While no one can predict the ultimate toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on society at large, emerging research does suggest there may be measures we can all take to help maximize our preparedness. Over the past few weeks, we've talked about some of these steps and how they can support your immunity and overall wellbeing during this time. However, yet another piece of the puzzle may lie in your genes, as they impact your predisposition for varying risk factors surrounding COVID-19. Here are a few key immunity-related aspects of your genetic code.
Genetic scores can quantify your predisposition for baseline inflammationHigh-sensitivity CRP (hsCRP) and white blood cells (WBC) are two good markers of inflammation throughout the body. They're mostly affected by things like diet, exercise, supplements, and other lifestyle factors, but your genetic scores for these markers can add a level of insight. In fact, genetic scores for hsCRP and WBC can quantify your DNA's contribution to your baseline inflammation levels—the amount of inflammation in your body regardless of your lifestyle. And getting this understanding can help you make important decisions for your health. That is, if your hsCRP and/or WBC genetic potential scores indicate that you're predisposed for higher levels of inflammation, you may need to be a bit more aggressive in offsetting them with things like diet and exercise.
Glucose dysregulation is associated with poorer COVID-19 prognosesOver the past few weeks, we've highlighted ways to manage fasting glucose, a measure of your blood sugar after an overnight fast. And though lifestyle choices like diet and exercise make all the difference for blood glucose measures, there's also an important genetic component at play—and it's for this reason that glucose dysregulation diseases like type 2 diabetes (T2D) tend to run in families.
Fasting glucose regulation is particularly important amidst the current pandemic—it's become abundantly clear that chronic metabolic conditions such as T2D (for which elevated fasting glucose is a hallmark) are associated with poorer COVID-19 prognosis. And though you can't change your genetic predisposition for elevated glucose, you can identify how your deck is stacked—and make important lifestyle decisions accordingly.
Magnesium is key for quality sleep, one of your strongest assets for immunityResearch shows that sleep is one of the most critical factors in your immune cells' ability to respond to a foreign invader. And though there are multiple factors that play into a good night's sleep, magnesium appears to be a critical component, as it helps bring you to a relaxed state so that you're ready to fall asleep. If your magnesium level is low, you may have trouble falling asleep, your sleep may be more restless, or you may wake more often. If your genetic potential suggests that your blood may naturally run low on this important mineral, supplementation may be of value to improve your sleep.
Blood pressure is highly heritable and associated with COVID-19 susceptibilityBlood pressure is a highly heritable trait, and recent reports have consistently associated COVID-19 susceptibility with hypertension (high blood pressure). But aside from doctor visits (which are few and far between these days), many of us don't regularly measure it. A one-time DNA test can quantify your predisposition for high blood pressure, which can either highlight this problem area—and help you make decisions about relevant lifestyle factors like salt in your diet—or provide some peace of mind.
Both high and low testosterone levels may pose a risk for infectionThus far, it appears that men may be more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 than women. And while there are many confounding factors that must be teased out before we can confirm this, some reports suggest androgens (of which testosterone is a key member) may enable the priming of the characteristic coronavirus "spike" that the virus uses to attach to human cells. In other words, it appears higher levels of testosterone may, in part, enable SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Interestingly, low androgen levels such as those associated with old age or T2D may also be associated with a poorer COVID-19 prognosis, so we can't conclude that high or low testosterone levels are associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes. Instead, keeping testosterone within an optimal range is likely the best approach. Like the other markers in this article, testosterone levels have a genetic component, and knowing your genetic potential can be key for maintaining levels within an optimal range.
Vitamin D is critical for an immune system working at full capacityVitamin D deficiency is associated with higher levels of inflammation and hsCRP levels, which compromises the immune system's capacity to defend against pathogens like this novel coronavirus. The deficiency of this vitamin is highly heritable, so knowing your genetic potential for being deficient is key for ensuring that your defenses against coronavirus are as strong as they can be.
Genetic scores that can impact your risk of COVID-19
- Baseline inflammation levels (hsCRP and WBC)
- Fasting blood glucose (especially those with T2D)
- Magnesium (critical for sleep)
- Blood pressure
- Testosterone levels (both high and low)
- Vitamin D