Nutrition is the biggest coronavirus (COVID-19) risk factor that nobody is talking about. It has been widely understood for months now that cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes all significantly increase the risk of bad coronavirus outcomes. Despite the fact that it is also universally accepted that these diseases can be effectively managed through diet (and exercise), very few authorities have put two and two together to recommend good nutrition as a way to reduce coronavirus risks.
Multiple studies have now begun to isolate obesity as an additional significant risk factor for severe coronavirus outcomes, particularly in younger patients. In New York City, obesity was observed to roughly double or even triple the frequency that a patient with COVID-19 required acute or critical care. And an astonishing 40% of adults in America are obese, which means an extraordinarily high proportion of the country may fall into the “higher risk” category. This may also help explain why the United States now leads the world in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths.
I’ll make the case here as plainly as I can: eating healthier will very quickly make you more resilient to coronavirus.
These assorted conditions that predispose one to COVID-19 danger – obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and unhealthy cholesterol – are not independent but are in fact inextricably related. When some or all of these conditions exist simultaneously, doctors call it “metabolic syndrome,” indicating that the body’s cells no longer respond to hormonal signals properly. This metabolic dysfunction, when combined with COVID-19, creates something of a train wreck, greatly amplifying the damage that disease causes.
Metabolic syndrome is caused, to a large degree, by a poor diet. More than 30% of Americans have diagnosable metabolic syndrome, and many more than that have one or more elements of it. It is only a very small percentage of American adults that have what doctors would identify as a perfectly health metabolism.
These health problems can take decades to develop, but you can begin reversing them with incredible speed. And a large and growing body of research demonstrates that nothing improves metabolic dysfunction faster than the adoption of a low-carbohydrate diet.
A 2019 study, to give one remarkable example, showed that in just 4 weeks the majority of participants on a low-carb diet reversed their metabolic syndrome.
These results were even more remarkable because study participants were actually required to eat enough calories so that they would not lose weight, in order to rule out mere weight loss as a factor for metabolic improvement. Therefore they did not lose weight, but literally every other studied biomarker improved: blood sugar and blood pressure and triglycerides all decreased, and HDL (the good cholesterol) went up. Given that it is well-established that low-carb diets “are superior to other dietary approaches in producing rapid weight loss,” it is natural to conclude that the study participants likely would have seen weight loss and even better results had they been allowed to eat a low-carb diet without mandating calorie intake.
We don’t yet have the data to put a reliable number on how much these low-carb dieters might have reduced their risk from severe COVID-19 outcomes. But there’s no good reason to doubt that the improvement may be very significant.
In addition, improved metabolic health can have a powerful effect on your immune system. Metabolic dysfunction leads to chronic inflammation; fat cells clog the important tissues of our immune system, such as the bone marrow, altering the activity and distribution of our white blood cells. And, critically for the COVID-19 era, metabolic syndrome is also known to cause “worsening respiratory symptoms, greater lung function impairment, pulmonary hypertension, and asthma,” all conditions that are seen as immense risk for poor COVID-19 outcomes.
Naturally, the best defense is to not catch the disease in the first place: handwashing, personal hygiene and social distancing are our most effective bulwarks against the spread of the virus. But with a vaccine many months away and public tolerance for lockdowns apparently waning, it seems inevitable that many millions more will catch the virus. Despite our caution, you and I may be among them.
So perhaps the second-best thing you can do to prevent severe complications from COVID-19 is to eat healthy. I’m not alone in my conclusions. A growing chorus of doctors and nutrition experts has identified the same link. And now the mainstream media is catching on: New York Times recently ran this headline: “How Poor Diet Contributes to Coronavirus Risk.”
Sugar and carbohydrates, especially simple and highly-processed starches, are the ingredients that most contribute to weight gain, rising blood sugar and blood pressure, and general metabolic dysfunction. By avoiding these ingredients, you can reverse decades of damage in mere weeks and materially improve your body’s defenses against COVID-19.