Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Covid-19 and Food: the missing link?

The feeling of fear and insecurity these days is so thick, it can be cut by a knife.
It is understandable. People are afraid because the media are bombarding us with some much information that half (at least) is useless.

Useless information 
Number of cases, number of deaths, percentage increases, new measures about lock in, what are the "essential services", what does exponential mean etc etc...
We do not need to know the number of cases. Given that the tests are limited at the moment, the number of cases has no biological value. None at all!

Covid-19: mode of action
But's lets talk about the fear of the virus. Let's see how the virus kills and how we can protect ourselves. Covid-19 causes in the human body a phenomenon called acute inflammation; this is coined as a “cytokine storm”: the virus attacks the immune system and a flood of immune-related chemicals are formed causing acute inflammation. 

This happens because the hyperactive white cells are not attacking only the virus but also healthy tissues, in this case the lungs. Because of this mode of action that covid-19 has, a number of drugs fighting inflammation are now under trial in few countries around the world in an attempt to mitigate the deadly impact of the virus.

Link of Chronic Diseases and Covid-19

Systemic inflammation is induced by several factors and it leads to the onset of chronic diseases, as explained extensively here.
The key to reducing the incidence of chronic diseases is to control the activities of inflammatory mediators via diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle choices. The key message, therefore, is that chronic diseases and covid-19 morbidity are linked: inflammation is the link.
It is thus clear that we are not completely vulnerable against covid-19. Our best defense against chronic diseases and covid-19 and the optimum way to maintain a strong immune system is through following a healthy lifestyle
We can maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising and adhering to a healthy diet, i.e. a diet rich in anti-inflammatory compounds.

Anti-inflammatory foods
Anti-inflammatory foods are all the foods found in the bottom three selves of the Mediterranean  diet pyramid, namely fruits, vegetables, olive oil (not processed vegetable oils), red wine (in moderation, i.e. 1-2 glasses/day), nuts, tea, fish, seafood, fermented dairy (yoghurt and cheese). 
The anti-inflammatory properties of fish, tea, beer, milk, yoghurt and cheese have been assessed, as summarised here.
These foods can reduce the systemic inflammation associated with chronic diseases. A diet rich in these foods is therefore our best shield against chronic diseases but also against covid-19. 
One final word
During this crisis, the most vulnerable companies are the small and family businesses. The crisis is impacting already hugely on the food chain. Restaurants are shut and companies selling foods to restaurants are already experiencing a turnover drop of 60-70%. The government needs to intervene. But also, as consumers, we can support our local food producers by ordering their products on-line. By buying local food, we support our communities; this is vital during this crisis. For Ireland, an excellent list of local producers of quality foods and drinks is available here.

Yannis Zabetakis

Friday, 27 March 2020

new paper from our group

= = =
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Limerick, V94 T9PX Limerick, Ireland
Health Research Institute, University of Limerick, V94 T9PX Limerick, Ireland
Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University Belfast, BT9 5BN Belfast, Northern Ireland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. 

= = = = = = = =

After hundreds of cups of tea at Scholars in UL, here it is : 
our first paper on tea cardioprotective properties 
derived from our excellent collaboration of our group 
with the group of Tassos Koidis in Queen's University in Belfast.

Thanks Stephanie and Tassos for your work on this.

Special thanks are also due to our Final Year Project (FYP) students (then) - now Food Science and Health UL graduates, Jack, Rebecca and Karen : great work, well done everyone!

Stay safe and calm, and Enjoy your Tea!


Sunday, 22 March 2020

Log Post (XV)

[The Log Posts in this blog are short poems, I started writing them in Oct 2018]

when a virus can shake the whole planet
when a virus can turn capitalists to socialists
conservatives to leftists

when a virus kills people
people unprotected
people vulnerable

tragedies all around

the smell of death...

the lack of smiles...

the noisy silence...

Health crisis
Hospital beds
healthcare heroes

financial crisis
people facing the fear of death
but also the fear of unemployment
of an uncertain future
at any level

we need
our Leaders
to Lead
with capital L._

Clonlara, 22nd March 2020

Saturday, 21 March 2020

"we'll have our salads ready to go" - Κλαυσίγελος

I think I live in a parallel universe , when I read comments made in the Dail "we’ll have our salads"...
In terms of food security,  it is quite sad to hear these words coming from the leader of the green party in Ireland, the  party that is supposed to make a difference, to green our policies, to engage people in actions against climate change.

