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COVID-19 is exposing cracks in our health


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Our daily media reports of mortality statistics implicate underlying health conditions or comorbidities as a significant factor in those patients who have struggled or failed to survive the attack of the coronavirus. In Ireland today we are seeing rising rates of chronic illness with over 1 million people impacted according to the HSE ( Health Services Executive)

There has never been a more appropriate time to recognise a naturally healthy immune system’s inherent capabilities to successfully withstand the assault of a viral pathogen on a vulnerable human body. Most local health services have information and guidelines for those who are at risk. While some vulnerability is obvious, others may not be so evident. Why does one outwardly healthy 33 year old succumb to the virus while a 103 year old nun from Cork, Sister Maria Hickey make a remarkable recovery?

Our diet, lifestyle, exercise, sleep, and coping mechanisms in time of stress all contribute to our immune system’s capability to be either effective or ineffective. 

Supporting and maintaining a healthy human immune system is vital to health and wellness. At a time of global crisis with untold threats to human wellness and survival, strategies for supporting and maintaining an optimal immune system is critical.
Individuals who have succumbed to the current coronavirus’s pathogenic effects (COVID-19) are more than likely to have compromised or weakened immunity. In contrast, survivors are likely to have enjoyed stronger and more effective immunity.

This may explain why the current coronavirus (Covid-19) causes only mild disease in 4 out of 5 patients, according to WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreylesus who states, “more than 80% of patients will have mild disease and will recover, 14% will have severe disease including pneumonia and shortness of breath, 5% will have critical disease including respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ failure, and 2% of cases will be fatal.”

As we move from predictive modelling to more accurate real-time data, we may find that the spread of Covid-19 is wider than we initially thought and the death rates as a percentage are lower than first anticipated.

According to current statistics, the risk of death increases with increasing age. This may be due to immunosenescence, a process whereby the immune system declines and becomes more compromised as we age.

A common factor contributing to poor immunity in the aged is under optimal nutrition, inflammation caused by refined carbs and seed oils, and vitamin D deficiency. The latter ranks as one of the more common deficiencies underlying vulnerability to chest (respiratory tract) infections. Vitamin D is also a known modulator of inflammation. The current lock-down situation also means more vulnerable people, especially the elderly, do not get enough natural sunlight. Recently researchers from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College in Dublin released a report on Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland – implications for COVID-19. It highlights the fact that 1 in 8 adults in Ireland are deficient all year round and 27% of adults over 70 who are cocooning during Coronavirus are Vitamin D deficient.

In Ireland, our bodies can only produce Vitamin D from UV light from the sun between late Match and late September each year.

Currently, over 91% of older adults 55+ do not take a supplement during the winter. People who are obese, physically inactive, have asthma or chronic lung disease are at greater risk. The TILDA researchers reinforce that Vitamin D is a potent immune modifying micronutrient. If vitamin D status is sufficient, it could benefit vulnerable adults, particularly those 70+ years and older who are ‘cocooning’ during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to a recent study of 99 countries by the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity is the biggest Covid-related risk factor for death in those aged under 50. By examining hospitalisation rates against age and underlying conditions, the CDC discovered that in the 18-49-year age range, almost 60% of patients were obese, making it the most critical risk.

Obesity and more specifically, diseases associated with metabolic syndrome are associated with a significant increase in mortality. Although age is the greatest risk factor, obesity is detrimental because excess body fat is thought to cause a dysregulated immune system that exposes us to greater infections. 

Aged man with manometer cuff around his arm

Before COVID-19, it is well established in the medical literature that poor diet is responsible globally for more disease and death than physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol combined – with 11 million deaths a year attributed specifically to poor diet. Many of the co-morbidities (obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure leading to heart disease) are all rooted in a poor diet. Even at a normal weight, eating too much processed foods negatively impacts gut health resulting in chronic inflammation. In many respects, COVID-19 may be as much of a lifestyle disease as a viral disease, and there is a real imperative now to take care of your health as a personal survival strategy.

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