As we learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become increasingly perplexing why some people who contract the virus have severe symptoms or lose their life — while others have mild symptoms or none at all.

I explained what the scientists are now beginning to discover with KRON 4 News anchor, Marty Gonzalez.

Blood Sugar Can Predict Likelihood of Death

Researchers found blood glucose impacts your immune response to COVID-19.

In a study of patients in Wuhan, China, the hospitalized COVID-19 patients with the highest blood sugar levels had the worst outcomes, and it was predictive of their likelihood of dying from the virus.

Blood Glucose Throws the Immune Response Out of Balance

Prolonged high blood sugar causes chronic inflammation in addition to the general damage to cells and tissues.

Researchers found that people with a dysfunctional immune response to COVID-19 (and other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS) have immune cells that respond in an inflammatory way resulting in severe inflammation and life-threatening symptoms.

When your immune system is trying to fight off invaders, it must strike a balance between increasing the number of anti-inflammatory cells and pro-inflammatory immune cells (the white blood cells and antibodies that help to protect and heal).

Researchers found that blood glucose can throw the immune system way out of balance. It overreacts by releasing too many pro-inflammatory immune cells while suppressing too few anti-inflammatory cells.

This out-of control immune overreaction, also known as the cytokine storm, often ends in death from COVID-19 due to excessive inflammation and tissue damage (organ failure).

This is when the immune response is as destructive as the virus itself.

Blood sugar can throw the immune system way out of balance by releasing too many pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Ethnicities at Increased Risk of Death from Covid-19

Several studies have shown African Americans and South Asians are at an increased risk of death from COVID-19.

Possible reasons may be due to their ethnic differences in how they metabolize glucose.

  • African Americans: 60% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.
  • South Asians: Up to 6X more likely to have diabetes than the general population.

NOTE: Further studies in the U.S. also showed a link between high blood sugar levels (in patients with and without diabetes) and the dangerous inflammatory response to COVID-19 which progresses the disease.

Risks for Overweight, Healthy Weight, and Younger Age Persons

  • Even people who are young and healthy, yet overweight, have a higher risk of being hospitalized with serious symptoms. 
  • Unhealthy blood sugar responses are associated with being overweight, but the studies show that people at a healthy weight can still have a dysfunctional immune response which increases their likelihood of contracting COVID-19.
  • People who have diseases linked to diet (e.g., cardiovascular disease and diabetes) have an increased risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19.

Use Exercise to Improve Blood Sugar Control and Immunity

A stronger immune system will improve your position when fighting the virus.

  • Exercise can lower blood glucose because your working muscles require glucose to perform work.
  • Exercise increases circulation. White blood cells and antibodies circulate more rapidly and detect and target microbes sooner.
  • Exercise raises body temperature (working muscles produce heat) which may help kill germs.

Karen’s Fit Tip: If you have increased risk factors, such as blood sugar spikes, you’re African American or South Asian, or overweight, it might be worth considering frequent testing for COVID-19 if you’re frequently exposed to other people.

By catching the coronavirus in its earliest stage (where you have no symptoms), you can hopefully stop activation of the cytokine storm.

*Coming up next on KRON 4 — How to Prevent Blood Sugar Spikes (Thinking Beyond Low Carbs) 

Karen Owoc

Karen Owoc is a certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist specializing in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and lifestyle medicine. Her science-based approach to longevity, nutrition, and muscle health has made her the go-to source for health seekers and medical professionals alike. Karen's best-selling book on functional longevity, "Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100", and her transformative perspective have mended many minds, hearts, and spirits.

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