The recent COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic has revealed a few unsettling things about the overall health of the US as a nation. It’s nothing new to say that the United States has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. We’ve almost become immune to that knowledge. To snap us out of it, let’s turn it around and see it from another lens: According to Dr. Mark Hyman, Science Daily, the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, and several other reliable sources, only about 12% of Americans are actually metabolically healthy. Now, apply the math: That means out of a population of almost 330 million people (census.gov), approximately 291 million of them are on a dangerous path when it comes to their health: They have large waists, and high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Terrifying, right?
What does that have to do with coronavirus? EVERYTHING.
Today, doctors and scientists have uncovered a pretty sad link between many COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths: “They are overweight or obese and already suffer from a chronic disease” (Hyman & Mozaffarian). Even worse, a staggering 94% of deaths from COVID-19 were already dealing with an underlying, age-related chronic disease. The saddest piece to this number is that most of those underlying issues were directly caused or a consequence of excess-fat (Hyman & Mozaffarian). They were preventable and reversible.
So, why aren’t we talking about it?
It’s time for us to start being honest. We need to wrap our heads around this very uncomfortable fact: Obesity is an underlying issue. It also might be one of the most important predictors of coronavirus illness.
I won’t deny the fact that there is a very small portion of the metabolically healthy population who have been hit hard with coronavirus symptoms. Please keep in mind that this is a very small percentage. It does not negate the correlation between obesity, metabolic health, and the virus. Why? The answer is in the American diet— rich in sugar and ultra-processed foods. It is a major contributor to poor metabolic health, which destroys the immune system—the body’s only defense against viruses and infections. Which gets to my point: Many COVID-19 cases in the US could be prevented with better metabolic health and a cleaner diet of whole foods, organic fruits and vegetables, beans, good fats, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds.
But, of course, don’t just take my word for it…
From the CDC website itself: “Severe obesity increases the risk of a serious breathing problem called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which is a major complication of COVID-19 and can cause difficulties with a doctor’s ability to provide respiratory support for seriously ill patients. People living with severe obesity can have multiple serious chronic diseases and underlying health conditions that can increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”
What are those “serious chronic diseases and underlying health conditions,” you ask?
- High blood pressure (Hypertension)
- High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
- Sleep apnea
- Low lung function and breathing problems
- Many types of cancer
Think: When your body is already fighting off anything from the list above, it’s too busy and too inflamed to fight anything else. We can’t live without temporary inflammation—it’s a sign our body is fighting. On the other hand, when the immune system is constantly fighting and chronically inflamed, the entire system will eventually collapse and open the door to a plethora of viruses, bacteria, infections, and disease. Now, add that to a system suffering with low lung function and you’ve just given coronavirus a place to thrive.
Are You at Risk?
Americans struggling with obesity (BMI over 30) have a more than four times higher risk for hospitalization, while those with severe obesity (BMI over 40) have a more than six times higher risk (Hyman & Mozaffarian). “The vast majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are overweight or suffer from a diet-related chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or cancer” (Hyman & Mozaffarian). Is this you?
Whether you are in denial or you simply do not know, sometimes it is difficult to gauge where your health stands. While people generally know they are obese or overweight, there are “skinny” people who are metabolically unhealthy and have no idea. Here are a few telltale signs you might be overweight and/or metabolically unhealthy.
If you deal with some or all of the following signs, it’s time to get help:
- Diet full of starchy, sugary, processed foods
- Increased sweating
- Poor digestion/Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Inability to cope with sudden physical activity
- Back and joint pains
- Large mid-section
- High Blood pressure, cholesterol, and/or blood sugar levels
- Feeling very thirsty
- Going to the bathroom a lot, especially at night
You might not notice all of these indicators happening at once, but over time, they can grow incredibly detrimental to your physical and psychological health. Do not let it get to that point. If the recent pandemic has taught us anything, without a doubt, our immune system is all we have.
