Each day we learn more about COVID-19. The pattern in those more at risk is becoming quite clear. People who aren’t metabolically healthy (i.e., obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension) are much more likely to experience severe complications if they become infected with the virus. Seemingly young and “healthy” people are also coming down with the illness as well (more on this below).
In fact, we know that just 1 out of 8 Americans are considered metabolically unhealthy causing them to be increasingly at risk of becoming ill from a COVID-19 infection. Many countries around the world are also dealing with the same problem of many citizens being metabolically unhealthy and obese increasing the rates of people developing significant health complications from a COVID-19 infection. One of the biggest reasons for the increased health risk is the global spread of ultra-processed food and sedentary lifestyles.
Sadly, many people don’t realize that they can prevent chronic disease through everyday choices linked to diet, quality sleep, and being physically active. Without these three lifestyle factors, we ultimately miss out on valuable protective measures that give us greater immunity and life expectancy. So while we all hope and wait for a coronavirus vaccine (which is doubtful to happen within the next year), it may be best to focus on what we can do right now to support our health.
This is especially true for children, who can also carry and transmit COVID-19. While fewer children appear to become infected by the coronavirus than adults, most only develop mild symptoms. Although rare, some children are developing severe symptoms requiring mechanical breathing support.
This past week, New York City health authorities warned of additional signs and symptoms of the virus. Specifically, children ages 2 to 15, may experience persistent fever and elevated inflammatory markers, similar to a syndrome known as Kawasaki disease. More than half had a body rash, abdominal discomfort, vomiting or diarrhea. Fewer than half had respiratory symptoms, which is a hallmark feature in adults who are severely ill. Despite five children who required mechanical ventilation, at the time of this writing, none have died.
Remember, these numbers are very small, and I want to stress that the vast majority of children infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or none at all. But this points to the possibility of an underlying inflammatory condition that may be caused by something other than the virus. In other words, if your child already has a high inflammatory load that goes undetected, it may lead to pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome (which is strikingly similar to Kawasaki disease).
Inflammation of this nature, particularly of the blood vessels throughout the body, leads to the development of a serious heart condition that requires treatment in an intensive care unit. Because the blood vessels are affected systemically, another sign to look out for is unusual redness in the eyes. Low oxygen levels also cause a bluish appearance on the lips, for example.
While there’s no cure to COVID-19 or Kawasaki disease, doctors have been successful in using tools such as anticoagulants and antibodies to help most children recover. So, what can we do to prevent such an adverse outcome if infected?
We can all start changing our risk profile today by creating a newfound health baseline. Below are tips to help all ages make delicious, healthy choices for building greater resilience to tackle future infections.
Hydrate: Aim to drink filtered water equal to half a person’s body weight in ounces (80 lb child = 40 oz or 5 cups) as their daily target. Water is important to every organ system in the body since it makes up 90% of every cell. Be sure to increase your daily water target for exercising more and being outside on warm days.
Food Is Medicine: “eat a rainbow” meaning a variety of colorful unprocessed fruits and vegetables. They are rich in antioxidants that destroy damaging free radicals responsible for weakening our immune systems and inciting so much of the inflammatory damage previously mentioned. When produce is processed, it has lost all of its nutritious value. For example, when you have a fruit-flavored granola bar, breakfast cereal, microwaved or frozen vegetable pasta dish, it will hurt your immune system and increase risk of metabolic diseases and obesity.
Add Mushrooms to your meals: Mushrooms are an amazing superfood, providing us with vitamin D3, among other things. Experiment with a variety of mushrooms to see which ones your kids and you like. Add thin mushroom slices to soups, stir fry, or just sauté them as a side dish.
Cook With Vegetable Broth (not bone, chicken, or beef broth): It is just like having vegetable tea without exposing yourself to high concentrations of heavy metals (i.e., arsenic) in animal bone based broths. Consider drinking it first thing in the morning. Use vegetable broths in your cooking for its rich easily absorbed mineral and micronutrient content which supports gut health and our immunity.
Avoid Simple Sugars and Processed Food: Blood tests routinely show evidence of a diminished immunity within 30 minutes of eating simple sugars (like glucose, refined sugar, and fructose), and results in a 50% reduction in your white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs. Conversely, keeping blood sugar levels steady has been shown to enhance immunity.
Try Nasal Washes: They are salt water solutions you send up one nostril and have it come out the other nostril (along with dried mucus, allergens, and the viral particles you want to banish). Simply irrigate your and your children’s nasal passages at the end of every day, after any exposure (at work, school, playgroups, on public transportation, plane trips, etc.). In addition to regular hand washing, daily and frequent saline nasal washing is an important way you can protect against viral infections. After a viral exposure, germs need to multiply in the nasal passages for at least 1 to 2 days before any symptoms develop. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place. There is a wide variety of products available on the market to do the job. My favorites are Nasopure, Neti Pot or Xlear nasal spray.
As a general rule, do not share nasal wash bottles! Invite your child to watch you irrigate your own nose once you’ve got the hang of it, and when it’s their turn, be sure to give them as much autonomy as you can. Be patient! Water in the nose may feel uncomfortable and take some time to get used to.
There is a lot of concern, discussion, and confusion at the moment regarding how best to support your immune system and stay safe going forward.
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