As a food scientist, I do not know if I can laugh or cry... in Greek, the word "κλαυσίγελος" means exactly that - cry and smile - together...
Reading again and again, the extract below, I feel that our leaders have not comprehended the serious societal and psychological and fiscal impact of this crisis. 
And, ok... 
I should not be grumpy, at the end of the day I am on the privileged part of the ladder...
I do not mourn for myself!
What about the 400.000 - 500.000 (out of 2.3M) people who have to face short/mid/long-term unemployment?
What support is going to be there for all of them?
Apart from Green salads...
P.S.Below is an extract of Mirriam's article on the Irish Times (20.3.2020)
Garden centres
In an unusual, somewhat whimsical speech, the Green Party leader also made a plea for garden centres to be kept open. A good idea – gets people out in the fresh air. They can also buy seeds and plants and do up a sunny window-box when they are self-isolation. And if food supplies become scarce and things hit really hard in a month or two, “we’ll have our salads ready to go.”
The Taoiseach arrived for the start of the debate, mainly to give moral support to his Minister for Health, who looks knackered. Face the colour of chalk, eyes like the proverbial two cigarette burns in a blanket, Simon Harris put in a very impressive and reassuring performance despite his appearance.
Speaking of food supplies, the Taoiseach appeared to pop a large boiled sweet in his mouth when he sat down. Although it could have been a hard boiled egg – hard to see from our socially distant distance. We could see his jaw moving and cheeks bulging, though, for much of his sojourn in the chamber.
He didn’t speak. Tánaiste Simon Coveney spoke near the end of the debate. He was straight-talking, like the Taoiseach had been during his state of the nation address on Monday night.
“This period will pass but will scar Irish society in a way that we are trying to limit as best we can,” he said. “The decisions that we make, the leadership that we give and the certainty that we give in terms of people protecting themselves will be the difference between whether this virus kills hundreds of people, thousands of people or tens of thousands of people in Ireland. It’s as simple as that.”

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Coping with coronavirus: ‘Wars always end, sooner or later’

Deserted streets near the banks of the river Seine in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of Covid-19. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

this letter from Paris is so strong, optimistic, beautiful,
let's share it with ours, yours, everyone.

we are together in this war.

P.S. Lara writes:
“Dear World, How does the lockdown feel? Gaza,” reads my favourite example of dark humour. If the epidemic gets you down, just think how lucky we are to have food, running water and electricity, 24/7.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Bute and Covid-19 : the link ?

15th January 2013: The Food Safety Authorities in Ireland (FSAI) announced that they developed a novel analytical method to detect horse meat in other meat products - An Irish Success story begins. The next few months will rock the whole food chain system across Europe.

February 2013:    By now, we know that the meat industry is tainted with horse meat. Horse meat though is fine. Horse meat is a delicacy; what is the problem? The problem lies in the fact that the public has been misinformed and also the horse meat that was used in meat products has been tainted with a strong anti-inflammatory drug: phenylbutazone (or bute).

March - May 2013: The pan-European scandal becomes obvious. 
Tainted horse meat has traveled across several countries in Europe and has cross-contaminated other meat products.

The initial official voices (February 2013) suggested that consuming bute is ok as long as we do not eat 500 horsemeat burgers a day (sic!) but few weeks later they look scientifically and morally wrong!

this apology appeared in May 2013 (The Guardian)

By now, we know that bute is dangerous and all bute-tainted food products must be recalled!

So, a massive (and expensive!) campaign of product recalls took place, accompanied by apologetic messages (image above) in newspapers.
In order to protect Public Health, there are systems and mechanisms in place.

Precautionary principle (article 7, EC 178/2002) defines the necessary actions that need to be taken by authorities and companies in order to minimise the exposure of general public to the hazard.

Traceability procedures (article 18, EC 178/2002) are describing the duties of food companies on how to perform a product recall.

RASSF is in place to communicate novel hazards to competent authorities across EU.

these systems were not used in January 2013! It took the food industry few months to re-act and recall. 

Seven years fast forward.

Ireland : 29th February 2020: the first Covid-19 patient has been confirmed in the Republic

(from now on, I call Eire as Republic, not State or Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland as NI).
The picture below is a bar chart of cumulative confirmed covid-19 cases in the Republic (WHO database).

I am writing this post on 17.3.2020, 10am, there are no data for 16th March in the graph, but it was announced (16th March 8pm) that: "A further 54 new confirmed cases were reported on Monday evening, the biggest daily increase yet seen. Most were in the east (41 cases), followed by the south (11). The Republic now has a total of 223 confirmed cases of Covid-19, while Northern Ireland has 52".

12 March 2020: Irish government asked all creches, schools and Universities to close down from 6pm until 29th March. From that day, effectively about 25,000 childcare workers are unemployed. A crisis begins...a crisis for the people fighting the virus but also a huge financial crisis for Ireland and all Europe, as explained here and here.

14th March 2020: Leaders and Ministers along with Chief Medical Officers (CMO) of both the Republic and NI met to discuss the pandemic. Alas, no result.
The Republic is tackling the virus as best as we can and NI follow a herd-immunity approach

16th March 2020: The Irish government's CMO publicized some prediction data as suggested by a statistical model developed by the Department of Health. The model suggests that there will be 78 cases today, 109 cases tomorrow, and 355 cases per day by Sunday. That level of infection will require the contact tracing of 40,000 individuals, Dr Holohan said (Irish Times, p.3., 17.3.2020)

The link of the two cases (bute and covid-19):
in both cases, the motions of "precautionary principle" and "traceability - recalls" need to apply.
We need to act swift and precisely.
We need to say the truth (i.e. about the toxicity of bute and the spread-ability of covid-19). And we do!
The public announcements need to be re-assuring and proportionate.
As in the case of tainted meat, in the case of covid-19, at the moment of writing these lines, the cross-contamination around the island of Ireland is not controlled yet.

The open borders between the Republic and NI are like communicating vessels.

Whatever measure is taken in the Republic, it won't be effective as long as NI sticks to the "herd-immunity" approach.

In food science terms, there is no point to carry out a total product recall, if the tainting of the food chain carries on.

We need to find a way to stop this happening.
We need to rise above micro-politics and religious differences (Protestants, Catholics etc).
We need to listen to the Science and act immediately._

Co. Clare, St Patrick's Day 2020.