The Coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside down, only to be eclipsed by nationwide protesting over social injustice and the call for sweeping social and political change. But as everyone's attention has shifted from the disease to the protests, COVID-19 is still raging on and cases are still rising in states across the south, impacting African American communities and Black counties at disproportionate rates.

From the start, COVID-19 has been an unequal killer, posing a greater danger to Black communities than other racial groups. Disproportionately, Black counties account for over half of coronavirus cases in the U.S., and nearly 60% of deaths, a recent study found.

While existing health disparities have been one factor, poor eating habits among African Americans is another, and one doctor says that this can be effected through dietary changes.

"Adopting a lifestyle such as a plant-based approach to eating can be truly life-saving," says Dr. Millard D.Collins, Interim Chair and Associate Professor of Family & Community Medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. Meharry is the nation's oldest historically Black academic health science institution and prides itself on producing physicians, dentists, and researchers that serve poor or underserved patients, primarily African Americans. Nashville is still treating a steady stream of COVID-19 cases.

In a recent interview, no lesser nutritional leading light than T. Colin Campbell found that plant-based eating had a "significant" impact on the ability to create antibodies to a virus, in the case of his study it was against Hepatitis B, but he points out that the commonalities in how the body creates antibodies apply to all viruses.  So the importance of a healthy plant-based diet to fight the coronavirus as well as to prevent disease and reverse symptoms can't be overstated right now.

Dr. Collins points out that the Black community suffers from America's silent killers: Heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. A diet rich in meat and processed food has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and an increased risk of some cancers, studies have found. Plant-based eating has been tied to lowering the risk of those diseases and premature death of all causes.

More African Americans are choosing a plant-based diet for health reasons

There is already a sweeping trend to reverse this: The fastest-growing demographic among plant-based eating is, in fact, African Americans, according to a study published earlier this year. Plant-based meals, primarily derived from vegetables, fruits, (frozen and or fresh), grains, like rice and beans, nuts and seeds have been shown in dozens of studies to be an effective way to lower risk of type 2 diabetes, reverse symptoms of heart disease, lose weight, and build the immune system to help fight against infectious diseases, like COVID-19.

Dr. Collins says it is crucial to adopt a healthy lifestyle now. Read on for his best advice regarding how to protect yourself from disease, now and later. The Beet's interview with him:

Q. How crucial is a healthy lifestyle, specifically plant-based lifestyle, during this pandemic?

Dr. Collins: Healthy lifestyles should be practiced at all times, but during times of “attack,” it is even more of an essential practice that should be embodied by all people.

Pertaining to the African American’s plight, we have the worst health outcomes, compared to any other ethnicity, and the mortality associated with COVID-19 is directly proportional to this reality. 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.

Q: How can the mission of Black Veganism make a significant impact on strengthening the immune system and decreasing COVID-19 cases among African Americans?

Dr. Collins: Great question. I am not sure if we can decrease COVID-19 cases among African Americans since ... distancing practices predicate one’s infection with this disease. However, we can adopt this lifestyle as a means to improve the co-morbid conditions that may already be present–for e.g. 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.

Q. How can adopting an affordable, simple Plant-Based diet alleviate symptoms and produce faster recoveries from the virus?

Dr. Collins: Your presumption is correct, in that veganism is indeed a lifestyle and foods are more available than one may think. I think the critical step in this is to put the word out and challenge African Americans to take matters into their own hands and learn the ways of veganism.

It is always challenging to adopt something new and make it sustainable. Articles such as this are a great first step. Lastly, the adoption of a plant-based diet can do wonders to boost the immune system, improve energy, and improve chronic diseases mentioned earlier, thus, it can save lives.

But it is critical to not confine such an 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.

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