It is well known that Covid-19 most cruelly affects people who are already in poor health. Along with advancing age, there is a higher risk of serious illness and death associated with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
What is less often noticed is that most of these conditions are "diet-related illnesses," which in large part are caused by and can be cured by what we eat.
In other words, diet is the biggest coronavirus risk factor that nobody is talking about.
Over the years I have helped hundreds of patients with diet-related diseases lose weight and come off their medication, mainly through diet and lifestyle adjustments. I never expected my medical expertise to be important in a virus pandemic.
But I have come to believe that eating right is the best way to prepare our bodies to fight the coronavirus. The overlap between poor metabolic health and susceptibility to Covid-19 can no longer be ignored.
Dr. Mariela Glandt. Photo: Courtesy
Why is metabolic dysfunction so uniquely harmful to people infected with the coronavirus?
Researchers are still trying to identify the different mechanisms. We know that insulin resistance and obesity generally destroy the immune system. People are more likely to get sick, and when they get sick it is more debilitating.
Fat cells enter the bloodstream and accumulate in the tissues of the immune system, which disrupts the activity of leukocytes, lymphocytes and T cells. Abnormal hormonal function leads to chronic inflammation, which can be especially dangerous when Covid-19 causes a hyperinflammatory response.
All of these changes not only negatively affect the immune response, but also the effectiveness of many vaccines.
Beware of sugar, carbohydrates, seed oils
These malfunctions can be changed with remarkable speed.
One of the most important, but little-known, medical breakthroughs in the past few decades has been the discovery of the hidden links between most metabolic disorders.
Few of my patients, before I saw them, were ever told that symptoms such as excess belly fat, high cholesterol, and hyperglycemia are closely related. In fact, they can all have the same causes, mechanisms, and pathways, and it is difficult to say where one of these conditions ends and another begins.
In recognition of these relationships, avant-garde doctors diagnose patients with three or more signs of a significant metabolic disorder called "metabolic syndrome".
The fact that all of these conditions are related is good news for most patients: we can treat them all with a single strategy.
Diet-related diseases require diet-related solutions, and metabolic diseases are mainly caused by excess sugar, dietary carbohydrates, and seed oils.
Carbohydrates – especially those found in sugars and highly refined grains – lead to enormous spikes in the hormone insulin, the first step in a vicious cycle that leads to insulin resistance and other hormonal imbalances and disorders. Seed oils (often referred to as vegetable oils) like canola and corn oil increase insulin resistance.
Israeli Diet: Healthy Or t?
Many books and articles have hailed the Israeli diet as one of the healthiest in the world. Israel is metabolically healthier than many Western nations, but that doesn't say much.
Almost half of adults in Israel are overweight, at least a third have high blood pressure, and almost a third of 65 to 84 year olds have diabetes. An unacceptably large percentage of our population is at a particularly high risk of death from Covid-19 due to diet-related illnesses.
The local emphasis on fresh vegetables, lean protein and olive oil is a wonderful and very nutritious thing, but Israel is still at the mercy of the global trends that are triggering the double pandemic of diabetes and obesity.
Fast food and American cuisine are on the rise here as elsewhere. We eat too much nutrient-free junk food, foods that are processed and full of sugar and seed oils. We drink too much soda and fruit juice. (Juice is pure sugar, even if it is natural!) Every Israeli, regardless of age or state of health, should reduce the consumption of these metabolically damaging foods.
For adults who are already familiar with metabolic risk factors, certain elements of the otherwise healthy traditional Israeli diet may even be worth checking out.
Think of all that flatbread and all of those dates – what are they besides highly concentrated carbohydrate spikes?
I recommend a more extreme change to my own patients: a very low-carb (or "ketogenic") diet. Very little fruit, no rice, no hummus.
Almost complete avoidance of carbohydrates is the only surefire way to quickly break the vicious circle of insulin spikes and insulin resistance.
My patients enjoy plenty of vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs, meat, olive oil, and dairy products, they lose weight, and their metabolic health is recovering at an extraordinary rate.
I am not the only doctor seeing these results. A 2019 experiment, to take just one example, showed that in just four weeks, the majority of those on a low-carb diet reversed their metabolic syndrome. Just imagine: four weeks to undo a lifelong damage!
w that the coronavirus is rampant in our communities, diet may be a more important measure than ever.
Dr. Mariela Glandt, trained at Harvard and Columbia, is an endocrinologist with extensive experience in the treatment of diabetes. She is the author of the Amazon bestseller “How to Eat in the Time of Covid-19”. She is the founder and director of the Glandt Center for Diabetes Care in Tel Aviv, where she uses the ketogenic diet as one of the primary tools for treating diabetes. Dr. Glandt worked in New York in private and hospital practice.