Could A Vegan Diet Prevent A Future Pandemic?
By Dr. Rebecca Jones, GP
A Vegan Diet And The Coronavirus Outbreak
The world feels like it has become a very different place over the past few months. The novel Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, has impacted almost every country on earth, and life feels upside down for many of us.
Although the original source of the infection is still disputed, there has been some evidence that it may have originated in a ‘wet market’ in China; a place where fresh produce is sold, and in this instance, live animals as well. This has put the vegan diet into the spotlight, as many vegans have argued that animal agriculture and the trade of live animals for slaughter and consumption could have contributed to the evasive spread of Coronavirus. This has not been definitively proven, however, the consumption of animal products could be impacting the pandemic in several ways.
This isn’t the first significant outbreak of infection that has been associated with animal agriculture. Infections that are spread from other animals to humans are called zoonotic, and the UN have stated they account for 60% of all infections in people. Even more interestingly, in 2016 they also described that 75% of emerging infections originate from other animals, with ‘livestock’ serving as a bridge between human and wildlife infections.
Could We Prevent The Next Pandemic?
Many news outlets reported that it was China’s use and consumption of wild animals that led to the Coronavirus pandemic, but the UN has recognized that intensive farming, animal agriculture and the subsequent lack of genetic diversity leads to zoonotic infections such as the Avian Influenza — bird flu — of 2005 and the Swine Flu of 2009. Other zoonotic disease outbreaks include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 and Ebola in 2014. More worryingly, the UN also describes how such zoonotic infections are beginning to occur more frequently.
In addition to the increasing use of intensive farming practices, the inherent overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture could be contributing to this increased frequency of outbreaks, as it results in increasing antibiotic resistance, which can then contribute to the spread of zoonotic infections. It is also thought that environmental factors, such as clearance of forests — which would normally provide a barrier between humans and wild animals — and global warming — which provides a more favorable environment for germs — are associated with the increased occurrence of zoonotic diseases.
Animal Agriculture And The Spread Of Disease
The meat industry has also been implicated in the current Coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the United States. The Guardian newspaper wrote that almost half of the Coronavirus ‘hotspots’ in the US had outbreaks that were associated with meat processing plants. This is thought to be due to poor working environments, where employees were unable to distance themselves from one another. This means that workers and food inspectors were disproportionately affected by the disease. It has been argued that the environment in which these people work has been poor for a long time, but the pandemic has only just brought this to light.
Animal agriculture and the consumption of animal products could also be contributing indirectly to the effects of the pandemic, as people with obesity have been shown to be at higher risk of experiencing more severe symptoms when they catch Coronavirus. A plant-based or vegan diet is associated with a lower risk of obesity, so potentially, a move towards a diet rich in plants rather than meat and dairy could be protective against the ill effects of Coronavirus. Type 2 diabetes is another lifestyle disease that has been associated with a diet heavy in meat and dairy; similarly, diabetics are also more likely to encounter the more detrimental symptoms of Coronavirus.
So, a global move towards a vegan diet may benefit the earth’s population in reducing outbreaks of zoonotic infections, and on an individual level, you could benefit from the improved health and immunity that can come with a well-planned vegan diet. The only caution that needs to be taken is with supplementation of vitamin D. Vegans are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, as many food sources of vitamin D are animal based. Associations between vitamin D deficiency and risk of coronavirus may be beginning to emerge, so it could be advisable to ensure your healthy vegan diet is supplemented with vitamin D, particularly if you are an individual who is already at risk of deficiency.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational use only. It is not intended to prevent, treat, or diagnose any medical condition or ailment. Please consult your physician or medical professional before making any diet or lifestyle changes.