Taking action now to optimize your underlying health can reduce the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.
COVID-19 is almost certain to continue to circulate in the population for a long time to come. As states across the country gradually relax the lock-down of their economies many of us remain terrified by the idea that the ordinary activities of our former lives, like going to work or a restaurant or a hair salon, could be a life-ending event. Avoiding exposure as much as possible remains important. But staying “locked-down” and endless social isolation is not entirely benign. Face masks, social distancing and rigorous hand washing are critically important as well but are not a guarantee of safety.
According to the CDC, 79% of all people requiring Intensive Care for COVID-19 in the USA have had an underlying medical condition or risk factor. You could make a substantial difference in your odds of a full recovery if you are infected in the months to come by reducing your health risk factors.
Those health risk factors are:
Age is clearly a major determinant of your ability to survive COVID-19. The mortality rate among those under 40 is very low and increases with age, ultimately becoming more than 10 times greater for those over 80. Unfortunately, this is one risk factor that is very difficult to modify.
Ethnicity also appears to be playing a role in both hospitalization rates and mortality from COVID-19. We do not yet fully understand why this is so. This is also a risk factor that is hard to change.
Other factors that appear to have an effect on your ability to recover from COVID-19 are more amenable to change.
Obesity is emerging as a major risk factor, particularly in younger patients. In some studies, the most prevalent underlying condition in adults ages 18-49 who were hospitalized with COVID-19 was obesity. People with obesity often have other risk factors, such as diabetes or hypertension, that also increase their risk of severe disease with COVID-19. Consequently, a study reported in Clinical Infectious Diseases found that patients under age 60 with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 35 were twice as likely to require admission to the Intensive Care Unit and were three times more likely to die. Other studies have shown that the higher the BMI, the more likely a patient would need to be on a ventilator. Many patients who are obese have increased levels of Visceral Fat which may affect the immune response to the infection.
If you are among the 40% of the population with a BMI over 30, now is the time to get serious about a nutritional and fitness regimen to start bringing down your weight.
People with high blood pressure are more likely to die from coronavirus. In China, 25-50% of the patients requiring hospitalization from COVID-19 had high blood pressure (along with other health conditions). In Italy, 76% of the patients who died from COVID-19 had hypertension. Other published studies have indicated that the risk of severe or fatal COVID-19 may be up to 2.5-fold higher in patients with hypertension. High blood pressure is often associated with other conditions, particularly being overweight or diabetic. While medications can help to control blood pressure, adopting a healthier lifestyle to lose weight and visceral fat may be even more effective at improving COVID-19 survival.
Data from the CDC indicates that in the USA 29% of all people who needed Intensive Care have underlying heart disease. More than 10% of patients with cardiovascular disease who were diagnosed with COVID-19 died. Early detection and treatment of heart failure, coronary artery disease or pulmonary hypertension may help to reduce your risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Advanced Cardiac Imaging tools such as Cardiac CT Angiography can help you start on a program to stop or reverse heart disease and lower your risk.
Early studies have shown that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are more likely to have serious complications and to die if they are infected with COVID-19. In part this may be because diabetes impairs the immune system. Overall, there appears to be about a two-fold increase in the need for Intensive Care in COVID-19 patients with diabetes. Additionally, once you are sick or quarantined it can be more difficult to properly manage your diabetes just because getting medications, blood sugar test strips and healthy foods can be more difficult.
People with cancer who become infected appear to have a greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness and death, but this may depend on their cancer stage and the type of treatment they are receiving. In fact, those with early-stage cancer may fare as well as people who have not had cancer.
One study in China saw a death rate of 6% for people with cancer—more than twice as high as the overall estimated COVID-19 mortality rate in China, but lower than the rates seen in people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Cancer patients with COVID-19 were nearly three times more likely to have severe or critical illness (34%), be admitted to an intensive care unit ICU (19%) or be put on a ventilator (10%).
Chemotherapy medications and some targeted therapies for cancer can cause immune system suppression. Conversely, immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T therapy unleash natural or engineered T cells to fight cancer, which in some cases can trigger an excessive immune response that leads to harmful inflammation.
ACT NOW TO REVERSE YOUR RISKS
It’s never too late to start making the changes you need to reverse obesity, heart disease, hypertension or diabetes. And finding cancers at the earliest possible stage not only improves your odds of a cure but also may avoid the need for immuno-suppressing treatments.
A Princeton Longevity Center Comprehensive Exam can provide you with the technology for the earliest detection of heart disease and cancer and get you started on the path to adopting a healthier lifestyle. With improved nutrition and fitness, along with appropriate medical treatments, you can take control of your health risk factors and start to make COVID-19 a much less dangerous infection.