Can healthy people who eat right and exercise skip the COVID-19 vaccine? A research scientist and fitness enthusiast explains why the answer is no

Im a fitness enthusiast. A nutrient-dense, clean diet is something I follow to optimize my health.
It is possible to wonder how effective this diet and exercise plan could be in fighting COVID-19. Some have suggested, without supporting evidence, that vaccinations may not be necessary if a well-maintained lifestyle is followed.

As a researcher scientist who has been studying nutrition for over 20 years, I have followed the response of the wellness community to the COVID-19 vaccinations with great interest. Although eating well can improve the immune system, it's not realistic to assume that nutrition will protect against potentially life-threatening viruses.

My experiences with nutrition science

My laboratory group at the University of Memphis studies how food and isolated nutrients affect human health. We conducted an initial study on a strict vegan diet in January 2009. We recruited 43 people who could eat plant-based foods, but only water for 21 days.

These results showed improvements in several variables that are related to cardio-metabolic health such as blood cholesterol and blood pressure. They also revealed an improvement in C-reactive protein, a protein that rises in response to inflammation. This dietary program has been used in multiple nutrition studies on animals and humans.

My labs' research has produced more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts, book chapters and books on nutrients and exercise and the interaction of these two variables. Our research, along with that of other scientists, clearly shows the power of food to positively impact health.

Many people find that a positive change in their eating habits leads to a significant improvement in clinically relevant measurements like blood cholesterol or glucose. Doctors can sometimes reduce or even eliminate medications used for high cholesterol and diabetes. Sometimes, however, the patient still needs medication to manage their disease. In some cases, even a great nutritional program may not be enough to overcome the body's problems.

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It is important to eat right and use other wellness methods.

While natural remedies have been mentioned as possible treatments for COVID-19 there has not been much emphasis on whole food nutrition as an effective protection measure. This is a shame. I believe it is important to strengthen our immune system in order to fight COVID-19 and other viral diseases. The evidence shows that optimal immune function can be achieved by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep.

A recent study that looked at nutritional intake found that people who ate a pescatarian or plant-based diet had 73% and 59% lower chances of developing moderate to severe COVID-19 respectively. These findings are interesting but not causal.

People can take nutrition to boost their immunity against COVID-19. However, this is only one consideration. Other factors are also important, such as stress management, nutritional supplements, physical distancing, mask-wearing, and even psychological support.

To be clear, however, each of these elements should be considered tools to combat COVID-19 and not as a replacement for potentially lifesaving vaccines.

Although vaccines may not be perfect, they can save lives.

It is interesting to see that almost all parents are aware of the importance of vaccinating their children against serious diseases like varicella, measles, and mumps. They don't expect certain foods or a nurturing environment to do the job of a vaccine.

However, COVID-19 is a case where this belief process has been abandoned. Some believe that a healthy lifestyle can replace the vaccine. They don't take into consideration the fact that the vaccine provides protection against the virus, something that a healthy lifestyle cannot.

Consider the following when deciding whether you want to get the COVID-19 vaccination. The U.S. estimates that hormone contraception, which is used by millions of women each month, causes between 300 and 400 deaths per year. This is also true for cosmetic surgery, Botox injections, and other elective procedures.

Many people will accept the low risks of those cases. However, they are not willing to accept those involving COVID-19 vaccines. Despite the fact that there is a high risk of serious complications and death from COVID-19, the low risk of serious adverse reactions far outweighs any potential for serious complications.

COVID-19 protection is not possible if you do not adhere to a healthy lifestyle, such as a vegan or plant-forward diet. The vaccines are not perfect. However, breakthrough infections can occur in certain cases. The vaccines provide strong protection against serious illness and death.

I urge people to make every effort to improve their immune system's health and function. Consider what additional protection you could get from vaccination against COVID-19. The decision will be easier if it is based on current science, which is constantly evolving, and not on emotions or misinformation.

This article was republished by The Conversation, a non-profit news site that shares ideas from academic experts. Richard Bloomer, University of Memphis.

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Richard J. Bloomer received research support over the past two decades and served as a consultant for a number of dietary supplement and ingredient companies.