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A Science-Backed Action Plan for COVID-19

coIt’s been close to a year since the first known case of COVID-19 was identified, yet remarkable scientific research has followed suit regarding this pernicious disease. Much of the research unequivocally illustrates that preventable lifestyle-based conditions can improve your chances of recovering from the novel coronavirus should you become exposed.

The majority of Americans are focused on measures like wearing masks or sequestering themselves from friends and family. While this approach is crucial in preventing the spread of the disease, it doesn't protect you should you become infected from this virus. If you’d like to proactively prepare your body, we suggest taking an evidence-based approach to build up your immune system in a way that equips you to mount a strong fight against any pathogen. At its core, InsideTracker is about taking control of your health and improving it by taking action through tactical, science-based strategies. We’re here to help with what’s within your control, using science, statistics, and a battle plan.

 

Science-backed strategies to fight COVID-19

Some viruses have been successfully eradicated by vaccines (e.g., Polio, Smallpox), while others have evaded our best efforts to produce an effective universal solution (e.g., flu, HIV). One thing remains clear, though: safe and effective vaccines take time to develop and get introduced to the public at large. But the virulence of SARS-CoV-2 can’t be ignored while vaccines are developed. In the meantime, several research-backed measures can proactively protect our body and support our immune system’s ability to fight the disease should you become infected.[1] 

Pharmaceutical drugs aside, a healthy immune system is the most potent weapon we have against SARS-Cov-2, a healthy immune system starts with good physical health—an evidently very difficult goal for most Americans. Research shows that your lifestyle decisions will determine how you fare against a COVID-19 infection. Read on for some factors that can significantly modify your risk of serious complications and even death from this virus. 

 

Healthy body weight reduces risk of hospitalization from COVID

Having an overweight or obese body weight increases the likelihood of a more severe COVID-19 illness.[2-4] According to current statistics, that places 72% of Americans at risk for poor COVID-related outcomes! [5] A systematic review examining 75 studies found that people with an obese body weight are twice as likely to face hospitalization from COVID compared to those at a healthy weight, and almost twice as likely to end up in the intensive care unit.[6] Studies now indicate that both the excess body fat and the comorbidities associated with obesity contribute to these outcomes. Excess fat on the body generates low-grade systemic inflammation that affects the immune system over time.

Furthermore, obesity also puts you at a greater risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, all of which put someone at greater risk for severe illness from the virus, according to the CDC.[7] Therefore, a chronically-ill individual faces systemic inflammation, a more compromised immune system, and a higher susceptibility to COVID-19.[2-4] Chronic inflammation is also frequently accompanied by micronutrient deficiencies (e.g.vitamin D), which can further weaken the immune system.[8-9]

 

Discover your baseline

Regular exercise helps to mitigate inflammation and improve immune response

The current guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intense exercise per week, yet only 30% of Americans meet this standard, and less than 5% get 30 minutes of daily exercise.[10] Less exercise tends to lead to a slower metabolism and an increased risk of inflammation. Staying physically active helps maintain a strong immune system and a healthy body weight, and increases your chances of being more resistant to infection or complications should you become infected.[11-13] In fact, a recent study reported that those with better cardiovascular fitness were less likely to be hospitalized when infected with SARS-CoV-2. [14].  It’s important to note that overdoing it isn’t helpful either—evidence indicates that too much intense exercise may weaken the immune system and increase the chances of infection.[15-16] 

 

A nutrient-dense diet and targeted supplementation can improve immune response

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in sugars, fats, and processed ingredients, and the majority of Americans do not eat the recommended amount of fruit, vegetables, or fiber. The SAD also lacks essential micronutrients that our bodies need to maintain immunocompetence—aka a strong immune system.[17-19] The key players include vitamins A, C, D, B9 (folate), B6, and B12, and trace minerals zinc, iron, selenium, and copper. Many of these nutrients help strengthen epithelial barriers (like our gut and respiratory lining) and contribute to cellular (i.e., innate) and humoral (i.e., adaptive) immune responses. 

