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Lessons from COVID-19

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The current pandemic has reminded the United States and its citizens of the importance of prevention, preparation, and up-to-date science. So what are the lessons that governments and individuals should learn?

The 20th century taught us that influenza viruses, which first crossed from animals to humans with the domestication of ducks, could evolve and cause pandemics. The 21st century taught us that corona viruses, which have reservoirs in bats and birds, could cause pandemics. The last 50 years have demonstrated the almost annual emergence of novel viruses. These viruses have been generated by concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs), environmental degradation, and the trafficking and consumption of exotic animals.

It follows that national governments can prevent novel pandemics from influenza and corona viruses by banning exotic animal trade, “live” animal markets, and CAFOs within their borders. In the United States, Sen. Cory Booker introduced Senate Bill 3321, The Farm System Reform Act of 2019, which would phase out CAFOs. In addition to domestic prevention measures, the US should support the UN to develop “strike teams” to contain outbreaks before they become pandemics, as well as to obtain material for testing.

Individuals with diabetes or high blood pressure, or who are obese, are known to be at greater risk for serious complications and death from Covid 19. Therefore personal efforts to prevent or reverse these conditions–chiefly through changing one’s diet–are highly recommended.

Diet is the most important lifestyle variable to prevent and reverse these three conditions. Diabetes is due to insulin being absent or not functioning well. The “glucose processing” problem in type 2 diabetes is caused by fats: fats in the diet and–if one is overweight or obese–the “fats on your body”. Getting the fat off one’s body is best accomplished by eating low-calorie-dense foods. Branched chain amino acids have also been associated with diabetes. These are found in higher numbers in animal foods. High blood pressure is associated with eating salt, saturated fat (e.g. animal foods, tropical oils) and cholesterol (e.g. animal foods). The key lesson for individuals, then, is that eating a whole plant diet with minimal processed foods minimizing salt, oil, and sugar will tend to lower the likelihood of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. If an individual is on medication, they should work with their treating clinician to change their diet.

As bad as this pandemic is, the next one may be much worse; and there will be a next one. So, in addition to preparing for social distancing and/or quarantines by storing sufficient supplies, persons can eat more whole plants and minimize meat, eggs, and dairy consumption to lower the likelihood of a US born pandemic, improve their health, and reduce animal suffering.

-Don Forrester MD FACPE

1- Greger, M., The Human/Animal Interface: Emergence and Resurgence of Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Cr Rev Micro, 33:243-299, 2007.
2- Young, E., The next plague is coming. Is America ready? The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2018.
3- Reese, J., US Factory Farming Estimates, Sentience Institute, April 2019.
4- McDougall, J., Simple Care for Diabetes, The McDougall Newsletter, December 2009.