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Archive for September, 2020

In March 2020 at the onset of Covid-19 within the US, 14 states reported that about 90 percent of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 had one or more underlying conditions. The most common health problem was hypertension (49.7%), while obesity (48.3%) ranked second. Obesity is a major risk factor for contracting Covid-19, but why?

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To comprehend the relationship between obesity and Covid-19, it’s important to understand the hormone leptin. Leptin, from the Greek word “leptoes” which means thin, is a hormone that regulates the appetite by reducing hunger and helps to regulate energy balance.

The relationship of obesity to leptin surfaced in the mid-1990s. Leptin signals the brain when we are full and to stop eating, and possibly at the same time, it increases energy expenditure. At first, it seemed a possible panacea for the treatment of obesity. Although a slight increase in leptin reduces the appetite and can be a major factor in weight loss, excessive leptin doesn’t have the same effect.

Most leptin is produced in fat cells, but some are also produced in lung tissues. In diet-induced obesity, fat cells produce leptin in large quantities. The more obese a person, the higher the levels of leptin. However, a quirk within the cells not completely understood, results in a detrimental effect from too much leptin and causes the obese to become “leptin resistant.” Therefore, they lose little if any weight. How does leptin-resistance impact the obese in this pandemic virus?

Not only does leptin regulate energy balance within the body, interactions between the nervous and endocrine systems, and metabolism (chemical reactions within cells to maintain and sustain life), it is involved in regulating cells that fight infection—our immune system. Molecules of the hormone leptin are trapped in the fat cells. These highly ineffective leptin levels can result in chronic inflammation thereby increasing susceptibility to infections and autoimmunity including Covid-19. 

Individuals with obesity also are prone to hypoventilation (inadequate oxygen levels caused by breathing at an abnormally slow rate) which results in high carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the blood and not enough oxygen. High leptin levels in the obese cause the body to produce more blood CO2 levels during the day that cannot be attributed to other factors or conditions.

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Covid-19 has proven once again that medical issues more frequently arise in those with diet-induced obesity. Statistics show that in the US, nonwhites have higher rates of obesity. While many consider this a societal problem, it is also an individual issue. With nearly seventy percent of Americans overweight and more than half of those obese, each of us is responsible for maintaining a healthy weight. Eating healthier foods helps deter obesity and is a win-win for everyone. Educating society, especially those with obesity, to consume fewer calories and make wise choices when eating may well be a good option to combat Covid-19.

         

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If we look back on eating patterns during the past five years, we recognize several changes in our food choices and lifestyles. Until Covid-19 came along, we ate out more and adapted to more cultural and ethnic varieties of dishes. Even prior to the pandemic, we witnessed changes in health issues related to food consumption. Research continues to confirm the relationship between health and mortality. People who consume diets with fewer animal products have lower mortality risks. Seafood is a healthy protein choice as are the plant sources of whole grains and legumes.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, tasked with updating the guidelines, found strong evidence of reduced risks of all-cause mortality (all deaths that occur in a population) when individuals consumed a dietary pattern higher in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, lean meats and seafood, appropriate dairy foods, and unsaturated vegetable oils and consumed fewer red and processed meats, saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, and beverages and foods with added sugar.

All you need for the Summer 2020 Healthy Diet Plan - BBC Good Food

Many consumers have come to believe plant-based diets are healthier, and that is true when compared to diets higher in food components that increase mortality rates. Sales of plant-based foods increased 11.4 percent in 2019. Plant-based meat sales increased 18 percent, and 45 percent of consumers felt plant-based meat was healthier than that coming from an animal. For the first half of 2020, the sale of plant-based meat increased 148 percent compared to 2019.

The meat industry has countered by pointing out the extensive processing and addition of ingredients, such as salt, may make plant-based meats less healthy.

Guidelines for added sugar have also changed. Whereas the 2015-2020 guidelines suggested consuming no more than 10 percent of all calories from added sugars, the new guidelines lower that recommendation to no more than 6 percent. Some studies indicate that consumers prefer to cut back on consumption of added sugars rather than switch to other sweeteners.

Alcohol has little health value, and the committee notes that drinking less results in better long-term health. Millennials tend to lead the way with changes in consumption. With a decline in beer volume sales, bottled low- and no-alcohol beverages in the US are projected to increase by 32 percent by 2022. Breweries have latched on to this trend of producing nonalcoholic beverages.

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Health Impact

With the many modifications and projected changes, what are the anticipated effects on health? Chronic health conditions are more prevalent among the older population, certain racial and ethnic groups, and those with lower income levels.

Statistics for overweight and obesity continue to climb in all stages of life. On average, 42 percent of adults are obese with slightly higher levels for men than women. Independently, obesity can result in several serious health issues. Directly or indirectly, it increases the risks of obesity-related complications such as coronary heart disease, end-stage renal disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic disease, some types of cancer, and other conditions. More recent research finds that obesity impacts our immune system, thus putting the obese at greater risks of infections such as influenza and Covid-19. For influenza, obesity makes adult vaccinations more difficult and possibly less effective.

The overall highest incidence of cancer is female breast cancer followed by prostate cancer. Lung and bronchus cancer cause the highest mortality rate of any cancer. For those who drink alcohol, smaller amounts result in a lower risk of this disease and all-cause mortality compared to those who consume higher amounts. Dietary patterns recommended by the committee were generally associated with decreased risks of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.

Based on reports of wellness and diet, we as a nation do not fare well. With so much evidence to support the ill-effects of unwise diet patterns, why do we continue to make risky choices? While the dietary guidelines provide suggestions based on scientific evidence, the choice is ours. Do we want good health, or do we prefer to choose a pattern of unhealthy eating? If the latter, then whether or not intended, we place the burden of escalating healthcare costs on others as well as ourselves.  

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