Why do some people get sicker than others from COVID-19?
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Why do some people get sicker than others from COVID-19?

COVID-19 is proving to be a disease of the immune system. This could, in theory, be controlled.

There’s a big difference in how people handle this virus, which is very unusual. This degree of uncertainty has less to do with the virus itself than how our bodies respond to it. As doctors put it: “that’s not the virus; that’s the host.”

Variation in immune responses between people is due to much more than age or chronic disease. “Obesity and poor diet is emerging as one of the biggest risk factors for a severe response to Covid-19 infection that can no longer be ignored.” – Tim Spector, Professor of genetic epidemiology, King’s College, London and author of the Diet Myth.

Resent research shows that falling into an obese category increases not only the risk of a many diseases, including heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes, but also makes people more ill with Covid-19 (1,2). Obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome associated with an up to 10-fold increase risk in death from COVID-19.


According to Dr. Aseem Malhotra, “72.7% of patients admitted to ICU are overweight or obese and those with the related metabolic syndrome have a tenfold increase in mortality from the virus”. “Looking at all the data, it is irrefutable that metabolic disease is the leading cause of mortality from Covid-19. This covers much of what we are already being told, that outcomes for patients suffering from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are far worse than in otherwise healthy adults. What is not being spelled out is that poor diet and obesity is behind this.

Scientific evidence has been mounting up to support these findings. As of May 9th, there are 81 articles in the academic database PubMed on Covid-19 and obesity!

"33% of obese patients had a greater risk of dying compared with non-obese"

In a study of nearly 17,000 hospital patients with Covid-19 in the UK, those who were obese - with a body mass index (BMI) of > 30 - had a 33% greater risk of dying compared to non-obese (3).

Another study of NHS health records showed a doubling of the risk of dying from Covid-19 among obese patients. If other health conditions linked to obesity such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes were also counted in the risk would be even higher, the researchers said (4).

And a study of critically ill patients in UK ICUs found that nearly 34.5% were overweight, 31.5% were obese and 7% morbidly obese (a total of 73%), compared to 26% with a healthy BMI (5).

Why is being obese a risk?

The more weight you are carrying, the more fat your body has, the less fit you are and the lower your lung capacity. This means it is much more difficult to get oxygen into the blood and around the body into your cells. The total body blood flow is affected.

What role do fat cells play?

The main way for Covid-19 to enter the body is through an enzyme called ACE2, which is present in cells. Higher number of this enzyme is thought to be found in fatty tissue, under the skin and around their organs.

That could be one reason they have a higher risk of catching the virus and a higher risk of being ill with it.

Is the immune system affected too?

Moreover, the ability of the body to fight off the virus i.e. their immune response - is not as efficient in obese people.

This is because of inflammation driven by immune cells, which take over our fat tissue and interfere with how our cells respond to infection (6).

"Science shows that we can lose 2-3 times more weight with a gene-based diet"


What can I do to be healthy?

International experts in medicine, dietetics and nutrition call for immediate update on public health messaging to reduce obesity to rapidly lower the risk of COVID-19 complications and potentially save hundreds and thousands of lives.

We all know that the best way to lose weight is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. However, we also know that everyone is unique and not one diet works for everyone. Scientific studies show that if you put a thousand people on the same weight-loss diet, you’ll see a range of outcomes. Some people will lose a lot, some will lose a little, and a few will even gain weight.


Genetic testing offers us a shortcut – our genes influence how we metabolise macronutrients including carbohydrates and fats and can help us determine what macronutrient ratio will be most effective for you to apply in order to achieve weight loss faster and more effectively. For example, DNA results may show that you have a high sensitivity to carbohydrates in your diet, which means that you will get faster weight loss on a low carbohydrate diet.

There are a wide variety of genes associated with carbohydrate sensitivity. We combine your individual genetic test results which helps us measure where you fall on the sensitivity scale. This will tell you how many refined carbohydrates you can eat per day for optimal weight management.

How to choose the best diet for your body

Genetic science does show that diet and exercise programs can be enhanced and optimized when they are based upon a proper understanding of a person’s specific genotype. Don't get stuck in the yo-yo dieting cycle. Ditch fad diets and stop going through a lot of trial and error, our DNA test can reveal how your body responds to specific nutrients and, consequently, uncover your optimal diet type. This helps you reach your weight loss goals and maintain a healthy weight, giving you a sustainable, long-term solution. Science shows that we can lose 2-3 times more weight with a gene-based diet compared to a traditional diet, moreover it results in better compliance and longer-term BMI reduction (7).

Olga Hamilton
Head of Nutrition and Nutrigenetic Science at here at Nutri-Genetix
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