Can the Mediterranean diet play a positive role in COVID prevention?

We asked Dr. Matteo Bertelli, CEO of the MAGISNAT Spin Off, hosted at Atlanta Tech Park.

HELLO DR. MATTEO BERTELLI! CAN THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET PLAY ANY ROLE IN THE PREVENTION OF CHRONIC DISEASES AND COVID?
If you want a simple answer, then it is NO. 
The Mediterranean diet, just like any other diet, cannot have any therapeutic or preventive effect. Even dietary supplements containing high concentrations of beneficial molecules naturally found in the plants of the Mediterranean diet cannot claim any effect in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of any disease.

IS THERE ANY SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH CONDUCTED BY UNIVERSITY GROUPS THAT HAS LOOKED FOR A CORRELATION BETWEEN THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET AND SUSCEPTIBILITY TO CHRONIC DISEASES OR COVID?
Many studies have demonstrated that following the Mediterranean diet plays a role in reducing the risk of developing many chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes) that have chronic systemic inflammation as a key underlying feature; moreover, some of these studies focus specifically on the benefits provided by a daily intake of olives and olive oil, which are rich in polyphenols. Research has also shown that the risk of chronic disease may be increased by diets that (unlike the Mediterranean style diet) are high in refined starches, sugars and poor quality fats, and low in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and omega 3 fatty acids. 

In a recently published work, “Ferro Y, Pujia R, Maurotti S, Boragina G, Mirarchi A, Gnagnarella P, Mazza E. Mediterranean Diet a Potential Strategy against SARS-CoV-2 Infection: A Narrative Review. Medicine (Kaunas). 2021 Dec 20;57(12):1389. doi: 10.3390/medicina57121389. PMID: 34946334; PMCID: PMC8704657,” the authors hypothesized that the Mediterranean diet—being rich in olive tree polyphenols and vitamins—can help COVID prevention.

The recent publication “Ponzo V, Pellegrini M, D’Eusebio C, Bioletto F, Goitre I, Buscemi S, Frea S, Ghigo E, Bo S. Mediterranean Diet and SARS-COV-2 Infection: Is There Any Association? A Proof-of-Concept Study. Nutrients. 2021 May 19;13(5):1721. doi: 10.3390/nu13051721. PMID: 34069656; PMCID: PMC8160854.” carried out an observational study, in which the researchers related adherence to the Mediterranean diet and severity of COVID disease symptoms. The study concluded that those who follow the Mediterranean diet have a reduced risk of developing a severe form of the disease.

Finally, also these two published research papers are very telling on these matters: “Greene MW, Roberts AP, Frugé AD. Negative Association Between Mediterranean Diet Adherence and COVID-19 Cases and Related Deaths in Spain and 23 OECD Countries: An Ecological Study. Front Nutr. 2021 Mar 5;8:591964. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.591964. PMID: 33748170; PMCID: PMC7973012” and “Perez-Araluce R, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Fernández-Lázaro CI, Bes-Rastrollo M, Gea A, Carlos S. Mediterranean diet and the risk of COVID-19 in the ‘Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra’ cohort. Clin Nutr. 2021 Apr 15:S0261-5614(21)00190-4. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2021.04.001. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33934925; PMCID: PMC8047333”.

SO, CAN THESE PUBLICATIONS ATTRIBUTE TO THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET ANY PROPERTIES IN PREVENTING CHRONIC DISEASES AND COVID?
Again, the simple answer is NO.  
We are always very clear about this and, even if we do research the possible beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet on health, when we show our publications on our website (magisnat-rd.com/) we always specify that “None of the reported studies can be used to claim the properties of dietary supplements. Dietary supplements do not possess any therapeutic or preventive properties”.

All the research so far conducted and published is only preliminary, although I consider it important for two reasons. First, because diet and physical activity are finally beginning to be considered as components that should also be studied to ensure the individual’s well-being; the second reason is that the role of olive tree polyphenols and olive oil in the diet is becoming increasingly important.

Thank you so much Dr. Matteo for your time.