COVID-19, diet, nutrition: doctor shares advice to reduce the risk of coronavirus

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Dr. Ron Weiss, 58, is a primary care and emergency physician who helped treat the first COVID-19 patient in New Jersey in March. Since then, he has seen hundreds of patients with the disease.

Weiss is not just a doctor, but an organic farmer whose practice of integrative medicine is located on a 342 acre farm in Long Valley, New Jersey. Weiss revealed how this informs the health advice he gives to COVID-19 patients in an interview with TODAY.

Dr. Ron Weiss wears protective gear while treating COVID-19 patients in New Jersey.Courtesy of Dr. Ron Weiss

It’s a good time to learn to change the way we live, especially when it comes to eating.

The majority of these patients have an underlying chronic disease, like most Americans, whether overweight or obese, or cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure or asthma. What strikes me is that the patient is generally not aware that their underlying illnesses may pose more risks for the poor results of COVID-19.

More importantly, they don’t know that if they just had to change their lifestyle, they could get rid of these increased risks, so this is where the time is ripe for learning.

It is a fleeting opportunity that allows a clinician to provide important insight to a potentially contemplative patient, which can then trigger mindfulness and behavior change.

At that point, I bring up the subject of how changes in their diet can reverse their illnesses – often very quickly.

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Patients who have medical conditions such as hypertension are treated with drugs that do not eliminate their disease, simply keep them in a state of chronic disease. While by changing their diet and lifestyle, they can free themselves from the disease and improve the chances of them getting good results from COVID-19.

A plant-based diet isn’t just about eating more vegetables. It is an approach to nutrition so that you eat a high level of plants that can help you and avoiding animal foods and processed foods that hurt you.

I tell these patients that there are specific foods that can improve the immune system’s ability to defend itself. Many patients are surprised, but I think they feel how vulnerable they are, they listen. This is an opportunity to help them be more attentive to this subject. Most of them thank me.

Dr. Weiss on his farm in Long Valley, New Jersey.Courtesy of Dr. Ron Weiss

The first food I tell them about is garlic, which has a compound called allicin that improves our natural killer cells. At the same time, allicin calms the molecular networks so that they do not go haywire and do not cause the cytokine storm which would then cause this respiratory failure which forces patients to need ventilation.

Mushrooms – you don’t need fancy, so the simple white button mushrooms that are cooked are fine. They have been shown to increase IgA, the antibodies in our saliva. You can get increased levels of these attacking antibodies by simply eating these mushrooms every day.

Cruciferous vegetables (my favorites are kale or raw mustards) are like no other plant or food in the world. They have special sulfur molecules that bind to lymphocytes in our gut and activate them to better defend against attackers.

These are foods that I fortify myself with every day. They are most powerful when included in this great symphony of nutrition, which includes all the other plants that help us, and a great diversity of them.

I am not a vegan, but I eat whole plant foods. I don’t like the term vegan, because even if he describes a person whose diet consists only of plant-based foods, he doesn’t necessarily tell you what form these foods are in.

Many vegan foods are highly processed, so being vegan is not necessarily good for your health. A vegan diet can cause diabetes, hypertension and obesity, while a diet consisting of whole plant foods – which I eat – reverses these diseases and provides better health. I don’t eat meat or fish.

Being on an organic, regenerative farm helps inspire me and my patients – they smell the fresh air, they hear birds singing. It brings them closer to the natural world and tells them where our health really comes from.

For most of us, COIVD-19 has put us on the defensive as we realize how vulnerable our health is.

Infectious diseases that are much more ferocious than COVID-19 are hiding there, and if we don’t change the way we grow and eat our food, there is concern that these emerging diseases will devastate the planet far beyond what COVID-19 is capable of doing.

The pandemic has made us stop our hectic lives and rediscover what is really important, which is our health and the well-being of our loved ones.

This interview has been condensed and revised for clarity.

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