Study Shows That Diets Rich In Ultra-Processed Foods increases Risk Of COVID-19!
A new study by researchers from Tianjin Medical University-China has found that diets rich in ultra-processed foods (UPF) increases the risk of COVID-19.
Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. They typically also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or stabilizers and in many cases preservatives. Examples of these foods are frozen meals, soft drinks, hot dogs and cold cuts, fast food, packaged cookies, cakes, and salty snacks. A lot of the recent plant meat substitutes found in the market are actually also ultra-processed foods and are not healthy despite the marketing narratives around them!
It is already known that nutrition plays a key role in supporting the human immune system and reducing the risk of infections. However, there is limited evidence exploring the relationship between diet and the risk of COVID-19.
The study team had aimed to assess the associations between consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPF) and COVID-19 risk.
A total of 41,012 participants from the UK Biobank study with at least 2 of up to 5 times 24-h dietary assessments were included in this study. Dietary intakes were collected using an online 24-h dietary recall questionnaire and food items were categorized according to their degree of processing by the NOVA classification. COVID-19 infection was defined as individuals tested COVID-19 positive or dead of COVID-19. Association between average UPF consumption (% daily gram intake) and COVID-19 infection was assessed by multivariable logistic regression adjusted for potential confounders.
the study findings showed that compared to participants in the lowest quartile of UPF proportion (% daily gram intake) in the diet, participants in the 2nd, 3rd, and highest quartiles were associated with a higher risk of COVID-19 with the odds ratio (OR) value of 1.03 (95% CI: 0.94–1.13), 1.24 (95% CI: 1.13–1.36), and 1.22 (95% CI: 1.12–1.34), respectively (P for trend < 0.001), after adjusting for potential confounders. The results were robust in a series of sensitivity analyses. No interaction effect was identified between the UPF proportions and age groups, education level, body mass index, and comorbidity status. BMI mediated 13.2% of this association.
The study findings concluded that higher consumption of UPF was associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 infection.
The study findings were published in the peer reviewed European Journal of Nutrition. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-022-02982-0
The ongoing and rapid transmission of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causal agent of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, has immensely affected the global healthcare sector and economy. Additionally, the incidence of long COVID, which involves the persistence of symptoms for more than three months, has significantly affected tens of millions of individuals.
Despite several COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and non-pharmaceutical strategies introduced to manage the ongoing pandemic, a better understanding of the risk factors associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection would help protect individuals from contracting the infection in t
Already a known fact, nutrition is the key source of energy and is considered to be a major determinant of human health. A balanced diet is associated with maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, which is an important factor that regulates the immune system.
Numerous studies have already shown that people who consume greater amounts of fruits and vegetables, as well as a healthy plant-based diet, are at a lower risk of COVID-19. This observation indicates a potential link between diet and COVID-19.
Food-based products have been categorized into four groups by the NOVA classification system based on the extent and purpose of industrial processing.
Ultra-processed foods (UPFs), of these four groups…. consist of industrial formulations of processed food substances, such as fats, oils, starch, sugar, and protein isolates. These food products are subjected to hydrogenation, hydrolysis, or other chemical modifications by the addition of colorings, flavorings, and emulsions.
Almost all UPFs contain high levels of saturated fats, sugars, trans fats, and salt. Additionally, these products contain a low amount of protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Numerous studies have also indicated that UPFs are a primary dietary source of food adulterants and neo-formed compounds, which may alter the composition of the gut microbiota and increase the risk of inflammation.
People heavily dependent on a UPF-rich diet often suffer from mineral and vitamin deficiencies, experience damage to the immune system, and are highly susceptible to infections. UPFs are associated with an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Researchers have noted a scarcity of evidence related to the relationship between UPF consumption and the risk of COVID-19.
The study team considered this gap and hence explored the association between UPF consumption and the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The research utilized data from the United Kingdom Biobank, which is a prospective cohort containing about half a million participants from twenty-two assessment centers across Scotland, Wales, and England. All study participants were between 40 and 69 years of age. A total of 41,012 participants from the U.K. Biobank were considered in this study.
In order to assess the dietary intake of the participants in the previous 24 hours, scientists used the Oxford WebQ dietary questionnaire. This questionnaire included 206 types of food, along with their quantities and 32 types of drinks.
In the 24 hours dietary assessment, the online dietary questionnaire was recalled a minimum of two times and a maximum of five times.
The Chinese study team measured the association between UPF consumption, as indicated by the percent daily gram intake, and SARS-CoV-2 infection using a multivariable logistic regression that was adjusted for potential confounders.
Interestingly, a strong relationship between UPF consumption and increased risk of COVID-19 was observed. This association was consistent in varied sub-groups based on age, comorbidity status, and educational level.
Despite the association between UPF consumption and COVID-19 was partially mediated by body mass index (BMI), a direct effect of UPF weight ratio on the risk of COVID-19 was established.
The study team told Thailand Medical News
that some of the mechanisms that link UPF intake and increased risk of COVID-19 include enhanced levels of sugars and trans-fat, which stimulates pro-inflammatory effects. This condition could adversely affect the synthesis and function of immune cells.
Furthermore, ultra-processed foods contain high saturated fats and reduced fibers, which might lead to chronic activation of the innate immune system and suppression of the adaptive immune system.
The various chemical additives of UPFs also adversely affect human health. Furthermore, a UPF-rich diet may cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that could significantly affect the human immune system.
It should also be noted that the study found that BMI was found to be a partial mediator that influenced the association between UPF and COVID-19. A significant increase in UPF consumption occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown, which might have affected people’s immunity, thus making them more susceptible to the infection.
According to the study team, this is the first known study to explore the relationship between ultra-processed food consumption and the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The large prospective cohort study revealed that a UPF-rich diet was associated with a significantly increased risk of COVID-19. Therefore, a healthy diet with reduced UPF intake has been recommended to protect individuals from severe clinical outcomes.
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