During the 1918 influenza pandemic an estimated 50 million people died worldwide. The majority were young and healthy. At that time no one knew what viruses were. Scientists and clinicians referred to them as “filterable pathogens.” 20 years after the worst pandemic in history the Influenza virus was identified. That discovery along with the pandemic itself resulted in a cascade of public health measures, some of which are being employed today.

With today’s COVID-19 pandemic the SARsCoV2 virus was identified in near real time. And our ability to care for those made seriously ill from it is far better than it was in 1918. Ironically the same public health measures used over 100 years ago are in use today: masks, social distancing and shutdowns. Knowledge about the virus, the illness, treatments and prevention and who is vulnerable and why is being disseminated at break neck speeds.

Data that has emerged from this current outbreak shows not only the role the environment we live in and our genetics has on infection, but also how one’s personal health and habits can significantly impact how we respond to the coronavirus.  We know that people with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, coronary artery disease, chronic lung disease, immune system compromise, and obesity are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. We have seen it in hospital wards and in morgues. Knowing far more about who is getting seriously ill and why should be a wakeup call to all of us to examine our habits as nearly all of the medical conditions putting people at risk for bad outcomes from COVID-19 can be prevented by changes in what we eat, our activity levels and our sleep patterns.

For years public health experts, wellness gurus and nutritionists have been saying that we are what we eat. We know a plant-based diet that is low in fat prevents and even reverses heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, kidney disease and obesity. A plant-based diet, devoid of animal products, can reduce heart disease risk by 40%. A plant-based diet is 3 times more effective than a traditional diabetic diet at controlling blood sugars. The risk of some cancers such as breast, prostate and colorectal cancer are reduced by decreasing the intake of animal products and increasing plant derived anti-oxidants and fiber.  And people who shift to a plant-based diet can lose weight which will reduce diabetes risk, cancer risk and wear and tear on knee and hip joints.

We do not know when this COVID-19 pandemic will pass, but we do know there are many threats to our health that we can take control of by changing the way we live. This is the time to take control in order to stay as healthy as we can, to strengthen our immune systems to battle infections and cancer cells for us. We need to listen to this pandemic’s wake up call, and honor the people who became gravely ill and died from COVID-19 by using what we learned from them to change our own unhealthy habits. We can start to do that by staying hydrated, increasing activity, eating for wellness and getting enough sleep each night. Just these few changes will go a long way towards preventing infections and warding off chronic diseases.

Dr. Eileen Natuzzi

Dr. Eileen Natuzzi

Dr. Eileen Natuzzi is the second of 5 children in an Irish Italian family. She is the only doctor in a family of teachers.  She works as a General and Trauma Surgeon in San Diego and Bakersfield, California. For the first 15 years of her career, Dr. Natuzzi’s practice focused on treating vascular disease where she saw first hand the cumulative vascular damage that results from our animal fat diets and unhealthy choices.  She recently obtained a Master in Public Health in order to become more involved in a preventive approach toward health. In her spare time Dr. Natuzzi enjoys gardening, writing and walking as exercise.  She is an avid gamer, as a way “to keep my laparoscopic dexterity skills up and to have fun.”  Dr. Natuzzi loves a challenge so switching to cooking and preparing a vegan diet has introduced her to new foods, new techniques and new places to shop.

Note from Alicia:

This week Bill Maher’s closing monologue on HBO’s Real Time succinctly took on the same topic in this must-see feisty and powerful clip:

Cover image via Unsplash

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