Why a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of long Covid symptoms

A Mediterranean or other healthy diet may reduce the risk of developing long Covid after a new study found that people with high levels of cholesterol were more like to suffer lasting symptoms from the virus.

The research also raises the possibility that cholesterol-lowering statins may also reduce the risk of long Covid although more research is needed to determine this.

The scientists behind the study stressed that it is too early to say that a person’s diet would for certain help to cause or long Covid but said their findings suggested prevent it has potential that urgently needs to be explored.

King’s College London researchers found that people suffering from long Covid are more likely to have unhealthy levels of cholesterol and fatty acids in their blood – which are elevated by fatty foods such as burgers and other red meat, fried food and butter.

These foods – and their effects on cholesterol and fatty acid levels – are known to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes and it seems they could also be a cause of long Covid as well.

“We were very excited to see that the patterns of blood fats and cholesterol, already associated with heart disease, might also be involved with Long Covid. But at the moment, we couldn’t say whether the changes are caused by the Covid infection, or whether they existed before and determined the duration of infection,” lead researcher Marc Österdahl, of King’s College London, told i.

“We do already know there are diet plans, like the Mediterranean diet, and medications, like statins, that alter the levels of fatty acids and cholesterol in the blood. We know this lowers the risk of heart attacks and strokes over months to years. However, we don’t yet know whether these would affect Long Covid as well.

“Our paper suggests research is needed in this area. A few trials have started to look at whether drugs like statins might improve people’s health after Covid. There is not much looking at interventions on diet and Long Covid, so this is an area that really needs exploring more.”

The study is published on the MedRxiv preprint server ahead of peer-review.

The research saw scientists from King’s College London working on the ZOE Health Study analysing blood markers from 4,787 people.

Unlike a lot of research into the biology of long COVID, which has typically focused on hospitalized Covid patients, this study compared blood markers taken from people living in the community.

Researchers looked at the full spectrum of Covid, from people who had no symptoms to those with long-term symptoms such as a cough, headache and fatigue.

The research follows a study published in June by King’s College London and University College London which found that one in six middle-aged people who got the virus went on to develop long Covid – falling to one in 13 among younger adults.

That study, published in the journal Nature, also found that women were 50 per cent more likely to report long Covid than men, and that the risk increases with age.

Researchers at Imperial College London launched a citizen science project this week that will use artificial intelligence to identify ‘hyperfoods’ and existing drugs that may help people fight long Covid.

This will investigate foods such as blackcurrants, blueberries, apples, oranges, lemons, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, parsley and beans after research from the same group suggested molecules they may be among the most “enhanced by with predicted anti-Covid foods” -19 properties” – although any effects still need to be clinically validated, which the next stage of the research will seek to do.

“We’re looking at a dieting plan that can help to resolve long Covid symptoms. Currently there are no treatments and treatments are unlikely to come out soon. So diets may be a way to quickly tackle long Covid – whereas drugs can take longer to be developed and validated,” Kirill Veselkov, Assistant Professor in Data Analytics and Computational Medicine at Imperial College, told i.

“Diet could be a substantive component in helping people with long Covid to feel much better – although this needs to be validated with clinical studies.

“The good thing about diet is that it’s in our hands because we can change it. We cannot change our genes, which are given to us at birth, but we can change our dietary plan,” he says.

Asked what foods we should be eating to reduce the risk of long Covid, Dr Veselkov said: “At this stage it’s just the classical advice of dieticians, to eat fruits and vegetables and to have a balanced diet. But to see which ones have more benefit for long Covid because of their chemistry, we hope to be able to say next year.”

The research is being helped by thousands of people around the world – by running research collaborator Vodafone Foundation’s DreamLab app while their phone is overnight charging.

The idea is to use the resulting super computer to scan data on huge numbers of molecules and whittle them down to a short list of most suitable targets, which could then be taken forward to clinical trials.

“For us to understand the impact of complex combinations of thousands of biomolecules in the food we eat on long Covid using traditional experimental methods is impossible – it would be like using a bicycle to explore the galaxy,” Dr Veselkov said.

“Our project takes a radically different approach while uniting the public in one large citizen science AI project. It explores the “dark matter” of nutrition against long Covid beyond the traditional analysis of five major nutrition categories – proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Everyone can contribute with their smartphone to this important piece of scientific research without having to be a professional scientist,” he said.

Download DreamLab for free now in the App Store for iOS or Play Store for Android.

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