The SARS-CoV-2 epidemic has provided the international scientific community with a great deal of evidence, one of the most widely accepted and well-known of which is the close relationship between high risk of infection and comorbidity.

Several studies and analyses have shown that among victims of SARS-COV-2, a very high percentage had one or more chronic diseases that contributed decisively to the clinical degeneration up to death; only 3.6% of the patients who died had no chronic disease before contracting the virus.

The scientific literature on the subject is varied and extensive, not least in Italy. All the factors are summarised in the most recent update (14 May 2020) of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità report on SARS-CoV-2 epidemic, which identifies advanced age and previous chronic pathologies as the two main factors that have hallmarked deaths from coronavirus in recent months. The report confirms the role of previous pathologies in the course of the viral infection: on the basis of the 2,848 deaths analysed, the average number of pathologies observed is 3.2; 59.8% of the victims had at least three of them.

Fewer chronically diseased people would have meant far fewer victims. This is why it is necessary from now on, from this Phase 2 and beyond, to pursue all projects that can help reduce chronic diseases and thus risk factors (also) towards exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Since 2018, the Apulian Lifestyle project  – overseen by the Health Marketplace Special Unit of the Apulia Region – has been operational, networking public and private bodies with some of the region’s entrepreneurial excellences with the aim of “promoting transdisciplinary approaches, from environmental, health and economic policies to education and research. The aim is to “promote transdisciplinary approaches, from environmental, health and economic policies to education and research, in order to unravel the basic biology of the health of Apulia’s citizens and the diseases that afflict them most, and to develop, in collaboration with businesses, new prevention strategies based on the increased ability to identify individuals at risk through the interactions between the genetic heritage of each individual and the lifestyles adopted“.

In order to succeed in this ambitious objective, Apulian Lifestyle has planned various Actions ranging from training days for students on the Mediterranean Diet, scientific research on the role of microbiota, nanotechnologies, nutraceutics, the fight against pollutants, the testing of new work spaces and the sharing and exchange of good practices with Mediterranean countries.

The role of genetics and epigenetics

Special attention shall be paid to the ‘Nanotechnology Technopole for the development of the Human Pole on food, nutrition and well-being for the creation of the Life Sciences Hub’. Its aim is to bring together different partners in order to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches based on nanotechnologies for Precision Medicine applications in the fields of immuno-oncology, neurodegenerative diseases and non-communicable diseases through research on raw materials and the impact of diets, in particular the Mediterranean Diet, and actions aimed at spreading correct lifestyles.

Yet not only genetics. Studies conducted by Francesco Bottaccioli, director of the International School of Advanced and Integrated Medicine and Health Sciences, have identified how ‘the genetic heritage can produce relatively different results depending on the type of epigenetic regulation that occurs, which follows environmental and internal stimuli. Eating a certain way, exercising or not, being loved as a child (and as an adult!), living in a polluted environment, having a chronic disease, in short the regulation of our lives by external and internal factors, results in epigenetic regulation of the genome’.

The role of lifestyles

This assigns a new value to experiences, lifestyle and environment, i.e. family upbringing, diet, exposure to toxic agents and stress, childhood trauma, etc., all of which have a major influence on our bodies and even affect the gene expression.

Food and lifestyle are a very strong lever of health and are the two beacons of all the actions implemented by the Apulian Lifestyle project, which are summarised below. All these actions contribute in various ways – in the medium and long term – to the reduction of chronic pathologies and thus to the reduction of health risks, including the increased risk of infection from viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.

Therefore, pursuing all these actions in a resolute manner not only means preventing the loss of what has already been virtuously initiated, but above all contributes to reducing the co-morbidity risk factors in the current epidemic, which, as we have seen, have very high incidences.

Food4Heath will shortly be launching various initiatives with its partners in the Mediterranean area to share these projects and the good practices on the subject.