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The Villages
Friday, December 2, 2022

Obesity increases risk for severe symptoms and death from COVID-19

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

A major breakthrough article from Stanford shows how being overweight when you have COVID-19 can cause the overactive cytokine storm that can kill you (bioRxiv, December 2021). This is the first article that shows that the COVID-19 virus infects human fat tissue, to cause immune cells in fat (macrophages) to release chemicals (cytokines) that cause inflammation that causes the cytokine storm in which a person’s own immunity attacks and kills their own cells in the same way that it would attack and kill an invading germ. The researchers found the coronavirus in fat cells near all the organs of people who had died from COVID-19. This shows that the corona virus, like the HIV virus, lives and thrives in fat cells and the immune cells in fat are attacking and destroying an infected person’s own organs. That means that obese people have the highest amount of fat and the highest amount of the virus that lives in fat and the highest amount of immune cells and cytokines that can attack and kill a person infected with COVID-19. This article could explain the high COVID-19 death rate in the United States which has a 42 percent obesity rate, among the highest obesity rates in the world.

Relationship Between Being Overweight and Severity of COVID-19: Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from no symptoms at all, feeling like you have a cold, to the cytokine storm that causes extreme inflammation that destroys the lungs, kidneys, heart and other organs in the body (Nat Med, 2020;26:1017–1032). About 78 percent of people who have needed a ventilator or died from COVID-19 have been overweight or obese (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 8, 2021). Being overweight markedly increases risk for a person with COVID-19 disease being hospitalized, in intensive care, intubated, and dying (Obesity, 2020;28:1195–1199; Intens Care Med, 2020;46:846–848; Ann Intern Med, 2020;173:773–781; Obes Rev, 2020;21:e13128). Obesity is a major risk factor for death from COVID-19 even in young healthy people who have no other obvious risk factors for disease (Obesity, 2020;28:1815–1825). The more you are overweight, the more likely you are to suffer severe COVID-19 disease (MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 2021;70:355–361).

Weight Loss, Even From Surgery, Helps to Prevent Serious COVID-19 Symptoms: A study of 20,212 patients followed for 6.1 years (JAMA Surg, December 29, 2021) found that compared to obese people who have not had weight-loss surgery, people who were obese even after having had weight-loss surgery had:
• nearly half the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19,
• a 63 percent lower risk for needing supplemental oxygen, and
• a 60 percent lower risk for having a severe case of COVID-19.
They had less fat than those who had not had surgery. The surgical group also had a 53 percent lower 10-year risk of death from all causes and better glycemic control.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com

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