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Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

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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March 2020 has been a unique month. Questions about the coronavirus remain. While those with preexisting conditions seem more susceptible, why are younger, seemingly healthy people dying? I don’t know the reason, but like all Americans, I remain hopeful scientists will soon have that answer.

In his article, “Americans Unfit to Fight a Pandemic,” Dr. Rami Bailony wrote in Medpage Today, “While the public health focus has been on isolation and sanitation to slow the spread of the [COVID-19] virus, one thing we are not talking about is how our baseline health as a country makes us more susceptible to not only getting the virus but also succumbing to it.” Why does he feel that way (and I agree)?

After viewing a picture sent to him from a Costco store, Dr. Bailony made several observations about what many Americans deemed as needed foods to keep them sequestered at home. Not only did standing in long lines exacerbate the contagion problem, but he was shocked by what filled people’s carts. “From cart to cart I saw boxes of soda, chips, candy bars, and a whole lot of frozen chicken wings.” He called it a bandage-based approach to health and disease. Below I have summarized the five foundational cracks he believes make the coronavirus more deadly.

  • Failure to address the obesity epidemic. With obesity approaching fifty percent of the population, we have opened the door to greater risks for infection. As Bailony points out, obesity increases risks for respiratory infections and unfortunately, the severity of those infections. During the H1N1 epidemic, sixty-one percent of individuals who died from that condition were categorized as obese (BMI ≥30). Bailony cited other studies which showed that “people who struggle with obesity have cellular defects in certain immune cells that contributed to higher mortality.”
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Only fifteen percent of us over age sixty-five are physically active. Moderate-intensity exercise improves immune function and has the potential to reduce the severity of respiratory viral infections.
  • Lack of enough whole fruits and vegetables. More and more scientists prove that Mom was right, “Eat your vegetables.” These foods enhance our immune response. Less than ten percent of our population eat the recommended daily intake of vegetables. Why? Like the many foods we eat that aren’t as healthy, much of it is a matter of habit. It’s also a matter of acquired taste. If you don’t like a vegetable prepared one way, try another. I have been surprised when vegetables I didn’t especially like became tasty delights when I prepared a different way.
  • Defeated by psychological stress. Some surveys indicate that on any given day, more than fifty percent of Americans suffer acute or chronic stress. Bailony states that “in 2018, a third of Americans visited a doctor for stress-related conditions.” Stress is a known risk factor for obesity. Also, it has been associated with decreased antibody response to influenza vaccine.
  • Preparing for the next epidemic. Check the news on any day since the outbreak of the coronavirus in America. Someone (or many) blame lack of preparedness from the government and the healthcare system. Meanwhile, way too many disregard guidelines given early on. Abuse and disregard of orders to stay home, practice social distancing, and wash hands has moved our nation into perilous times. We don’t listen, and sadly, many don’t care. Unfortunately, some of those same individuals have succumbed to the illness not to mention the many they may have infected that caused multiple deaths.

So, before we blame government and the healthcare system for unpreparedness, perhaps we should look in the mirror and determine if we are part of the problem based on weight, eating patterns, and lifestyle. Let’s stay safe and do our part in overcoming this pandemic.

Note. Readers may be unable to open the link without subscription to Medpage Today.

 

 

 

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