You’ve Been Exposed to COVID-19. Here is What Doctors Want You to Do Next
You do everything you can to avoid catching the coronavirus: Social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing till you never want to hear HBD in your head again. But sometimes luck doesn't roll your way and despite all your precautions, someone you've been around texts you and tells you they have the virus. Ugh. Now what? We asked doctors for their best advice, and here, along with quarantining to not potentially spread the coronavirus (since even if you're asymptomatic, you could harbor and spread it to others) doctors advise that you eat a plant-based diet. Not because it prevents you from getting COVID-19, but because it can help you be healthier and that's the best way to avoid the worst symptoms if you do fall ill.
Here's what to do when you're exposed to COVID-19, according to doctors
1. Remove yourself from others and see as few people as possible for 7 to 10 days.
First, we would be remiss if we didn't state the obvious: Isolate yourself. The recent changes in the requirement that you quarantine for 14 days now urges you to quarantine for 7 days if you get a test three days after exposure (since it can take that long for the virus to show up in your system) and quarantine for ten days without a test. This is because why it's possible to be 14 days away from exposure and then come down with COVID-19 the more average cases show up within the first four or five days, or even a week. That said if you have symptoms the CDC warns that you should assume you have COVID-19 and not go to a place such as doctor's office where you can expose others but instead stay home unless you have trouble breathing or your symptoms get worse.
But the part of protecting yourself that the CDC doesn't tell you, but that doctor after doctor have recommended to patients and told to The Beet, is to switch to a plant-based diet full of vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, legumes and whole grains, and eat as little meat and dairy as possible, since studies show these can lead to inflammation in the body, and in the case of COVID-19, inflammation is what can lead to the worst symptoms that require treatment and hospitalization.
2. Switch to a diet of plant-based foods, ditch meat and dairy, to lower inflammation
Here is what doctors have to say about going plant-based to lessen your chance of have a bad case of COVID-19. To be clear, no one is guaranteeing that eating plant-based will keep you from getting the virus (the roll of diet has yet to be researched) but it may help you skate through with fewer symptoms, and at the end of the day that is the ultimate goal: To return to full health as quickly and completely as possible.
As we’ve reported before, doctors tell their patients that although a plant-based diet won’t prevent you from contracting COVID-19, it might prevent you from suffering from the virus’s most deadly symptoms. Studies have shown time and time again that a plant-based diet can reduce levels of inflammation in the body. A plant-based diet’s ability to reduce inflammation is the reason doctors recommend it to treat conditions caused by inflammation–heart disease, diabetes, and asthma–and why it might safeguard you from deadly complications. Conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and asthma put an individual at the most risk of death. These doctors agree that by adopting a plant-based diet now, you’ll keep your inflammation low and immune system high, preventing COVID-19’s most deadly symptoms, or even reversing a condition caused by inflammation entirely.
“Adopting a healthy plant-based approach to eating can be truly life-saving."
--Dr. Millard D.Collins, Interim Chair and Associate Professor of Family & Community Medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, the nation's oldest historically Black academic health science institution. Dr. Collins spoke to The Beet to stress the importance of eating healthy, especially among African American patients, to avoid conditions that often co-exist with the worst cases of COVID-19, such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. He adds:
"We can adopt this lifestyle as a means to improve the co-morbid conditions that may already be present in patients–heart disease, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer–thus strengthening ones’ immune system and chances of survival in the event that a person becomes infected.
"It is always challenging to adopt something new and make it sustainable. Articles such as this are a great first step. The adoption of a plant-based diet can do wonders to boost the immune system, improve energy, and improve chronic diseases. Thus, it can save lives. But it is critical to not confine a healthy approach just in response to COVID-19. Health outcomes of African Americans need attention, and we must not miss this teaching moment the pandemic has provided to promote this strategy to our people. It can mean the difference between life and death.
"It is well documented the impact of a plant-based diet on obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more, which all can lead to cardiovascular (heart) and cerebrovascular (brain) compromise. And we know how healthy plant-based eating can positively affect the body. Adopting a lifestyle such as [a healthy plant-based approach] can be truly lifesaving.”
"Eating a plant-based diet can help decrease your risk for factors that increase your risk for COVID-19."
Monica Aggarwal, M.D, director of Integrative Cardiology and Prevention at the University of Florida, Gainesville. She was interviewed in June for a story on The Beet, To Lower Complications of COVID-19 and Lose Weight, Eat Plant-Based, by Karen Asp. She added:
“Let’s make clear, nobody’s saying that if you eat a plant-based diet you won’t get COVID-19, yet eating a plant-based diet can help decrease your risk for these factors that increase your risk for COVID-19.”
She cites a study that found the most common underlying health conditions among patients who suffer the worst, most serious symptoms of COVID-19 are: High blood pressure (affecting 57% of patients with COVID-19), obesity (affecting 42% of patients), and diabetes (affecting 34% of patients). .
“Obesity is a risk factor for high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, and obesity itself is a risk factor for a more complicated course with COVID-19, as is diabetes with hypertension.”
-- Vanita Rahman, M.D., an internal medicine doctor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, PCRM, which advocates a plant-based diet for optimal health. She also was interviewed in June for the story on The Beet: To Lower Complications of COVID-19 and Lose Weight, Eat Plant-Based, by Karen Asp.
