We talk to doctor Ángela López, researcher and staff doctor at the cardiac imaging unit of University Hospital Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona. She has published 23 articles regarding cardiology and has been attending patients throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
What was it like in the hospital during the pandemic, Dr. López?
The pandemic was unprecedented. We never thought that something like this could happen. The truth is that we were shocked and fearful at the beginning, but as time went on, since the hospital was well organised, we were able to deal with the whole situation.
What exceptional measures did you have to take?
Here we started to work in shifts to avoid cross-contamination. Apart from that, a lot of my colleagues had to leave their own departments to work in the Intensive Care Unit and Accident and Emergencies. The hospital was no longer divided by floor and speciality and began to attend only Covid-19 patients. Many surgeries were postponed, as were appointments and tests. The whole staff and hospital had to be made available, that also meant that people couldn’t come into the hospital for reasons other than Covid-19.
What factors do you think had the most impact on the way Covid-19 affected the patients?
Studies have been carried out in this area and they show that the patients that had pre-existing respiratory conditions, for example, but also risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, had a much more serious case of Covid-19.
You are a cardiologist, what general health recommendations could you give the general population to be more healthy?
First, avoid the risky stuff! Stick to a balanced, healthy diet without animal fats. Aside from doing sport, this is the best way to avoid problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. And, of course, don’t smoke!
So, I guess you have to get the heart pumping, too?
Of course! Sports and training our heart help keep our whole body healthy.
What way can our diet help strengthen our immune system?
It’s well described that nutritional deficits can provoke problems with the immune system. If we don’t get enough vitamins and minerals we can suffer grave consequences relating to our immune system. Apart from that, there are probiotic foods that help with our intestinal bacteria and help maintain our defenses.
You yourself stick to a 100% vegetable diet, is that something you also recommend to your patients?
Always. I believe that eliminating animal fats from our diet is fundamental to avoiding atherosclerosis. A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is recommended by medical societies such as the Spanish Society of Cardiology, so it’s not just something I tell them based on my own personal decisions.
What evidence is there that a well-planned, plant-based diet is good for our health?
In scientific literature, there are thousands of publications that talk about the benefits of what we call a “plant-based diet”. These studies show that people who follow this type of diet suffer from fewer illnesses, especially cardiovascular illnesses such as heart attack or stroke.
After all that everyone has been through, working in public health, are you worried about a second wave?
I’d be lying if I said ‘no’. We have suffered. Psychologically, it has been really tough on our mental health. I must confess that walking in the streets and seeing people without a mask on, or not following the rules, annoys me a lot.
How do you think we should change our consumption habits to avoid future pandemics?
Historically, all the pandemics that have affected us are the result of infection by humans or animals. In general, they were animals that had been subjected to mistreatment of exploitation. So, in my opinion, our consumption habits have to change, and change drastically. We must insist on taking care of our planet as well as all the living beings inhabiting it, humans and non-humans. Of course, the first thing we have to do is get them off our plates!
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