We can all reduce the potential impact of COVID-19 through simple lifestyle changes, says the co-author of a new British Medical Journal article on treating COVID-19 patients with underlying conditions.
AUT pharmacist and metabolic health researcher Dr Catherine Crofts says, swapping sugary drinks for water and cutting back highly processed foods will naturally lower high insulin and blood glucose levels. Both are often common denominators for those with metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes or significant obesity. In overseas populations these people have had a higher risk of poorer COVID-19 outcomes.
In the New Zealand context Māori and Pasifka populations also have a theoretical higher risk due to their higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes, says Dr Crofts.
“Swapping processed foods for kaimoana and other whole foods will also boost your vitamin D and magnesium levels. Overall, this decreases the risk of serious complications from COVID-19 but will also help prevent or manage other metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes,” she says.
The underlying science is discussed in the article, ‘Relationship between hyperinsulinemia, magnesium, vitamin D, thrombosis and Covid-19: Rationale for clinical management’ published in the BMJ Open Heart. In it, Dr Crofts and international researchers propose a management regime for treating COVID-19 patients once hospitalised. This is to place them on a carbohydrate-restricted diet and treating them with vitamin D.
“COVID-19 causes many changes within the body, but especially an increased risk of blood clots in many organs, including the brain and lungs, leading to heart attacks or strokes. If you, or an immediate blood relative, have type 2 diabetes, or central adiposity [excess fat around the abdomen] then your insulin levels are probably high.
“High insulin levels mean your body’s ability to break down these blood clots is impaired. If you have high blood sugars as well, then the chances these blood clots increase. High insulin levels also increase the risk of body-wide inflammation and impairs the healing process. We suspect this is part of the reason why people who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes have suffered more serious complications from COVID-19 infections.”
Dr Crofts says Vitamin D in the bloodstream is necessary for good blood vessel health but carrying excess weight it gets locked away in fat cells and is less available. “We also suggest a magnesium supplement to carry vitamin D and it’s necessary for good cellular health.”
The researchers propose that these measures may help hospitalised patients but should also help people suffering at home with COVID symptoms. Dr Crofts says if started early enough they may even help lessen COVID-19 severity and/or complications even before the infection is caught.
Crofts and colleagues were investigating the relationship between high insulin levels and bone health.
“We kept seeing parallels between our research on type 2 diabetes and COVID, especially with the ways COVID-19 was causing death, such as through increased blood clot formation and inflammatory responses, so we investigated.”