In the midst of concern over global spread of the coronavirus, it might be a good time to consider the origins of such viruses, and more importantly, the power to protect ourselves from them. Catching a virus can make us sick, but how our bodies deal with it becomes the difference between a mild cold and a life-threatening respiratory illness. It all comes down to our choices.
To start, let’s remember that those viruses that make us sick live in animals. They live in us, wild animals, and the animals we eat. Viruses can be transmitted from one animal into other species, particularly when in crowded or unnatural conditions. This coronavirus is thought to be “generalist,” in that it’s not specialized to survive in just one species. Researchers surmise that this COVID-19 virus may have spread from bats mingling with other animal viruses in wet markets, (markets with many live animals in cages), in China. This respiratory virus gets into our bodies from droplets in the air into lungs directly, or onto surfaces that we touch and then into face membranes. This virus appears to survive even on dry surfaces.
According to Kennedy Shortbridge, Ph.D., bird flu viruses emerged from chickens in southern Chinese farmyards, in close proximity to ducks. (1) Consider that in our society most chicken and other animal foods come from huge, confined animal operations, (CAFOs), which are crowded stressful environments that can increase risk of disease, though as farmer Harold Brown has clarified, viruses can be found in grass fed animals as well. (2)
What Are Viruses?
Viruses are simply genetic material that take over living cells in an animal host in order to reproduce. They can then spread from the host to others. Depending on the virus, they spread through feces, blood, saliva, or mucus which is then spread through droplets in the air, or direct contact with skin or membranes. Food poisoning often comes from viruses in animals. So does the flu.
Beyond the Flu
Beyond the flu, an estimated twenty percent of cancers can be linked to infectious material which includes viruses. Animal processing workers are prone to a host of other cancers as well. For instance those who work with poultry and beef tend to develop warts on their hands from infectious viruses. Some are oncogenic, or cancer-causing. This is simply an example of how viruses can be transferred to us from uncooked meat brought into the home. (3-4)
Bacteria including salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter exist on poultry, and the hepatitis E virus is not uncommon in pork. They can be easily transferred from hands picking up a package of chicken thighs to the shopping cart, and then onto other places. We are all at risk of contamination from those who handle poultry packages, along with the kids in the house who touch the counters those packages are placed upon. So yes, it’s a good rule to rinse chicken brought into the home. But do note that washing raw poultry also splashes potential viruses throughout the kitchen, and could likely be responsible for that recent 24-hour flu, or urinary tract infection. (5-7)
Those with lower meat consumption have lower rates of cancers, which may be due to less exposure to viruses which can be transmitted to humans. Interestingly, those with lactose intolerance have lower incidences of breast and ovarian cancers. Could it be that through their avoidance of dairy due to its gastrointestinal effects, they are inadvertently protecting themselves from exposure to viruses lurking in milk? (8)
On the other hand, green tea has been shown to counteract HPV as well as influenza viruses. Consider that tea is simply a leafy green plant full of antioxidants that can protect cells and clean the blood of bacteria and toxins. Plant foods including green tea protect against microbial infections such as those that could arise from viruses. (9, 10) If we eat whole plant foods, we arm ourselves with the artillery to fight viruses and other foreign invaders. If we don’t, and instead have a steady input of animal foods, we are setting ourselves up for a war against viruses with no armor.
The Magic That Protects Us
Yes, wash your hands before and after everything, (traveling, eating, touching). Then know what fights viruses in our bodies: antioxidants and phytochemicals taken in from food, whole plant food. We don’t get these magic molecules that protect us from meat, eggs, dairy or fish; these foods don’t have them. We get them from leafy greens, colorful vegetables and fruits, packed with nutrients and antioxidants that shield our cells from the forces that degrade them, including bacteria, viruses and toxins that can promote cell damage and aging.
The most effective way to protect against coronavirus and any other viral or bacterial attack once contracted is by building a robust immune system and a healthy gut. That means getting in both nutrients and fiber from whole plant foods, as it is the fiber from these foods that feeds our healthy gut microbiome and boosts our immune system. (11-13)
- Avoid refined foods
- Avoid animal foods
- Eat whole plant foods
This will support a healthy microbiome and regulate how quickly sugar enters into the blood, and if infected, this is how we can protect the most vulnerable: the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, smokers, the hospital bound, and the heroes in this pandemic – health care workers.
