19 May Obesity and Your Immune Health
In these days of the Covid pandemic, we are all looking for ways to increase our chances of either avoiding or surviving an infection. The social distancing and other methods currently in use are vital to reducing these odds, but obviously not 100% effective, so at some point we will have to rely on our immune system. One of the many factors which reduce the effectiveness of our immune systems is obesity.
As you already know, obesity is associated with several chronic, debilitating conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and various cancers. Obesity is also associated with the presence of an inflammatory component. This chronic inflammation, in addition to contributing to the above conditions, can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system. It does this by several methods, including reduced cytokine production, altered white blood cell function, and decreased response to antigen stimulation. It is interesting to note that visceral and central obesity (belly fat) have a greater impact on these conditions than does total body fat. It is also interesting to note that there are some recent studies pointing to an altered immune system contributing to the obesity itself. This could lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of obesity depressing the immune system, which could cause more obesity.
An early report out of a New York City hospital system which recently treated 5700 Covid patients states that 42% of those patients were obese based on BMI (Body Mass Index) levels. This percentage is about twice the percentage of obese people in New York City, so that would indicate (and this is very early in the process) that the risk of getting Covid while obese is about double the normal risk.
Other evidence for obesity depressing immune function comes from various population studies. An example is that hospitalized patients who are obese are at higher risk of developing secondary bacterial infections including bacteremia, wound and cathether infections, pneumonia and sepsis. Severe obesity has been determined to be, even without other complicating problems, a risk factor for more severe infection and death from the H1N1 influenza virus. And obesity is also associated with a decreased response to vaccines, leading to higher likelihood of vaccine failure.
Associated with obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. Regular exercise has been tied to better immune function. If regular exercise is not something you have been interested in, it is time to take another look and see if you can come to terms with it since it could make a big difference in how you respond to viral infections including Covid 19 as well as helping you lose weight.
Many of us have been trying to rid ourselves of obesity for years. At this time of increased awareness of infection, it is more critical than ever to take control of our health. If you have struggled with obesity, this could be the best incentive ever to lose weight and exercise more regularly. Not to be too dramatic, but now we know that it could literally be a matter of life and death. There has never been a more opportune, critical time for you to make this happen.