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Over the next 12 to 18 months, before a vaccine and effective therapies for the coronavirus become available, millions of us will be infected by the coronavirus. Some estimates suggest that up to 50% of the population will be infected in the next year. When that happens, we all hope that we are in the 80% of people that have the mild form of the disease. This blog focuses on what you can do to help ensure that a mild case includes you, if you contract the virus.

By now, most of us have heard about the risk factors that make it more likely to get a severe form of this illness. Yet despite these risk factors, the healthier you live the better your chance for a milder form of the COVID-19 disease. The most serious risk factors include:

  • People aged 65 years and older
  • Immunocompromised state
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Severe obesity (BMI more than 40)
  • Diabetes
  • Serious heart disease, including hypertension
  • Asthma

Those people who are at high risk for severe disease should follow all the CDC recommendations for social distancing, hygiene, and isolation. This will give scientists time to develop a vaccine and effective treatments for when they become sick.

Yet, some of the common risk factors that increase your risk for severe COVID-19 you can do something about, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Serious heart disease, including hypertension
  • Asthma

Diabetes Increases Your Risk for Severe COVID-19 in a Dramatic Way, Yet You Can Prevent and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes

95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, which is caused by lifestyle choices.

The key steps to improve blood sugar control are to:

1. Avoid sugar and refined carbs (including flour). Most processed foods are loaded with sugar and refined carbs. Now that we are in the middle of the corona pandemic, there has never been a better time to focus on the ingredients that you choose to consume.

2. Follow a Mediterranean Diet which means eating more vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts; using extra-virgin olive oil as your predominate cooking oil; consuming more Mediterranean herbs and spices, and avoiding sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other chemicals found in processed foods. The US News and World Report has named the Mediterranean Diet as the best diet to prevent and treat diabetes 3 years in a row.

3. Adding more activity. All of us need at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily for better blood sugar control, which should include some daily form of aerobic activity plus some form of strength training at least 3 days per week. Both are extra important for blood sugar control.

a. Walking can certainly count as a form of aerobic activity, and in today’s new world this means while maintaining a 6-foot social distance. But as walking is less intense than other forms of exercise, ensure that you walk for at least 60-90 minutes daily.

b. Now that most gyms have been temporarily closed, walking, cycling, and gardening are the easiest forms of activity for us to do. Recently, I have been trying to cycle 5-6 days per week.

From following these basic steps, I feel blessed that I have helped literally thousands of people reverse type 2 diabetes and improve their blood sugar control. Keep in mind that better blood sugar control can make a powerful difference in your immune system’s ability to fight infections.

5% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease that requires insulin products daily for blood sugar control. The better their blood sugar control, the better their immune system functions and the less ill they become when they are sick. All the steps that help people with type 2 diabetes are also helpful for improving control of type 1 diabetes.

Heart Disease and Hypertension

Like type 2 diabetes, many people with heart disease and hypertension can reverse their symptoms and even shrink their arterial plaque with lifestyle changes.

As abnormal blood sugar control is the #1 cause for heart disease, it should not surprise you that the same steps that improve blood sugar control noted above improve your blood pressure control and help to stop and reverse arterial plaque growth. Please see my recent blog on improving blood pressure control without needing medications by clicking here.

Studies have shown that we can prevent 90% of heart disease with the right lifestyle changes. This is the time to take action to reverse heart disease and hypertension!

If You Have Asthma:

Controlling your asthma symptoms decreases your risk for lung complications when you become sick. If you become sick, you will be better off if you optimize your asthma control and lung function in advance. Be sure to have an “Asthma Action Plan” up to date with your medical provider, which includes:

  • Continue your current medications, including any inhalers with steroids in them (“steroids” is another word for corticosteroids).
  • Know how to use your rescue inhaler.
  • Avoid your asthma triggers, which can include dust mites, molds, pets, passive (and active) tobacco exposure, and specific foods.

a. If your doctor has suggested a HEPA filter for your home and you have been avoiding doing this, now is the time.

b. If you need to take dust mite measures, such as getting rid of carpet in your bedroom and adding a dust mite cover for your mattress and pillows, do so.

c. Stay active as able and optimize your lung function as able.

d. If you are exposed to passive tobacco smoke, take steps to avoid it completely.

  • Stay up to date with your physician’s recommendations to optimize your lung function.

Some of the other risk factors that we cannot easily modify include:

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Severe obesity (BMI more than 40)
  • People aged 65 years and older
  • Immunocompromised

With lung and kidney disease, if you smoke, then absolutely stop using tobacco.

The good news for all high-risk people is that your ability to fight infections and minimize their severity will improve nicely with a healthy diet, meeting your essential nutrient needs, staying active and being fit, and managing your stress.

In addition to healthy eating, please remember to optimize your immune function by taking a good quality multivitamin with at least 15 mg of zinc daily, by getting some source of omega-3 fats 2-3 times per week (seafood or either fish oil or DHA from algae), and that you get at least 2000 IU of vitamin D daily.

Even though we are social distancing, do take the time to speak to family and friends frequently. This is not the time to be emotionally isolated. We all need love and support. Reach out by phone, email, Skype, and other forms of communication to stay in close touch with people you love.

Now is the time to optimize the way you take care of yourself. Not only will it reduce your risk for severe COVID-19, but it will improve your energy and quality of life as well.

If you have additional questions, please leave a question in the comment section below so that I can try to help.

I wish you the best of health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN



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