As a functional medicine doctor working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have a few unique perspectives to share. It has become very clear to me that a functional medicine oriented, evidence-informed approach could have broad impact for improving the outcome of COVID-19 for our population.
The coronavirus pandemic forces us to take a hard look and reevaluate so many aspects of our lives, refocus on those we love, and reclaim what is most important to us. As we focus now on self-isolation in order to protect ourselves, we need to consider this as an act of kindness for our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow Americans. But, now, more than ever it is time that we focus intensely on our personal health and well-being.
Here’s why. I’ve seen exactly what this illness can do first hand. You do not want to meet it from a state of ill-health. The facts are sobering. And I wish they were not true. But we need to face them. The faster and smarter we act individually and collectively, the more we can ease the suffering overall. The fact is that the SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus. None of us, and hence none of our immune systems have ever seen it. Experts currently estimate it will infect 40 to 70% of our population. That’s over 150 million Americans. Currently, the stats for infected and symptomatic individuals show about 80% will have mild or no symptoms, 20% will need hospitalization, and 5% will need intensive care. The mortality rates are ultimately subject to debate, but for symptomatic patients who present for health care they range from 0.6% for the young and health, up to 15% in the elderly and those with certain chronic diseases.
But, as we’re finding out here in the US, there’s more bad news. Right now only about 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy. The remaining number includes those with overweight, about 75%; those that are obese, about 42%; and the one out of every two Americans who have pre-diabetes or frank type 2 diabetes. That’s a sobering figure. All of those lives are potentially at elevated risk of more severe disease or death.
Those with chronic underlying diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc) number approximately 6 in every 10 Americans. And those are the individuals with the greatest risk of mortality, often 5 to 10 times that of healthy patients with COVID-19. Obesity alone increases the risk of dying almost 3-fold. That’s what we’re seeing unfold on the frontlines right now in hotspots like New York City. Up to 40% of the hospitalizations have occurred in 20 to 54-year olds, and most of them are obese and overweight. This is serious!
While this sounds terrible, it is something we can change. Right now each of us needs to focus on strengthening our immune systems in order to withstand the challenge of infection from COVID-19. If we do get sick, our odds of pulling through with only a mild illness are much better. And we can avoid further burdening the already taxed healthcare systems.
Furthermore, we can directly focus on finding the root causes of metabolic issues responsible for the epidemic of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. In functional medicine, we understand that the root causes, when identified, may be reversed using a personalized lifestyle and targeted interventions to reverse those upstream causes, and alleviate downstream consequences.
I’ve never had to face such a lethal and stealthy opponent in the entirety of my medical career. And I wish is wasn’t this way and that I didn’t have to write this. But it is, and I do. So keep following this blog as we explore the many ways we can take care of ourselves and our families. Personally, all of the things we’re talking about here are all things that we’ve incorporated personally. We felt that you deserve to have the best information to help yourselves, so we’re letting you in exactly what those things are. Hopefully, these suggestions will guide you and your family through this pandemic safely. Some of our guidance will be based on evidence where it is available. And, unfortunately due to this novel situation we’re in, there’s not much at this point. So we must rely on some measure of common sense and what we can infer may possibly be of benefit, while offering little risk of harm.
Overall, the playing field is very clear. We have the microbe and the host facing off against one another. Ultimately, we can’t entirely control the microbe. It is stealthy and evolved to infect humans with ruthless efficiency. But, what we do have control over is our host response to the infection. And functional medicine is all about the science of creating health, resiliency and ultimately making our system an inhospitable place for disease.
Stay in touch for more to come on what you can do!