While some studies show that supplementation of various vitamins or minerals can elicit antiviral effects, blindly taking mega-doses of these micronutrients may cause potentially harmful imbalances in the body, particularly if you're not clinically deficient in the nutrient.[20-21] Before taking the easier route of visiting the supplement aisle of your local pharmacy or health food store, focus on improving your diet and look at your micronutrient status through blood testing to verify which nutrients you may actually need. A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds may help with both weight loss and inflammation, including reducing the cytokine Il-6—an inflammatory marker implicated with poor COVID-19 outcomes.[22-27]

 

Inadequate sleep can impair immune response and increase inflammation

According to the CDC, one in three Americans don’t get enough sleep even though adequate sleep is vital to maintain a strong immune system.[41] Consistent sleep deprivation may impair your response to pathogens and potentially increase the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (markers of inflammation). On the other hand, too much sleep will not prevent an infection and may adversely affect immune function.[42-44] Activity trackers aren’t just for step count—some can also provide important insights into sleeping patterns. 

 

Blood & physiological markers related to immunity 

Instead of blindly guessing whether you're eating or supplementing correctly to stave off COVID-19, start by assessing your individual needs conveyed through blood tests, DNA insights, and even your activity tracker. 

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

The CBC provides a high-level picture of your blood, including various types of immune cells such as lymphocytes and neutrophils—key players in the first line of defense against a pathogen like SARS-CoV-2.[28] Out-of-range markers measured in the CBC panel may indicate a more serious condition or nutritional deficiency with the potential to affect your immune system.covid 19

Folate and B12

These vitamins enhance natural killer cell activity, an important antiviral defense [29-30], and some speculation infers that B12 may also have specific inhibitory effects on Sars-CoV-2.[31-33] Ensuring both of these vitamins are optimal through blood testing will help fine-tune your immune system to respond appropriately.

hsCRP (inflammation marker) 

Because over 125 million Americans live with chronic inflammatory disease (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular disease), the same number is also in a state of chronic inflammation.[34] High baseline hsCRP indicates an inflammatory state, which can increase your susceptibility to and aggravate COVID-19 infection. High inflammation may also suggest that your gut health and microbial diversity is compromised.[35-36] Some experts estimate that some 70% of the immune system resides in the gut—and therefore, a compromised microbiome may weaken your ability to fight infection.

Iron and ferritin

Anemia and iron metabolism play an important role in the complications associated with severe COVID-19.[37-38] Optimal iron and ferritin (an iron storage molecule) levels are critical in reducing disease severity should you become infected. However, once again, avoid going straight to the supplement aisle— excessive iron levels can actually contribute to more inflammation.[39] 

Vitamin D

Multiple studies now associate higher vitamin D levels with improved COVID-19 outcomes, yet an estimated 1 billion people across the world exhibit low levels of this vital hormone.[8-9] It’s also well-established that vitamin D has a direct effect on the immune system—it modulates concentrations of many different types of white blood cells, thereby directly influencing your ability to fight off an infection.[40] Like other nutrients, blind supplementation is not the answer. Checking your blood levels can provide insights into the most efficient course of correction, i.e., through sunlight, food, or supplements (and their dosages). 

 

A personalized dashboard for your battle plan

A battle plan starts with knowledge and self-reliance. InsideTracker’s Ultimate Plan, which includes an analysis of 43 blood biomarkers, provides both higher-level and more granular indicators of the status of your health and immune system. To be clear, InsideTracker will not reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 but it can help you improve your health when it comes to fighting infections like COVID-19. The Ultimate Plan paints a complete picture of where you stand and allows you to dig deeper toward fine-tuning particular immune parameters that may indicate susceptibility to infections. Combine this plan with InsideTracker’s DNA testing, and you’ll have an even deeper insight into your health and genetic predispositions. 

During onboarding with InsideTracker, you'll be prompted to select a goal, ranging from Boost Immunity to Lose Fat to Sleep Better. After a simple blood test, InsideTracker’s algorithm examines up to 43 of your blood biomarkers, pinpointing your weakest areas and addressing them with science-based personalized recommendations. These recommendations cover various topics in the fields of nutrition, exercise, supplements, and lifestyle. 

If you select Lose Fat as your goal, you’ll receive specific recommendations on the foods and dietary patterns to incorporate into your diet that simultaneously work to improve out-of-range metabolic markers like glucose, cholesterol, and inflammation—all while addressing your overarching goal to lose body fat. Choosing Boost Immunity will prioritize recommendations to improve biomarkers linked to immunity like vitamin D, hsCRP,  and ferritin. A low vitamin D value may populate a supplement protocol, whereas a high hsCRP may generate an exercise recommendation. All recommendations consider your current habits, preferences, and bloodwork data, making them ultra-personalized to you.

