Dear Doc: I’ve heard that what you eat affects whether you end up in the hospital with COVID-19. True or false? – E.N. from western New York
Dear E.N.: Funny you should ask. We know – we’ve known since time immemorial – that eating and health are intimately linked. When I was a kid, my mom served liver every Thursday (I still do love it sauteed with onions) because she thought it was nutritious.
Iron deficiency anemia was prevalent in the ’20s, when she grew up, so eating liver was a big thing. Anemia can still be a problem today, but not like it was back in the day.
In the ’70s, we learned red meat was bad; in the ’90s, we learned margarine wasn’t as good for us as we thought. And in the 2000s, veganism took hold, though I personally find it too limiting to adopt.
Clearly, a more plant-based diet is a healthier diet when it comes to cardiovascular disease and stroke. But recent research shows plants might also keep you from landing in the hospital from COVID-19 and, for that matter, winding up in the hospital from other lung infections.
The study comes out of Europe and involves health care workers from six countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, U.K. and U.S. – who had lots of exposure to COVID-19. The study started in July 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After controlling for things like weight, exercise and other medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension, they found health care workers who followed a more plant-based diet were much less likely to be hospitalized.
Low-carb, high-protein diets were the best, with diets supplemented with fish being even better. Bottom line here is that this might be important with other respiratory infections, too, such as influenza.
And if we go one step farther, it might be that people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as other diseases that make you more likely to get chest infections, might be better on a plant-based diet supplemented with fish.
My spin: A more plant-based diet, supplemented with fish, might be the best diet, especially if you’re at risk for serious chest infections.
Dear Doc: I work the night shift, but every 21 days, I have to switch to the day shift. I like the nights. I’m a night owl, but my wife is the opposite – she loves the morning. Which is better? Is there a difference? – LMJ from La Crosse
Dear LMJ: We all have natural rhythms. A recent study out of the U.K.’s University of Exeter Psychiatry Department found that going against your natural clock might lead to depression.
These researchers started with the idea that the 9-to-5 routine is not natural to all of us but has been the common working pattern since the industrial revolution. They thought more flexible working patterns might be the way to get work accomplished, especially considering how many people are now working from home.
I myself am a night owl. I hate 7 a.m. hospital meetings. In fact, when I mentioned this to a good friend of mine, a physicist who also does his best work at night, he said, “Why do you guys get up so early to make rounds? Why don’t you do it like they do in Spain? No rounds until 10 a.m.”
Hmmm, I thought. Those times were determined by the morning folks, not me. Back to the study. This team looked at more than 300 genes, trying to see if early risers had different genes from late risers, and indeed they thought that might be the case. Again, this is early research, so we can’t depend on it, but it just might give us a clue.
More importantly, researchers found that the folks who were night owls, when forced to work early in the morning, were more likely to suffer from less feeling of “well-being” and more likely to have major depression.
My spin: Find your mojo and stick to it. See if you can find a job you like that fits the time schedule you like. That’s the healthiest thing to do. There is no right or wrong answer here. Stay well.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.