A researcher points to the relationship between high carbohydrate diets, metabolic syndrome and COVID-19 mortality. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus does not affect everyone equally. Some people have no symptoms while others develop serious respiratory and circulatory conditions that can lead to death. Why? According to an article published in BMJ by Danish researcher Maryanne Demasi, the answer may lie in the diet. They have found that the diet can increase the risk of death from Covid-19
Deaths are 12 times higher among patients who had an underlying disease, especially cardiovascular disease (32% of hospitalized cases according to the CDC) and diabetes (32%). Age is an important factor but only in how much it makes these conditions more common.
In the UK two-thirds of people who became seriously ill with COVID-19 were overweight or obese, and 99% of deaths in Italy occurred in patients with pre-existing conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
The conjunction of hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases is well known, since these diseases usually go hand in hand, and the picture has a name: metabolic syndrome.
According to Demasi, behind the metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance. This hormone regulates glucose levels in the blood. When cells become “resistant” to insulin, it stops working and glucose shoots up, something that can lead to type 2 diabetes over time.
But what does this have to do with respiratory conditions caused by COVID-19? Dysregulation of blood glucose levels plays an important role in inflammation and respiratory diseases. In a study of COVID-19 patients with pre- existing type 2 diabetes, those with better blood glucose control were found to have fewer vital organ injuries and lower mortality.
The most significant factor in the development of insulin resistance is diet, specifically the consumption of refined carbohydrates, starches, and simple sugars. However, Demasi cautions that the official dietary recommendations of most countries point in the opposite direction: a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.
These guidelines are also those that determine the menus in nursing homes and hospitals where people with COVID-19 and metabolic syndrome are treated. All that pasta, bread and sugar could be making your situation worse.
Also, from the start of the pandemic and confinement, many people stocked up on food, especially cheap, high-carbohydrate, non-perishable food: pasta, bread, rice, and cereals, as well as highly processed cookies and candy.
Given the short time that has elapsed since the start of the pandemic, it has not been possible to carry out experiments that confirm that COVID-19 patients do better with a low carbohydrate diet, but there are previous experiments that point to carbohydrate restriction as an effective way to improve glycemic control and diabetes treatment , as well as long-term reduction of cardiovascular disease risk.
Some hospitals in the US have begun to remove sugary drinks and foods with added sugar from their hospital menus, but there is still a reluctance to accept low-carb diets. In countries like Australia, the Diabetes Association Australia published a statement supporting the consumption of fewer carbohydrates, to which the American Diabetes Association joined in 2019 and Diabetes Canada in 2020. According to Demasi, “dietary advice for people with underlying metabolic syndrome should receive broader support from governments.”