Here’s What to Do:
- Avoid refined foods as they suppress the immune system, which includes foods that quickly turn into sugar: refined carbohydrates
- Avoid animal foods to avoid lurking pathogens that attack our immune system.
- Animal foods are associated with insulin resistance and inflammation as well as the release of toxic metabolites including free radicals as they break down. For instance dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) in the gut can give rise to pathogenic overgrowth generating high levels of toxic metabolites that stimulate the inflammatory cytokine response. (14), and meat consumption shows higher levels of the inflammatory biomarker in the blood, C-reactive protein (CRP). (15)
- Eat the rainbow of whole plant foods every day, for the nutrients that work together to control inflammation and support immunity: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, tubers, legumes, mushrooms, nuts and seeds.
- Now that spring is upon us, get out in the sun for a few minutes whenever your can for all of its benefits, including vitamin D
- Bring your own food when traveling. How about sliced veggies, garbanzo beans and spinach? In fact, the more you plan and prepare your food, the healthier you stand to be!
You have the power to control this and other viruses if you do become infected, by using the power of whole plant foods and good lifestyle choices. Don’t make yourself more vulnerable, rather choose to eat well; for yourself and all the rest of us.
Written by Kathy Pollard, M.S.
- Greger, M. Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching. Lantern Books. November, 2006.
- Hollenbeck, J. E. Interaction of the role of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDS), Infection, Genetics and Evolution, Volume 38,2016. Pages 44-46. ISSN 1567-1348. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2015.12.002.
- zur Hausen H. The search for infectious causes of human cancers: where and why (Nobel lecture). Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2009;48(32):5798-808.
- Johnson ES, Zhou Y, Lillian Yau C, Prabhakar D, Ndetan H, Singh K, Preacely N. Mortality from malignant diseases-update of the Baltimore union poultry cohort. Cancer Causes Control. 2010 Feb;21(2):215-21.
- Zhang W, Li L, Deng X, Kapusinszky B, Delwart E. What is for dinner? Viral metagenomics of US store bought beef, pork, and chicken. Virology. 2014 Nov;468-470:303-10.
- Pagano JS, Blaser M, Buendia MA, Damania B, Khalili K, Raab-Traub N, Roizman B. Infectious agents and cancer: criteria for a causal relation. Semin Cancer Biol. 2004 Dec;14(6):453-71.
- Leblanc D., et al. Hepatitis E virus load in swine organs and tissues at slaughterhouse determined by real-time RT-PCR. Int J Food Microbiol. 2010 May 15;139(3):206-9
- zur Hausen H, de Villiers EM. Dairy cattle serum and milk factors contributing to the risk of colon and breast cancers. Int J Cancer. 2015 Aug 15;137(4):959-67.
- Gupta AK, Daigle D. Sinecatechins 10% ointment: a green tea extract for the treatment of external genital warts. Skin Therapy Lett. 2015 Jan-Feb;20(1):6-8.
- Reygaert WC. The antimicrobial possibilities of green tea. Front Microbiol. 2014 Aug 20;5:434.
- Laterza, L., et al. The gut microbiota and immune system relationship in human graft-versus-host disease. Mediterr. J. Hematol. Infect. Dis. 2016, 8, e2016025.
- Purchiaroni, F., et al. The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. Eur. Rev. Med. Pharmacol. Sci. 2013, 17, 323–333.
- David, L.A., et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gutmicrobiome. Nature 2014, 505, 559–563.
- Jiao N, Baker SS, Nugent CA, et al. Gut microbiome may contribute to insulin resistance and systemic inflammation in obese rodents: a meta-analysis. Physiological Genomics. 2018;50(4):244-254.
- Schirmer M, Smeekens SP, Vlamakis H, et al. Linking the Human Gut Microbiome to Inflammatory Cytokine Production Capacity. Cell. 2016;167(4):1125-1136.e1128.