The link between excess weight and Covid-19

The obvious and hidden causes of obesity and the safest ways to overcome weight challenges.

In recent months, researchers have confirmed that excess weight or obesity significantly increase the severity of Covid-19 symptoms. In fact, these health challenges are the biggest risk factors for patients under 50.

With many of you already feeling heightened levels of stress, anxiety and fear, reading or hearing about the importance of maintaining a healthy weight at this time may be intensifying these feelings. Our intention is to offer a factual overview of why obesity exacerbates the symptoms of Covid-19, the hidden challenges that can lead to weight gain, and, if required, the support available to help you lose weight healthily, starting from today.

Why obesity?

  • Half of all Hong Kongers aged 15 to 85 are overweight or obese, according to a citywide health survey by the government.
  • Weight gain and blood sugar issues are commonly associated with a fatty liver, which affects around 40% of mature Hong Kong adults.
  • Obesity and fatty liver boosts the risk of Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease and cancer. Historically, these health conditions are proven to increase the risk of severity for all SARS and influenza infected patients. In fact, diabetes was one of the major risk factors for people infected with H1N1 Influenza, SARS and MERS.
  • The immune responses to chronic health issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease cause chronic inflammation in the body. When a person who already has significant inflammation in the body contracts Covid-19, the inflammation can rise to dangerous levels.
  • People with chronic inflammation are predisposed to releasing too many cytokines (inflammatory chemicals) when a virus-related fever comes along. This is called a “cytokine storm” and it is this excess inflammation that makes the Covid infection so much more dangerous.

Are you a person with excess weight or obesity?

For Asians. a BMI (body mass index) between 23-24.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of over 25 indicates obesity.

For westerners, (using the US scale), a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of over 30 indicates obesity.

Calculate your BMI here. 

If you have a BMI over 25, we encourage you to explore ways to lose weight to reduce your inflammation. If you have a BMI of 24 – 27,  aim to lose 5% of your body weight to make a difference. If you have a BMI of 27-32, aim to lose 10% of your body weight.

There are multiple reasons why a person may have excess weight or obesity. If an unhealthy diet and limited exercise are the issue, the most effective approach to weight loss would be to reduce calories from carbohydrate intake, while increasing adequate proteins, healthy fats, vegetables and exercise. By less carbohydrates, we mean no sugar, fruit juice, and sugared soda drinks. Also, reduce your consumption of most of the cereals, bread, rice, pasta and noodles.

Hormone changes can also play a role in increased weight, particularly in the perimenopause years.

Perhaps surprisingly to many, pollution can also cause excess weight challenges. Pollution affects the liver metabolism. It’s commonly indicated by the finding of a fatty liver, especially prevalent if a person is overweight or diabetic.

But, fatty liver disease can also impact people who do not have obesity.

Studies conducted by The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) published in 2017 revealed that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects even the non-obese population. On studies of lean fat liver patients with a BMI under 25, the team discovered 40% of Asians from the Hong Kong community also suffered from fatty liver, with associated risk factors such as high blood sugar levels and signs of inflammation. The team also showed that effective treatment of a fatty liver was linked to weight loss.

As obesity can be caused by any number of issues, it’s important to identify the root causes and treat health challenges accordingly. The research indicates that Inflammation in the body may require repair of the liver, for example, which in turn reduces weight and helps to prevent the development of insulin resistance, inflammation, and blood sugar issues.

Don’t guess, test.

After an in-depth consultation with you, we may find it necessary to delve deeper into potential underlying health issues contributing to excess weight gain. We may recommend comprehensive tests to identify such factors as fatty liver, hormonal imbalances, a prediabetic condition, or inflamed blood vessels.

Here are some of the tests we may suggest:

A simple blood test can help you determine your risk of prediabetes that is commonly associated with being overweight. However, as naturopaths, we recommend the Insulin Response Test, which is generally not offered at a doctor’s clinic. This test checks more carefully for insulin – the hormone that manages blood sugars. “Insulin Resistance” (when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin) can be an early indicator of the risk of diabetes. The Insulin Response Test is conducted in a lab over two hours – after consuming a syrup of glucose, measurements of your blood glucose and blood insulin levels are taken at intervals during the test period.

We also have blood tests to check for hormone challenges related to the thyroid function and estrogen, as well as comprehensive urine tests to determine women’s hormone balance.

When necessary, we can arrange a non-invasive fatty liver scan too. A liver function test can identify pollutant levels and a urine test can identify toxins in your liver.

Can IMI’s naturopaths help you lose weight and minimise your long term-health risks?

Absolutely. As naturopaths, we’re focussed on nutritional and lifestyle factors. We’re trained and experienced in correcting dysfunctional hormonal balance and we’re experts in detoxification and liver correction programs.

We have helped many patients achieve healthy weight loss and we can help you or someone you know too.

Whether it’s a reduced calorie and increased movement programme or a targeted treatment plan to address underlying causes like hormonal imbalances or fatty liver, our naturopaths will take all the factors affecting your weight and wellbeing into a consideration and create a personalised, sustainable plan for optimal health.

[1] Huttunen R, Syrjänen J. Obesity and the risk and outcome of infection, 2013

[2] Honce R, Schultz-Cherry S. Impact of obesity on influenza a virus pathogenesis, immune response, and evolution, 2019

[3] Almond MH, Edwards MR, Barclay WS, Johnston SL. Obesity and susceptibility to severe outcomes following respiratory viral infection, 2013

[4] Dixon AE, Peters U. The effect of obesity on lung function, 2018.

[5] Vincent Wai-Sun Wong et al Beneficial effects of lifestyle intervention in non-obese patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 2018.

[6] The Population Health Survey 2014/15 of the Department of Health

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