Why Are Some People More Vulnerable to COVID-19?

I’m not going to waste your time or mine giving you the history of the COVID-19 virus and the ensuing pandemic. Everyone has lived through the last 5-6 months and has their own opinions on where and how it originated and spread throughout the world. I see your posts on social media, I know all the theories.

Early on in the outbreak, evidence out of China showed that there was a connection between the virus and pre-existing conditions.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website even states that some people are at higher risk than others when it comes to COVID-19. It specifically lists people over 65 and people of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:

  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications
  • People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
  • People with diabetes
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • People with liver disease

Many of these conditions are caused by excess body fat; or a term that is starting to be more widely used, called overfat. The overfat condition itself is a significant yet little discussed risk factor in infectious viral diseases, with overfat negatively affecting immune function.

If you step back and look at the big picture, people don’t have a heart problem, a diabetes problem, a blood pressure problem, a cancer problem, or an autoimmune problem as much as they have a chronic inflammation problem. Chronic inflammation is an immune system gone awry, damaging the body it was designed to protect. If you want to decrease the amount of chronic inflammation in your body, then you need to heal your immune system.

While humans are constantly infected with multiple viral agents, estimated up to 10 to the 12th power new virus particles per day, a healthy immune system protects us in most situations from illness. However, an overfat body can compromise the immune system to increase the risk of infections, chronic respiratory diseases and even aggravate the effect of seasonal flu.

Most of us will agree that the development of a coronavirus vaccine will be an enormous step forward, it is not a silver bullet. It is also worth mentioning that it appears vaccines also work less effectively in an overfat body. While we are waiting for a vaccine, there are things you can do to care for your body. While extensive measures to reduce person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, like other infectious agents, are required to control the current outbreak, important preventive measures associated with lifestyle can help reduce the risks of future outbreaks. It is important to note and as I shared on my previous post regarding COVID-19, you can give your immune system all it needs in order to flourish and it still won’t guarantee that you won’t get the virus, but it will help you build a strong baseline of health and recover faster if you do become sick.

COVID-19 is not the first time that researchers have connected the dots between viruses and chronic inflammation. Unfortunately, most metrics used in studies of influenza and other viral infections use obesity as a metric, and not adiposity (excessive abdominal fat), which may be a better metric to define this relationship between excess body fat and viruses. Even more important is the fact that 40% or more of normal-weight, non-obese adults may have excess body fat that impairs their health—which is the condition called overfat. That is why I have always felt that BMI is a horrible predictor of health. Waist-to-height ratio is likely a better measure (waist shold be less than half of your height), but still may not tell the whole story.

The human body has a truly amazing immune system, our cells are constantly called upon to put on their capes and use their superpowers to keep us healthy. For them to work as designed, you need to give your cells the proper conditions. One of the most important things you can do is give yourself real food, and try to eliminate processed foods, sugar, grains and vegetable oils. If you want more on what these foods do to your body, I have written a lot about this in the past. Search the website for any of these terms and you will get all the info you are looking for.

In addition to food, you can help your immune system function as designed by flushing your system regularly with lots of water and getting plenty of rest. Just as important, the strength of your immune system is also directly linked to how you manage stress, how you manage your relationships and past traumas.

If you make sacrifices and focus on improving your diet, sleep and stress, you may be astonished with the positive results - both those that you can see and those that you can’t (your immune system).

As we move into the summer and fall, we will discover a lot more about COVID-19. But as we sit here today unsure of how and when life should start to return to normal and the consequences of public interaction, I suggest that you focus on what you can control. Despite the way it seem, you have control over a lot more than you realize. Protect yourself, your family and those you come in contact with by using masks, social distancing and washing hands, but also take it one giant step forward by giving your immune system what it needs!

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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,

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