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Scientists believe there are many factors which affect your risk of developing COVID-19: age, diabetes, smoking history, obesity, genetics and blood type. Although no one is immune, some people are more at risk of contracting it and some are more at risk for complications linked to the virus. Here’s what we know about COVID-19 risk factors and what you can do to boost your immune system.
What is the link between COVID-19 and blood type?
Jiao Zhao of The Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, and his team studied the blood types of over 2,000 COVID-19 patients at 3 different hospitals in Wuhan. They also studied the blood types of 23,000 non-COVID patients from Wuhan and Shenzhen in order to understand the frequency of each.
They discovered that blood types in the A-group (A+, A-, AB+, AB-) were at a higher risk of contracting the disease compared to non A-group types. People with O blood type (O-, O+) had a lower risk of getting the infection compared with non-O blood types. One theory is that because the immune systems of people with Type O blood already have antibodies for both A and B, their bodies are more equipped to identify foreign proteins.
A more recent study looked at over 2,500 patients in New York and found very similar results. Some scientists are also noticing the role that blood type plays in COVID-19 outcome: how severe the illness becomes.
How can your diet lower your COVID-19 risk?
Unfortunately, you can’t change your blood type so if you’re an A blood type you’re already at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 if the current research holds up. But there are some things you can control, in order to keep your body healthy.
According to the WHO, a healthy diet is one of the best ways to strengthen your immune system. Having a well balanced diet is also linked to lower risks of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. The WHO suggests you eat a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods everyday to ensure you get the vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, protein and antioxidants you need. Stay hydrated and steer clear of sugar, fat and salt. As well as strengthening your immune system, that is the best way to lower your risk of obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and even some types of cancers.
How does stress weaken your immune system?
The effects of stress on your immune system are well known. Indeed, the stress hormone corticosteroid suppresses the effectiveness of our immune system. Amongst other things, it lowers the number of lymphocytes we produce, which are useful for fighting off the virus.
A study done in 1984, looked at the effects of stress on the immune system of medical students during exams. Immune functioning was assessed by measuring T cell activity in the blood samples taken a month before exams and then during exams. T-cells are a type of lymphocytes which kill infected host cells. They noticed weaker immune responses during exams when stress levels were high.
Could exercise make you more resistant to COVID-19?
Exercise can be very beneficial to your immune system. As mentioned above, stress weakens the immune system. But exercise causes the production of endorphins which burn cortisol (the stress hormone), so when we exercise we reduce our stress levels thus strengthening our immune system.
Furthermore we know that COVID-19 attacks our respiratory system, by keeping our lungs healthy we’re reducing our chances of severe health complications if we ever contract it. By exercising regularly your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to the working muscles. The American Lung Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 days a week. Keeping your lungs healthy also means not smoking or doing anything to reduce our lung capacity like exposure to pollutants.
The importance of sleep for immunity
It is no secret that sleep, or lack thereof, affects all of your functions. Studies have shown that immune function and sleep are closely related. When you don’t sleep enough, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Getting adequate sleep also reduces our stress levels, and at risk of repeating ourselves, lower stress is good for our immune system.
It is recommended you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night or to complement that by taking 30 minute naps if you feel that you need them.
Until a vaccine is developed there is no real way to be immune to COVID-19. That being said, we do have control over how well we take care of our health and what measures we take to protect ourselves. So stay healthy, keep washing your hands and don’t forget to be kind to yourself.