Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new data suggesting that almost 80 percent of people who were hospitalized, needed ventilation, or died from COVID-19 were either overweight or obese. As of 2018, 42 percent of Americans are obese (body mass index [BMI] >30), and over 70 percent are overweight (BMI >25).
More recently, researchers in Italy published new meta-analyses of 43 observational studies examining the relationship between vitamin D and COVID-19. The results indicate that low levels of vitamin D were associated with a higher risk of infection, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.
These two seemingly unrelated findings share something in common: they point to the enormous importance of our underlying health in determining how we respond to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Yet, disturbingly, there is little discussion of this in the mainstream media or among public health authorities. I’d wager, in fact, that this is the first you are hearing about either of these findings—unless you go out of your way to stay up to date on these kinds of topics, as I do.
It’s true that reversing overweight and obesity is not something that can be done overnight. However, many studies have shown that certain interventions, like a low-carb or ketogenic diet, can lead to significant weight loss and improvement in metabolic markers in as little as three weeks. Given that the pandemic has been going on for over a year and that COVID-19 may become, at least on some level, something we live with permanently, three weeks doesn’t sound like an unreasonable amount of time.
Normalizing vitamin D levels can happen even more quickly. Large bolus doses of up to 200,000 IU can bring someone from a deficient to adequate state within days in many cases, while daily doses of 4,000 to 10,000 IU can accomplish that goal within a few weeks. And vitamin D is extremely safe, readily accessible, and may help reduce the risk of many other chronic diseases that are now at pandemic levels in the United States.
Even if our public health authorities believe that trying to address conditions like overweight and obesity and vitamin D deficiency this far into the pandemic isn’t likely to make an impact—an argument that I would strenuously disagree with, and that would conflict with the scientific evidence—where is the public discussion about how these changes could reduce our susceptibility to the next pandemic?
Instead, we remain almost exclusively focused on pharmaceuticals as the solution for both prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infection. This myopic focus on drugs is, of course, not limited to the current pandemic. It’s the foundation of conventional medicine’s approach not only to acute disease but also to virtually all chronic diseases.
I am not against pharmaceuticals; they play an important role, both in the COVID-19 pandemic and in healthcare in general. The problem arises when drugs become the only or even the primary tool that we deploy. This is obviously true for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity, which are mostly driven by diet, behavior, and lifestyle choices. But as we’ve learned, it’s also true for acute conditions like COVID-19, which is strongly influenced by these same factors.
Although I initially hoped that COVID-19 would serve as a wake-up call that spurred positive changes in this area, so far, I have yet to see such changes materialize.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait around for the government and medical establishment to figure this out. We can—and we should—take matters into our own hands.
As the ancient Chinese proverb holds, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We’ve got a long way to go to arrive at a more effective, humane, and life-affirming approach to healthcare in this country. The only way we’ll get there is if we stay pointed toward our destination and keep putting one foot in front of the other.