Cardiovascular Risk, Mortality, the Microbiome, and Nutrition

Written by Shama Nimkar on Wed, 16 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • Covid-19 and Cardiovascular Health - Studies reveal that the Covid-19 pandemic has had direct implications on people's cardiovascular health. This article addresses the increase in chronic diseases caused by Covid and how plant-based nutrition can be used to prevent it from getting worse.
  • Impact of Unhealthy Diets - The root cause of any severe health condition is always poor nutrition and unhealthy eating habits. Elaborating more on this point, Dr. Kim Williams explains to readers the chronic effects of meat consumption, refined sugars, and fats.
  • Case Studies - You'll get to learn about the benefits of plant-based nutrition through a few case studies that bring enough evidence to the table and encourage readers to give up meat.
  • Eating Right - Eating plant-based foods is not enough. It is eating them correctly that makes all the difference. Through this article, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the relevance of eating unprocessed whole plant-based food.
  • Healthy Lifestyle - A good diet needs to be combined with daily exercise, meditation, and other good habits to keep both your mind and body healthy. Dr. Williams tells you how to do so.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit us like a tsunami wave; it was unexpected, hard, and fast. Dealing with it was a sheer nightmare until the development of the antidotal vaccines finally put control on numbers across the world. In his session titled Cardiovascular Risk, Mortality, the Microbiome, and Nutrition, at the recently conducted Asian Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, noted cardiologist Dr. Kim Williams, MD, and Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Rush University Medical Center, suggested that the effects of Covid are not limited to short-term respiratory illnesses or a fever, (those can be cured); what one should be worried about are the long-term implications of the Coronavirus on cardiovascular diseases as well as other chronic diseases, and how plant-based nutrition can be used to fix this.

To understand the role of a plant-based lifestyle in fighting chronic diseases and curb the implications of Covid-19, read further:

Impact of Unhealthy Diets on Heart Health

It seems that the same people who have the highest disparity in mortality with Covid are the same ones that have cardiovascular disease. This is one of the reasons why the Covid death toll was higher in the west as compared to Asian countries. This has much to do with the difference in lifestyles. "Every time I've been in Asia, I have noticed that their lifestyle and habits are much healthier as compared to the ones here in the United States," says Dr. Williams.

The most important factor in leading a healthy lifestyle is the diet you follow. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine came out with a study that highlighted nutrition as a primary factor in your ability to battle Covid. Furthermore, a study published a few years ago on the global burden of disease revealed that there are about 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years that were attributable to dietary factors. "People should lower the sodium. They should be doing whole grains, not refined grains. More fruits, more vegetables, and if we do this, we could improve life expectancy around the world, simply through nutrition," he suggests.

Now, in the United States, obesity is an increasing concern as more people lose their lives to it. It is also resulting in earlier heart attacks and paving way for other chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, making it difficult for people to live a long life. "The only way to tackle obesity is by controlling your daily habits. Cut the smoking, cut the cholesterol, cut the blood pressure and do more physical activity," elaborated Dr. Williams.

Chronic conditions and poor nutrition

The reason why Covid is linked with diabetes is that the latter is one of the underlying causes of obesity. Obese patients are more prone to heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases. This depicts the correlative pattern of your body's functioning; how the malfunctioning of one organ can affect another, further emphasizing the importance of following a healthy diet. This is because the root causes of most health conditions have been linked with poor nutrition.

The foods available in western markets are high in sugar and unhealthy fats: a driving factor of increased heart risks. "We are inundated with fast foods, which we have then, exported to every country, essentially around the world, and with an increase in cardiovascular disease, such that pretty much 100% of all low and middle-income countries have heart disease as the number one killer along with the United States, which is the only high-income country where it's still the case," Williams added.

The easy access to processed meat and dairy products in the market is the real culprit. A lot of people are averse to the idea of going vegan, lack of nutrition being one of their main concerns, and the false idea of meat being the only rich source of protein that sustains your body.

"Contrary to popular belief, no form of meat is healthy. Red meat is the worst and it can kill, despite which it continues to be a part of the popular Keto diet. Processed red meat kills faster. It's not only cardiovascular health that it affects but also leads to cancer and increases the total death toll. It's also associated with coronary artery disease, particularly in men, and you can do anything to substitute it. Resort to soybeans or whole beans to increase your chances of better mortality. You'll see that there are loads of plants that are excellent sources of protein and they don't result in any cholesterol," Williams stated.

Plant-based lifestyle vs meat consumption

To compare the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle with one that allows meat consumption, Dr. Williams highlighted a few case studies:

Case Study 1

This is a study that was first conducted by the David Jenkins group at the University of Toronto, back in 2003 which revealed that the consumption of plant sterile, soy proteins, viscous fiber, and almonds sans any animal meat, can drop your LDL cholesterol levels by a significant 30%.

