Sugar Linked to Conditions for COVID-19 Complications
In large part, infected patients’ experiences with COVID-19 vary greatly. Some people may spike a fever and feel slower for a few days, and that’s it. Other people require hospitalization and mechanical ventilation. Researchers claim that there are still factors that affect outcomes that are largely unknown.
As the case count rises, our learnings about coronavirus expand, and some reliable factors that affect mortality and severe outcomes have been identified.
Many of those factors, like obesity, the status of your heart, and your body’s inflammation response, can be tied back to one element that you can control: your sugar consumption.
With limited but growing body of research about COVID-19, here are a few of the factors that we know lead to a more severe coronavirus infection, and can be altered in your favor by simply reducing or eliminating your sugar consumption.
Obesity is a factor for complications from COVID-19.
Obesity is one of the major factors that account for higher mortality rates from COVID-19 in Italy as compared to China, and is one of the overall risk factors for complications from coronavirus. It was found that SARS-Cov-2 readily binds with a specific enzyme receptors (ACE2) that are plentiful in fat tissue, which gives the virus what it needs to replicate.
It is well-established that sugar consumption and obesity are inextricably linked. Several studies (here, here, and here) indicate that reducing sugar consumption can substantially reduce body weight. It’s not that simple, though. Sugar turns on the seeking mechanisms in your brain and can be even more addictive than cocaine. The more you have, the more you want. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, and a lot of people find it easier to eliminate sugar completely, rather than cutting back.
Fructose is especially concerning.
Even fructose, the kind of sugar that comes from fruit and concentrated sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup, causes lipogenesis — the creation of new fat cells in your body. Fructose breaks down in the small intestine, instead of the liver, where glucose breaks down. Since it is highly concentrated in manufactured foods like sweetened beverages and candy, the small intestine often has a hard time keeping up. Your body handles the overflow by sending it to the liver where it is converted into fat.
Fructose also noticeably tanks your energy because it drains adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in your cells, which is the compound that fuels every process in your body. Low energy leads to a slowed metabolism, plus you may feel too tired for physical activity – both of which perpetuate the obesity cycle.
The good news: depending on where you’re starting, ditching sugar could have a significant impact on your weight. That doesn’t mean you have to give up sweets. Guiltlessly indulge in these recipes, all containing zero sugar.
COVID-19, heart damage, and sugar’s connection.
Some coronavirus patients have suffered heart injuries related to the disease, sometimes with permanent damage, and past medical history of cardiovascular disease has been identified as a risk factor for heart damage from COVID-19.
Sugar consumption and heart problems go hand-in-hand. Spiking your blood sugar by eating sugary foods increases your risk of heart disease, as does drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. High blood sugar also increases platelet adhesiveness which can lead to heart problems. Having an overactive inflammation response from sugar consumption is a double-whammy – it increases your susceptibility to breathing trouble from COVID-19, and excess inflammation also contributes to cardiovascular disease which can put you at risk for heart damage.
Sugar wipes out your body’s immune defenses.
For various reasons, blood sugar control has a key role in the outcome of a coronavirus infection. Studies show that a modern Western diet results in a weakened immune state, preventing your white blood cells from working properly. Consuming excess sugar, specifically, caused the immune system to overreact in fruit flies, which leads to damaging inflammation. Just 75g of sugar was enough to reduce the ability of neutrophils, specific bacteria-fighting cells, to attack bacteria. For reference, a 12oz caramel blended coffee beverage from the coffee shop can have around 46g of sugar, so it’s not difficult to reach those thresholds.
A healthy immune response depends on a strong, diverse microbiome as well. Mice fed a high-sugar diet showed reduced biodiversity in the gut, which affects the ability of friendly gut bacteria to help fight off infections. Diet changes in humans rapidly affect the microbiome, which could go either way – a better diet results in positive changes, and poor choices quickly create a weaker profile of gut bacteria.
In addition to weakening your body’s immune response, an altered microbiome can also lead to an overactive immune response, which leads to inflammation and can cause your immune system to attack healthy tissues. On the other hand, a healthy diet low in refined sugars protects against inflammatory diseases.
Your body’s inflammation response impacts your lungs.
Your body’s inflammation response is part of your body’s overall immunity strategy, but an overactive inflammation response can cause irreversible damage. In coronavirus patients, scientists observe that an excessive inflammation response is strongly associated with disease severity – there are the highest numbers of cytokines (inflammatory proteins) in patients who struggle the most. Doctors even shift from treating the infection to reducing the body’s inflammation response at a certain inflection point in disease progression.
The best line of defense is to have an inflammation response that is well-regulated: active when it needs to be, inactive when there is no injury and infection, and doesn’t hyperactivate in the presence of an injury or illness. Scientists were able to measure an overactive inflammatory response in patients with the most severe cases of coronavirus.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to your body’s ability to regulate its own inflammation response. A big one is sugar consumption. A sugary treat every once in a blue moon may not ruin your immune response, but habitual sugar consumption may. Sugar consumption is associated with increased inflammation, and even just a few weeks of elevated sugar consumption increases fat in your blood, which increases insulin production and contributes to problems like inflammation dysregulation. Even habitual, low to moderate sugary beverage consumption has been linked to increased inflammation.
Sugar consumption itself has been identified as something that increases susceptiblity to inflammation in the airways, which is exactly what you want to avoid with a COVID-19 infection.Fructose also contributes to insulin resistance, which can throw off your inflammation response.