Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away

Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away

The connection between the pandemic and our dietary habits is undeniable. The stress of isolation coupled with a struggling economy has caused many of us to seek comfort with our old friends: Big Mac, Tom Collins, Ben and Jerry. But overindulging in this kind of food and drink might not just be affecting your waistline, but could potentially put you at greater risk of illness by hindering your immune system.

Hear the word “nutrition,” and often what comes to mind are fad diets, juice “cleanses” and supplements. Americans certainly seem concerned with their weight; 45 million of us spend US$33 billion annually on weight loss products. But one in five Americans consumes nearly no vegetables – less than one serving per day.

When the emphasis is on weight loss products, and not healthy day-to-day eating, the essential role that nutrition plays in keeping us well never gets communicated. Among the many things I teach students in my nutritional biochemistry course is the clear relationship between a balanced diet and a strong, well-regulated immune system.

Along with social distancing measures and effective vaccines, a healthy immune system is our best defense against coronavirus infection. To keep it that way, proper nutrition is an absolute must. Although not a replacement for medicine, good nutrition can work synergistically with medicine to improve vaccine effectiveness, reduce the prevalence of chronic disease and lower the burden on the health care system.

The impact of the Western diet

Scientists know that people with preexisting health conditions are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 infections. That includes those with diabetes, obesity, and kidney, lung or cardiovascular disease. Many of these conditions are linked to a dysfunctional immune system.

Patients with cardiovascular or metabolic disease have a delayed immune response, giving viral invaders a head start. When that happens, the body reacts with a more intense inflammatory response, and healthy tissues are damaged along with the virus. It’s not yet clear how much this damage factors into the increased mortality rate, but it is a factor.

What does this have to do with nutrition? The Western diet typically has a high proportion of red meat, saturated fat and what’s known as “bliss point foods” rich in sugar and salt. Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is missing. Despite the abundance of calories that often accompanies the Western diet, many Americans don’t consume nearly enough of the essential nutrients our bodies need to function properly, including vitamins A, C and D, and the minerals iron and potassium. And that, at least in part, causes a dysfunctional immune system: too few vitamins and minerals, and too many empty calories.

A healthy immune system responds quickly to limit or prevent infection, but it also promptly “turns down the dial” to avoid damaging the cells of the body. Sugar disrupts this balance. A high proportion of refined sugar in the diet can cause chronic, low-grade inflammation in addition to diabetes and obesity. Essentially, that “dial” is never turned all the way off.

While inflammation is a natural part of the immune response, it can be harmful when it’s constantly active. Indeed, obesity is itself characterized by chronic, low-grade inflammation and a dysregulated immune response.

And research shows that vaccines may be less effective in obese people. The same applies to those who regularly drink too much alcohol.

How nutrients help

Nutrients, essential substances that help us grow properly and remain healthy, help maintain the immune system. In contrast to the delayed responses associated with malnutrition, vitamin A fights against multiple infectious diseases, including measles. Along with vitamin D, it regulates the immune system and helps to prevent its overactivation. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, protects us from the injury caused by free radicals.

Polyphenols, a wide-ranging group of molecules found in all plants, also have anti-inflammatory properties. There’s plenty of evidence to show a diet rich in plant polyphenols can lower the risk of chronic conditions, like hypertension, insulin insensitivity and cardiovascular disease.

Why don’t we Americans eat more of these plant-based foods and fewer of the bliss-based foods? It’s complicated. People are swayed by advertising and influenced by hectic schedules. One starting place would be to teach people how to eat better from an early age. Nutrition education should be emphasized, from kindergarten through high school to medical schools.

Millions of Americans live in food deserts, having limited access to healthy foods. In these circumstances, education must be paired with increased access. These long-term goals could bring profound returns with a relatively small investment.

Meantime, all of us can take small steps to incrementally improve our own dietary habits. I’m not suggesting we stop eating cake, french fries and soda completely. But we as a society have yet to realize the food that actually makes us feel good and healthy is not comfort food.

The COVID-19 pandemic won’t be the last we face, so it’s vital that we use every preventive tool we as a society have. Think of good nutrition as a seat belt for your health; it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get sick, but it helps to ensure the best outcomes.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Protecting abuse survivors is ‘personal,’ says new Southern Baptist leader

Protecting abuse survivors is ‘personal,’ says new Southern Baptist leader

The Rev. Rolland Slade in October 2018. Video screengrab

In his first meeting as leader of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, the Rev. Rolland Slade called on other committee members on Tuesday (Sept. 22) to be responsible “to shepherd and to protect” survivors of church sex abuse.

Slade, senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, announced that the issue is “personal” for him because his wife is a survivor.

“For the last 40 years of my life, I have been in touch with a survivor of sexual abuse in the church,” he said to the 70 people attending the virtual meeting. “In fact, we’ve been married 39 years. So when I say it’s personal, it’s personal. And I encourage you to listen. You don’t have to solve it but you need to listen and share with them how much you care and what has happened to them is not what God would have happen in the church.”

Slade was elected in June as the first African American chair of the committee that runs the business of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination between its annual meetings.

The issue of sexual abuse has been a growing focus of the denomination, the country’s second largest Christian group, but has been particularly pressing since a series in the Houston Chronicle last year cataloged some 700 cases of alleged abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and other leaders over two decades. Mike Stone, the committee’s previous chairman, began a meeting of the group last year by displaying a photo of himself as a young child and sharing that he had been abused as a boy.

At the 2019 SBC annual meeting, Southern Baptists approved a new credentials committee that can recommend the disaffiliation of churches that do not properly handle instances of abuse. In February, the Executive Committee removed a Texas church that had employed a pastor who was a registered sex offender.

Jon Wilke, media relations director for the Executive Committee, told Religion News Service before Tuesday’s meeting that the credentials committee “continues to meet virtually and work on churches submitted for disfellowship.” He said the committee will not bring any new recommendations to the full Executive Committee until after it meets in person again, tentatively set for February.

SBC President J.D. Greear, one of the speakers at the Tuesday meeting, echoed Slade’s remarks on supporting abuse survivors as one of the numerous ways the Southern Baptists should focus on describing themselves as “Great Commission Baptists,” a reference to Jesus’ command to spread his message globally that is a theme of the next annual meeting.

“Our focus on the Great Commission is why we will continue to strive to make the most vulnerable in our churches — specifically victims of sexual abuse — feel safe by showing them that we will do everything in our power to keep our churches safe from abuse and safe for the abused,” Greear said.

“That’s not something we do because it’s in the media. It’s not something we do because it’s trendy,” he added.

“We do that because it’s right and because Jesus died for those that were vulnerable and said it’d be better if a millstone were hung about our neck and cast into the sea than to cause one of the little ones to believe and then to stumble.”

Slade listed abuse survivors as the second of two groups he believed his committee should give particular attention. The other is pastors of the relatively small churches that comprise the bulk of congregations affiliated with the evangelical denomination.

“I respect wholeheartedly pastors who have pastored megachurches and have great testimony of the thousands that they reach each and every week,” said Slade. “But I want to remind us that of our denomination of 48,000 churches, there are more churches that are normative size,” he saidreferring to churches with Sunday attendance of fewer than 100 people.

Slade offered his own church as an example. “Meridian Baptist Church runs a little over a hundred on a really good Sunday when we count everybody who steps on the property,” he said.

Slade expressed his wish that the men who lead these congregations — often working in additional jobs and giving a portion of their salaries to support the SBC budget — should be connected with megachurch pastors and church planters, who start new congregations.