The ‘other’ condition that can put you on the danger list for COVID-19 and flu

With all of the very real worries over Coronavirus right now — schools shutting down, restaurants closing, and Navy hospital ships being sent to ports to alleviate patient overload — it’s easy to overlook the fact that there’s another danger to your health this season…

The flu.

Yep, it can’t be said too many times that while Coronavirus is serious, we shouldn’t ignore flu warnings either.

In fact, this has been a severe flu season.

The CDC estimates that “so far this season there have been at least 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu.”

Now, there’s even worse news…

A new study, published in mBio, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, has found that if you have a certain condition, you could be even more vulnerable.

And, guess what…

It’s exactly the same condition that experts say could cause you to fall into the “critically ill” category if you’re hit with Coronavirus rather than ending up with the milder, cold-type version.

Affecting 50 percent of the adult population

What condition are we talking about?

Being overweight or obese.

That’s right, at this point over 50 percent of adults across the world fit into this category — something that could increase the severity of a flu infection.

Here’s why…

Previous research has shown that people who are obese have higher viral loads of the flu when they exhale and that they shed the virus longer. And, since each year a new influenza vaccine has to be created because the virus continues to change, researchers began to wonder if the obesity epidemic could have something to do with these rapid changes.

To find out, the researchers infected lean and obese mice with the flu for 3 days, allowing time for the virus to replicate, let them recover and then did it all again. This was to mimic what would happen during an epidemic where the virus goes from one person to the next.

And, the findings are pretty darn scary!

The researchers discovered that:

  • As the virus went from obese mouse to obese mouse, the virus underwent changes, resulting in a virus that was more virulent.
  • In obese mice, the typical emergency response (using type 1 interferon) that stops the virus from replicating and spreading was significantly reduced.

In other words, being obese resulted in an inability to fight off the virus as well as lean mice and a higher likelihood of a worse infection developing.

Here was the researchers’ takeaway…

“We want to be careful about extrapolating too much from a mouse experiment, but the study does suggest that because of the problem with how cells respond to flu in an obese environment, individuals who are obese don’t have good antiviral responses. They are delayed. They are blunted,” said principal study investigator Stacey Schultz-Cherry, Ph.D., a faculty member at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Deputy Director.

And, she went on to say, “Obesity allows the virus to get in, replicate faster and make more mistakes. Some of those mistakes are potentially beneficial for the virus.”

Coronavirus and obesity

At the same time that the scientists are issuing this warning when it comes to your weight and the risks you face from flu, hospitals are also releasing the dire news obesity can have just as serious (or even worse) consequences for those infected with Coronavirus.

In fact, not only is it reasonable to assume that since the study we just talked about found that patients who are obese have a lowered antiviral response to the flu virus, we’re likely to see the same when it comes to COVID-19. And that’s just what caregivers on the front lines are seeing…

The NHS has found that almost two-thirds of patients in the UK who have ended up in intensive care due to Coronavirus are either overweight or obese.

So obesity clearly plays a role in how bad the infection gets.

Related: Covid-19 and diabetes: What you need to know

And, the doctors say there are likely two factors behind the issue (above and beyond the possibility that obesity could blunt your response to the virus as it does with the flu), including:

  • When you have excess weight pressing on your chest, it makes it harder for your muscles to draw in deep breaths.
  • Being overweight or obese can lead to a weakened immune system that allows COVID-19 to spread to your lungs and cause pneumonia more easily.

This means that when you add all of the evidence up, carrying those extra pounds around could allow Coronavirus to become more virulent, make its way to your lungs where it can do more damage, and prevent you from drawing the breath you need to live.

I’m not sure what could be scarier than that.

Protecting yourself in the face of higher risks

Even though weight loss may be your ultimate goal for this and all the other health threats it brings — heart disease, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and more — you need to put it off until after the CoVID-19 threat.

That’s because major changes, like a restrictive diet, could weaken your immune system and that’s the last thing anyone needs right now.

Trying to eat healthier foods, though, could help with the weight and boost immunity. Incorporating more fiber foods (prebiotics) along with probiotics is a great way to start.

That’s because probiotics are flora that make up your gut microbiome, and prebiotics are what they thrive on. By now you may have heard about the large quantity of research over recent years that’s shown your gut is practically “central headquarters” for your immune system.

Basically, if your gut microbiome isn’t healthy, your immune system can’t do its job and keep you well.

So, in addition to following the very important advice from the CDC to limit possible exposure to COVID-19 or flu — social distancing, handwashing, cleaning and disinfecting — maybe it’s time to get on board the probiotic train.

Just take a quality probiotic supplement, eat more fermented foods, like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh. And make sure you get plenty of fiber in your diet to help keep your probiotic bacteria happy.

Remember, this season is undoubtedly risky between Coronavirus and the flu. But, even if you fall into a high-risk category, there are things you can do to help boost your immune system to be better prepared to fight off anything that comes along.

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  1. Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Obesity promotes virulence of influenza — EurekAlert
  3. The top 3 ways to boost your immune system for cold and flu season — Easy Health Options®
  4. For an immune system like a 20-year-old, do this one thing — Easy Health Options®
  5. Almost two-thirds of critically ill coronavirus patients are overweight and 37% are under 60, NHS audit reveals — Daily Mail Online
Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.