What nutrients in the Mediterranean diet are recommended for Covid-19?

I. Milton/ A. Martínez Hernández/L.I. Arellano/M. Puy Portillo

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About a year to go since our lives changed, we still do not see the light at the end of that tunnel called Covid-19. During this time, much research has been done on the coronavirus and the factors that can influence its prevention and treatment. These include numerous articles published on the beneficial effects that specific nutrients can have on Covid-19.

However, few studies have focused on analyzing the benefits that specific dietary patterns can bring about this disease. In the case of the so-called “Mediterranean diet”, the healthy properties attributed to it in metabolic and cardiovascular diseases are well known. However, would it also be recommended for Covid-19?

When a person is infected with SARS-CoV-2, the immune system fights back by producing an uncontrolled “inflammatory storm”. This excessive inflammatory response produces damage to the lung tissue, which results in a decrease in respiratory capacity. There is also an inflammatory process in other organs and tissues, which further aggravates the disease.

The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest dietary patterns. It is characterized by a high presence of foods of plant origin (vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts), the use of olive oil as the main source of fat and the moderate consumption of milk and dairy products, fish and white meat. The intake of these foods provides, among others, mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as other bioactive compounds, among which polyphenols, present in foods of plant origin, stand out.

Since there are numerous studies in which the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of these compounds have been demonstrated, the consumption of foods rich in polyphenols could contribute to reducing the severity of the disease in people with Covid-19.

Another characteristic of the Mediterranean diet is the low presence of nutrients and foods with a proven pro-inflammatory effect (such as refined sugars, trans fatty acids or energy-dense foods). All this would help to reinforce the mentioned anti-inflammatory effect.

Eat better to have a better prognosis

On the other hand, it has been described that nutrients that are especially present in foods of the Mediterranean diet, such as ω-3 fatty acids, polyphenols or vitamin D, improve the immune response in lung infections. This effect would also be of interest in the case of Covid-19, since it would help both to prevent or hinder infection by the virus, and to improve the immune response in the case of having been infected.

To this should be added the fact that the clinic of people who contract covid-19 usually has a worse prognosis (severity of the pathology) if there are underlying pathologies. This is the case of people suffering from obesity or diabetes, both characterized by a chronic low-intensity inflammatory state that has been related to higher mortality from Covid-19.

In the same way, it has also been described that people with cardiovascular diseases have a higher mortality rate in the case of contracting the disease. This process is due to the fact that one of the complications of Covid-19 is increased platelet aggregation, which in turn can lead to thrombotic complications.

In this sense, for years the Mediterranean diet has been the reference dietary pattern for the prevention and treatment of chronic and metabolic diseases. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet on these pathologies (whose prevalence is still high today) would also make it advisable in the case of Covid-19.

To date there is sufficient evidence to consider the Mediterranean diet as a recommended dietary pattern that can help against Covid-19. The suitability of this dietary pattern is mainly due to its anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects.

To this should be added that it provides protection against other chronic inflammatory diseases, which can significantly affect the development of the disease. However, and for this there is also more than proven evidence, maintaining hygiene and social distancing rules are still the most effective measures to minimize the risk of contracting the disease.

Iñaki Milton Laskibar. Postdoctoral Researcher at Cardiometabolic Nutrition Group, IMDEA Food. Researcher at the Center for Biomedical Research Network on the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CiberObn), University of the Basque Country.

Alfredo Martínez Hernández. Director de Precision Nutrition and Cardiometabolic Health Research Program y Cardiometabolic Nutrition Group, IMDEA.

Laura Isabel Arellano García. Nutrition and Health Student, University of the Basque Country.

Maria Puy Portillo. Professor of Nutrition. Center for Biomedical Research Network on the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBERobn), University of the Basque Country.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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