COVID-19: Research that doesn’t make the headlines


Dr Alexandra Bernhardi

Health Columnist

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Dr. Alexandra Bernhardi takes a look at topics that don't always make the headlines.

By now everybody has gathered the basic terminology of the pandemic and has more or less come to terms with the significance of the development. The reality is, we still don’t have a useful vaccination (Will we ever?) and we still don’t have specific treatments to treat COVID-19.

However, we do have a better understanding of the disease and also of factors leading to particularly poor outcomes. Not all of this research is convenient though, and therefore we might not hear a lot about it in mainstream media.

The following are some of the topics that I have come across and find worth mentioning:

Air pollution is associated with a higher risk of dying in individuals who have contracted the virus.

New research has linked PM2.5 (very fine Particulate Matter) and NO2 levels (Nitrous Oxide) with an increased mortality rate, prompting calls to strengthen air pollution standards here in Australia. The study was based on an analysis of 4443 coronavirus related deaths from 66 regions in Italy, Spain, France and Germany.

Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos, spokesperson for Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA), said: “ It highlights the need for us to revise and tighten air pollution standards in Australia, because there will be more infectious diseases like this in the future.”

Uncontrolled diabetes is associated with an increased need for medical interventions during COVID-19 as well as an increased risk of dying from COVID-19.

This was a study performed retrospectively on 7,3337 cases of COVID-19 in Hubei Province, China, The study could also show that well-controlled blood sugar levels were associated with markedly lower mortality compared to individuals with poorly controlled blood sugar levels.

Evidence for vitamins C, D and zinc and their important roles in preventing pneumonia and respiratory infections (Vit C and D) and reinforcing immunity (zinc) is emerging and receiving more attention in the context of COVID-19.

While there are many nutritional myths circulating in the media, there is no doubt that vitamins and trace minerals are crucial for a healthy immune function. Poor diet choices and a subsequent lack of these key players make us vulnerable for pathogens and more likely to suffer a more severe disease. However, ongoing research in this field - called “immunonutrition” - is urgently needed.

While the coronavirus pandemic certainly is a new experience for all of us, the above mentioned issues - air pollution, diabetes and a diet based around processed food - have been on our radar right here in our backyard for a long time.

If COVID-19 can teach us to start addressing these underlying causes by cleaning up our air and centering our diet around fresh vegetables and fruit - maybe we can turn this scare into a good outcome.

Our region certainly has got all prerequisites to become a leading destination for healthy food farming, active and sustainable lifestyle and the renaissance of a clean eating culture.

Why wait? Now is a good time.

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