, three servings of other fruits, one serving of cruciferous vegetables, two servings of vegetables, two servings of other vegetables, one serving of flaxseed, one serving of nuts and seeds, one serving of herbs and spices, three servings of whole grains, five servings of drinks and one serving of exercise (90 minutes of moderate intensity or 40 minutes of vigorous activity).
This may sound like a lot of boxes to check, but it’s easy to tick off several at once. You just checked four boxes with a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Sit to a large salad of two cups of spinach, a handful of arugula, a handful of walnuts, half a cup of chickpeas, half a cup of red pepper, and a small tomato, and seven boxes can be ticked off in a bowl. Sprinkle your flax on top, add a handful of goji berries and enjoy with a glass of water and fruit for dessert. You could wipe out almost half of your daily check boxes in one meal. And then when you’ve eaten it on a treadmill … (kidding!).
In terms of vitamin D, we’ve evolved to make all of the vitamin D we need from the sun. But most of us no longer run around naked in equatorial Africa. It should come as no surprise that many of us modern humans are deficient in vitamin D, also known as the “sun vitamin,” for example when we live in northern climates that are overcast for the winter months.
If you’re not getting enough sun exposure, I recommend taking a daily supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D, ideally with the largest meal of the day.
As for vitamins C and A, just eat fruits and vegetables, and these vitamins will take care of themselves.
The only other vitamin that I’m avid is B12, that is not made by plants or animals but of microbes that cover the earth. In today’s sanitary, modern world, water supplies are commonly chlorinated to kill bacteria. Although we don’t have a lot of B12 in the water, we don’t get a lot of cholera either, which is good!
A regular, reliable source of vitamin B12 is vital for anyone on a plant-based diet. Although it can take years for a deficiency to develop for those starting with adequate supplies, the consequences of a B12 deficiency can be devastating. Cases of paralysis, psychosis, blindness and even death are reported. Newborns from mothers who eat plant-based rather than supplementary mothers can develop deficiency much faster, with catastrophic consequences. Getting enough vitamin B12 with a diet centered on plant-based foods is absolutely non-negotiable.
For adults under 65, the easiest way to get B12 is to take at least 2,500 µg per week or a daily dose of 250 µg. It should be noted that these doses are specific to cyanocobalamin, the preferred supplement form of vitamin B12, as there isn’t enough evidence to support the effectiveness of the other forms like methylcobalamin.
As we age, our ability to absorb vitamin B12 can decrease. For those over 65 on a plant-based diet, supplementation should likely be increased to 1,000 µg cyanocobalamin per day.
Instead of taking B12 supplements, it is possible to get adequate amounts from foods fortified with B12. However, we would have to eat three servings of food a day, each providing at least 25 percent of the daily value (on the nutritional label), with each serving being consumed at least four to six hours after the last. For example, for nutritional yeast fortified with B12, two teaspoons three times a day would be sufficient. However, for most of us it would probably be cheaper and more convenient to just take one supplement. Our great apes get all of the B12 they need to eat insects, dirt, and feces, but I’d suggest supplements instead!
Do you think zinc is helpful and if so how much should we try to get?
Researchers have found that zinc reduces both the duration and severity of the common cold if taken within 24 hours of symptoms appearing. Zinc lozenges appear to shorten colds by about three days, while significantly reducing nasal discharge, constipation, hoarseness, and coughing.
The cold results for zinc are often described as mixed. However, this appears to be due to the fact that some studies used zinc lozenges that contained added ingredients such as citric acid, which strongly bind zinc, so little or not at all free Zinc is actually released. They taste better, but what’s the point if you don’t get the zinc?
What Is The Best Way To Take Zinc For Colds? Lozenges Contains approximately 10 to 15 milligrams of zinc, taken every two hours of waking for a few days, starting immediately after symptoms appear, either as zinc acetate or zinc gluconate without Zinc binders such as citric acid, tartaric acid, glycine, sorbitol or mannitol can work best.
I am skeptical that it would be helpful in well-fed people. But when taken as directed, it shouldn’t hurt, although zinc supplements and lozenges can cause nausea, especially when taken on an empty stomach, and some other gastrointestinal symptoms. And you should noch no Put zinc up your nose. At the drugstore, you can find all kinds of intranasal zinc gels, sprays, and swabs that have been linked to potentially permanent loss of the sense of smell.
Because the zinc in plant foods is not as well absorbed as the zinc in meat foods, A study published earlier this year found relatively low blood zinc levels in vegetarians. Therefore, anyone on a plant-based diet – men or women – should eat whole grains, beans and nuts every day. But some men may need more than others.
What are other things that will lower our risk of infection and boost immunity? Turmeric? One more thing?
Researchers have shown that a more plant-based diet can help prevent, treat, or reverse some of our leading causes of death. including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. For example, intervention studies of plant-based diets have shown that angina attacks are reduced by 90 percent within a few weeks.
Plant-based diet intervention groups have reported more satisfactory dietsn as control groups as well as improved digestion, increased energy and better sleep, and significant improvements in their physical function, general health, vitality and mental health. Studies have shown that plant-based foods can improve not only body weight, blood sugar levels and the ability to control cholesterol, but also emotional states such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, well-being and daily functioning.
It has ever been shown that only one way of eating will reverse heart disease for the majority of patients: a diet that focuses on whole-food foods. If this could all be a whole food, plant-based diet – invert our number one killer – shouldn’t this be the standard diet until proven otherwise? The fact that it can also be effective in preventing, treating, and arresting other leading killers seems to make the case for plant-based foods just overwhelming.
So, give yourself the best benefit by boosting your immunity with whole plant foods with antioxidants and phytonutrients like berries, cruciferous vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
What is the ONE thing people should eat every day?
Dark green leafy vegetables are the healthiest food in the world. That’s why I recommend two servings a day. As whole foods, they provide the most nutrients per calorie. Of all the food groups analyzed by a team of Harvard University researchers, greens were found to be the most resistant to serious chronic illnesses, including reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes by up to 20 percent for each additional daily serving.
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