You can take it a step further with fitness trackers, DNA insights, and InnerAge. If you have a fitness tracker like Fitbit, you can connect it to your InsideTracker account to receive recommendations related to your sleep quality and resting heart rate, both of which rely on fitness tracker data. For example, by combining information from your blood (e.g. magnesium status) and your sleep patterns (e.g. sleep data from activity tracker), InsideTracker will deliver additional insights and recommendations tailored to you (see photo to the left).  

An InsideTracker DNA Kit will uncover any health-related genetic predispositions. If you discover you have an elevated potential for high glucose levels, InsideTracker will guide along that slightly steeper hill to climb toward optimal levels. 

Lastly, through InsideTracker’s InnerAge, you can see how well your body is working and how well it should be working, given your chronological age. InnerAge provides a complete understanding of the body’s aging process by accounting for factors and biomarkers most strongly linked to healthspan. A younger, healthier InnerAge can further improve your overall health.

 

Committing to your battle plan

Committing to a plan is arguably the biggest hurdle to achieve long-term results. Psychology and behavioral science demonstrate that the path to meeting our goals is built of small, incremental steps. When planning to reach a goal, it's vital to adopt the mentality that little changes matter—and add up to significant results. For example, one study found that running for just 5 or 10 minutes per day leads to better heart health and a reduced risk of all-cause mortality. This approach applies to much more than just exercise. Even a single healthy decision or swap can significantly change the course of your health outcomes later in life if done consistently over time. By providing you with daily check-ins and reminders, InsideTracker imparts the motivation and accountability needed to develop long-lasting results. 

You can monitor your progress with check-ins confirming whether you completed the actions on your plan for a given day. Studies show that people are more receptive to change when they can track their data and visualize their progress.[45] Checking-in serves as a way to automate your healthy actions that will later translate into significant changes in your health and quality of life. Moreover, InsideTracker also offers reminders to hold you accountable for your daily actions. Tell us whether you prefer email or text, how often, and when, and InsideTracker will remind you to stay focused on your goal.

Last but not least, the most effective way to use InsideTracker is through regular re-testing. Periodically measuring our blood biomarkers can provide the objective analysis and opportunity to correct small imbalances or issues before they become larger problems. It also gives us the chance to continually fine-tune our bodies, so they run at optimal potential. 

At this point, the harsh reality is that COVID-19 still poses an existential threat to many Americans. A widely-distributed vaccine is still months away, and cases are increasing in all 50 states. Your best bet against a severe COVID-19 infection is and always has been a healthy body and lifestyle. With a little hard work and help from InsideTracker, you can proactively take control of your health and get your body into fighting shape against COVID-19.

 

 

 

References

[1] https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12102992

[2] https://doi.org/10.1002/erv.2770

[3] https://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-8587(20)30238-2

[4] https://doi.org/10.1002/dmrr.3377

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm

[6] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/obr.13128

[7] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html

[8]  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-020-0661-0

[9] doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19722

[10] https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html

[11] https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.00763

[12] https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199927020-00001

[13] http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.34.4.246

[14] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2020.10.003

[15] http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.34.4.246

[16]  http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.28.4.247

[17] https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-61

[18] https://doi.org/10.1513/AnnalsATS.201703-255AW 

[19] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.immuni.2019.09.020

[20]  https://doi.org/10.31665/JFB.2020.10222

[21] https://doi.org/10.1017/S000711452000330X

[22] 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.710699

[23] 10.2174/1871530314666140922153350

[24] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaut.2020.102452

[25] 10.1126/science.abb8925

[26] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2020.105954

[27] 10.1007/s10067-020-05190-5

[28] 10.1007/s12026-020-09137-5

[29] https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/132.6.1361

[30] https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/71.2.590

[31] 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.08.007

[32]10.1002/iub.2359

[33] https://doi.org/10.30574/gscbps.2020.11.3.0155

[34] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/

[35] https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-020-0597-4

[36] https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12506

[37] https://doi.org/10.1186/s13054-020-03051-w

[38] https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9082429

[39]  10.22541/au.158880283.34604328

[40] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471489210000378

[41] https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

[42]https://doi.org/10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0

[43] https://doi.org/10.1038/nri1369

[44] https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05300.x

[45] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/