It’s Time for a Change
The first step is to take responsibility over your health. If you want to thrive, it’s time to learn what you need to do. Viruses and disease cannot exist anywhere unless they have a weakened host. So do not give them one! Educate your immune system by addressing your underlying issues.
- Cut out the sugar: Sugar is poison to any system—especially a compromised one.
- Toss the processed foods (anything in a box or bag): Prepackaged meals and snacks are full of preservatives that the body cannot digest, which leads to constant inflammation as the body thinks the undigested particles are invaders.
- Replace the bad with good: Fill your kitchen and cupboards with whole foods like lean proteins, healthy grains, green veggies, and fruits.
- COOK your meals with ingredients from your own cupboards: Many restaurants cut costs with food and opt for cheap ingredients like dirty, processed oils (vegetable, canola, etc). The other problem is that you do not know anything about the process involved in cooking your meal. Who did it? When did they do it? What’s really in it? Those are mysteries that could be cleared up if we just did it all ourselves. If cooking isn’t really your thing, Pinterest has a TON of easy healthy recipes that anyone can follow. You will never know unless you try, so try.
While supplements may not work to treat coronavirus, they certainly do help prevent it by reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system.
- Vitamin D is an anti-inflammatory and boosts protective immunity.
- Vitamin C improves the health of the immune system by providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Fish Oil works as an anti-inflammatory to the system and protects the body from disorders such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Arthritis, Anxiety, and Cardiovascular Disease.
- Probiotics are good bacteria that help digest nutrients that boost the detoxification of the colon and support the immune system.
*Please note: these products are not meant to treat coronavirus. If you believe you have coronavirus or may have come into contact with someone who does, please call the Michigan hotline: 888.535.6136
Change Your Lifestyle:
- Exercise: Incorporating physical activity into your daily and weekly regimen is extremely important to strengthen your immune system. I’m not telling you to flip tractor tires around your yard—unless that’s your thing? Do something. Anything! Walk, run, bike, dance, do yard work…just get moving.
- Reduce stress: Chronic stress can suppress protective immune responses and exacerbate pathological immune responses. So, really, chill out. Try a little meditation and yoga. Read a book. Do anything that gives you peace.
- Improve your sleep: When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your immune system won’t be able to function properly. This takes a lot of work for people who just cannot sleep. Here’s a tip: When you change what you put in your body, you will sleep. Fix your food and you will sleep.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Most people will hate me for this one, but it’s true that alcohol negatively impacts gut health and decreases immune function, making you more susceptible to harmful pathogens. Sorry! Maybe try a healthy, sugar-free mocktail for those days and nights that make you want to run for the wine or Titos. Trick your brain into thinking it’s a margarita. With everything happening in the world right now, stranger things have happened.
*Please note: these health changes are not meant to treat coronavirus. If you believe you have coronavirus or may have come into contact with someone who does, please call the Michigan hotline: 888.535.6136
Set up an Appointment with One of Our Functional Medicine Nutritionists:
At Forum Health Clarkston, our Lifestyle program addresses underlying issues with a customized nutrition plan designed for your body’s needs. It teaches you why nutrition is important, and shows how choices and lifestyle affect the body and overall health. Not only will you be able to heal your body with lifestyle and behavior changes that will last a lifetime, you will be able to boost your immune system to help prevent and fight viruses and infections.
Now is the time to make the right changes for your health. Our body’s best defense is its immune system. When that fails, it leaves us vulnerable to viruses, bacteria, infections, and chronic disease. The good news is that it can be rebuilt. With the right changes and a functional medicine approach by the right practitioners, the damages done by an unhealthy lifestyle can be reversed. Remember: If you give your body the right environment, it will heal itself. To learn more about our program and how we can help you heal your underlying issues, join us at one of our FREE Meet and Greets!
Forum Health Clarkston
Hyman, Mark. “The link between coronavirus deaths and those french fries,” The Boston Globe, May 7, 2020.
Mercola, Joseph. “The Real Pandemic Is Insulin Resistance,” Mercola: Take Control of Your Health, May 4, 2020. Obesity: An Underlying Issue