People who eat a mostly plant-based diet have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who eat a meat-filled diet, and the more animal foods in your diet, the higher your BMI is likely to be, according to this study of different types of vegetarian diets and their impact on weight.
"What we found, when it comes to food, is that we saw a statistically significant relationship between plant-based foods and the formation of antibodies."
-- T. Collin Campbell, renowned biochemist and co-author of The China Study, and a plant-based advocate for health and founder of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. Campbell was quoted in a podcast where he explained the importance of a whole food, plant-based diet to help strengthen the body's immune system and create antibodies.
Campbell has studied the roll of diet on the formation of antibodies to the Hepatitis B virus, and explains that while all viruses are different the way the body responds is essentially the same, since the creation of antibodies is the way we fight infection from invaders. Earlier this year Campbell said: "Diet plays a direct roll in how this plays out [your response to virus], since the healthier you eat the better.”
“Now not all viruses are the same," Campbell explained, "but viruses, in terms of their infectivity, have some common features. When a virus enters the body and begins to do its dirty work," Campbell explains. "The body tries to create antibodies, which may or may not work. At that point, it is essentially a race: Can the body create effective antibodies quickly enough and in large enough quantities to fight off the virus before the virus ravages the cells and creates devastating outcomes? Diet plays a direct roll in how this plays out, since the healthier you eat, the better.” And his book, The China Study, looked at populations in different areas of China, the Philippines and Japan, and found that plant-based eating lowered risk of heart disease, cancer and morbidity.
Eating a plant-based diet "would affect those people who test positive for the virus," Campbell has said." They would be affected less," in all probability, he adds, since a healthy diet is one way to bolster immunity. "If they do get the symptoms, it would be much less problematic."
"Diet Can Fight Diseases Linked to Poor COVID-19 Outcomes"
In an article by that title Susan Levin, RD, writes: “My advice remains the same as always: Remember to eat as many fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans ... as circumstances allow to help boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and asthma—conditions which now put tens of millions of Americans at greater risk for COVID-19 complications.”
“While many factors can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, research shows that a plant-based diet can help lower the risk of these conditions, which is why a diet focused on plant foods is more crucial now than ever.”
“Fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans are also loaded with nutrients—like beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc—that can boost immune function, something we should all be trying to do right now. While a plant-based diet can’t prevent COVID-19, it can treat the underlying conditions that can exacerbate its severity.”
She cites a CDC study that concludes that eating a plant-based diet can lower the incidents of diseases like high blood pressure that often coincide with the worst cases of COVID-19. Meanwhile another study found that eating a plant-based diet has been shown to improve asthma symptoms, which can cause complications for patients with COVID-19, while eating processed food, dairy, and meat can lead to inflammation and worsen asthma symptoms.
"Food is medicine in the fight against COVID-19."
--Dr. Baxter Montgomery recently made this point when talking with Chuck Carroll on The Exam Room podcast, produced for PCRM. Montgomery, a Board Certified Cardiologist and founder of The Montgomery Heart & Wellness Center in Houston, Texas. On the podcast he details "the remarkable recovery of one particular patient who developed double pneumonia during their bout with the coronavirus and has already laced up their sneakers to resume running."
"Everyone around me who's plant-based is so much better off than they were before. But still be careful."
-- Dr. Kim Williams, former president of the American College of Cardiology. Speaking on MedPage Today with Andrew Perry, MD, he explained that going vegan or plant-based can make you feel protected but you still need to take precautions. He adds:
“I'm speaking to the people who are interested in plant-based nutrition who are all pretty much feeling well and feeling like they are sort of immune from it. I would just say that please still do the very wise: Cut down unnecessary travel, wash the hands very frequently, look at all the surfaces and clean them as much as you can because we do have a very big difference in the plant-based community. We don't get as sick.
"But guess what? Just like with the flu, we can become asymptomatic carriers. Just because we don't get sick doesn't mean that we haven't been infected. I would encourage everybody who's feeling good about the fact that they get less ill than they did 10 years ago when they weren't vegan, it's true, at least in my experience, and everyone around me who's plant-based is so much better off than they were before. But still be careful. Still use those precautions, because we don't want to become the vegan asymptomatic carriers that are helping to spread the disease around.”
He cites a study that found that eating a whole food plant-based diet resulted in better treatment outcomes for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and more.
3. Consider vitamins C, D and zinc to boost immunity and drink plenty of fluids
At The Beet we are advocates of eating more plant-based foods for health and wellbeing, but if you want to also supplement with vitamin C, zinc and D, especially after being exposed to the virus, those vitamins have been shown to be beneficial, but just don't overdo it. In a recent paper, doctors wrote up patients who were coming into the hospital with kidney stones and even kidney failure after overdosing on vitamin D to fight the virus. So while a healthy amount can be beneficial too much D can cause complications.
Meanwhile advice given to one of our editors (who did get coronavirus early on in the pandemic) was to make sure to hydrate, and drink plenty of fluids, since the virus takes a toll on the body and you make not realize you are dehydrated.
As with colds and flu, drinking plenty of fluids can help your body flush out toxins, especially if you are supplementing with vitamins C, D and zinc, drink plenty of water. For the right amount of vitamin D to take, see this story, which cites a study that shows taking a recommended amount of D (between 600 to 800 IUs a day, but not more than that) can be protective against the most serious symptoms of COVID-19. But as always, before you self-treat talk to your doctor since he or she should be your first line of information when faced with this or any other illness.