The same study was later taken up by Binita Shah in the United States which concluded the following. A vegan diet can do much good to your health as it lacks the presence of bacterial components usually prevalent in animal products. This results in a better microbial environment and reduced inflammation as a result of intaking nutritious fiber.

Case Study 2

Diabetes and blood pressure are driving factors in developing heart diseases. Keeping the same in mind, the Adventist Health Studies looked at different kinds of diets and categorized them based on body mass index. They then linked these indexes with the incidence of diabetes or hypertension. If the BMI was above 30, it fell into the overweight category. What they observed was that the lowest diabetes and hypertension cases were found in the group that didn't eat animal meat whatsoever. This group also displayed healthy BMIs and was not overweight, proving that plant-based nutrition is good for the body.

Sugar - Your One True Enemy

As learned from the above case study, you need to maintain your insulin levels. Diabetes has been linked with severe health issues and can even lead to death if not treated in time. Hence, countries that have a high glycemic index associated with their diets, display increased health risks among their population. The glycemic index is a value assigned to foods, based on how quickly they can spurt blood glucose levels.

"The United States is not particularly ideal when it comes to their dietary patterns. Take a look at our Southern diet for example. It has shown a big increase in mortality over several years. Our food is fried and every vegetable contains some animal product in it. Every beverage has sugar sweetening, and that results in a substantial increase in heart attacks, strokes and kidney diseases."

One of the contributing factors to the unhealthy eating patterns in the US is the influence of television and media. "58% of the television commercials were fast food changes and they were markedly more unhealthy than other types of commercials. Commercial television in the United States is routinely promoting the kind of consumption of food that is known to be unhealthy and causing cardiovascular diseases," he adds.

Sugar is one ingredient that holds a lot of misconceptions around it. While sugar may be sweet, the effects it has on your body are surely detrimental. Refined sugars trigger insulin reaction or insulin response which eventually leads to diabetes. "It is advisable to consume sugar in its most natural form. For example - Fruits are safe because the fiber present in them slows down the absorption of sugar in your cells, as a result of which you don't get as much of an insulin response. And then some sugars substitutes don't increase the insulin very much. Steviol is one of the more common substitutes."

While we're discussing substitutes, you must know that "you're not doing yourself any favor if you're doing artificial sweeteners. It impacts the development of diabetes very much. The more plant-based you are, the less likely you are to end up with diabetes."

Plant-Based diets Can Be Unhealthy Too

Even though you are on a plant-based diet, what would make a difference is eating correctly. "Even while following a plant-based lifestyle, it is essential to eat right. If you're eating vegan ice cream and you're getting a big sugar load, that increases your cholesterol as well. As it turns out, a lot of our plant-based people in the United States are not eating healthy food because they're taking something healthy like a potato and frying it, turning it into French fries, which isn't healthy at all," cautions Dr. Williams.


Hence, doing your plant-based diet right holds utmost importance. Heart disease mortality is increasing, as is COVID mortality. Both are being driven by poor diet, lack of exercise, poor lifestyle choices, and particularly the increase in obesity in type 2 diabetes, but also hypertension.

To prevent all of that, Dr. William concludes by saying "Start making healthy lifestyle choices, work out regularly to maintain a healthy weight, consume food that's good for your heart and stimulate your brain's cognitive functioning. Include more whole plant-based foods, green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, tofu, fruits, and other vegan sources of nutrition in your diet and you'll see the difference."

Expert Bio

Dr. Kim Alan Williams was born and raised in inner-city Chicago and attended the College of The University of Chicago, followed by the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine, internal medicine residency at Emory University, and overlapping fellowships in Cardiology at the University of Chicago, Clinical Pharmacology, and Nuclear Medicine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Diseases, Nuclear Medicine, Nuclear Cardiology, and Cardiovascular Computed Tomography.

Among numerous awards and honors for his teaching in the medical school, residencies and fellowships, he was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha in 2008. In 2010, he became the Dorothy Susan Timmis Endowed Professor of Medicine and Radiology and Chairman of the Division of Cardiology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, MI. At Wayne State, he has started the Urban Cardiology Initiative—a program of education for physicians on disparities in healthcare, primary school education on cardiovascular health, and community health screening in inner-city Detroit.

Dr. Williams now serves as the Chief of the Division of Cardiology and is the James B. Herrick Endowed Professor of Medicine and Cardiology at Rush University Medical Center. He is also Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention Digest (IJDRP).


Shama Nimkar

Shama Nimkar is a Lifestyle Journalist, Content Writer and a Publishing House Copy editor, and has a degree in Arts & Lifestyle Journalism from the University of the Arts London. With several articles published across renowned platforms in India and in the UK, Shama is now based out of Canada, and is pursuing higher studies in Digital Marketing. 

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