by Sunil Daniel, MD, FTOS, FOMA
A little more than two years ago, we were introduced to the words “Pandemic” and “COVID-19.” The Coronavirus, discovered in Wuhan, China was evolving into a mysterious new respiratory disease. Worldwide, more than 6 million people have died since the first official case and the number of deaths in the United States has topped 900,000. The lives of most people on earth have been touched in some form by the pandemic. Fifty-four percent of the global population has had at least one vaccination. Obesity seems to be a common condition in the group that has been hit the hardest. What explains this? Does obesity specifically affect the immune system?
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs. Together they help the body fight infections and other diseases. When germs such as bacteria or viruses invade the body, they attack and multiply. This is called an infection. The infection causes the disease that makes a person sick. Our immune system protects us from disease by fighting off germs.
Without an immune system, we would have no way to fight harmful substances that enter our body from the outside or harmful changes that occur inside. The main tasks of the immune system are:
The most important parts of our immune system are our skin, mucous membranes (the moist lining of organs and body cavities), white blood cells and the lymphatic system (thymus, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes bone marrow, etc.).
Obesity results in overreaction to infection and injury, causes the immune system to react even in the absence of infection and allows inflammation to continue even after recovery from injury or illness. This can lead to chronic inflammation, which is linked to various health conditions:
Above, you can see an example from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on how antibodies prevent infection from COVID-19.
Obesity is one of the most important conditions that make us vulnerable to viral infections. It changes the adaptive immune system in the following ways:
Obesity is also a risk factor for the development of bacterial and fungal infections. Obesity disables the innate immune system which is the first line of defense against bacteria and fungi.
In summary, obesity stunts the immune system’s response to infections. One of the best ways to reduce the effects of excess weight and obesity on the body’s ability to fight infections is to see your healthcare provider and discuss weight management options.
About the Author:
Sunil Daniel, MD, FTOS, FOMA, is a board-certified obesity medicine physician with fellowship training in clinical nutrition and obesity management. He is a fellow of The Obesity Society and Obesity Medicine Association and has authored several scientific papers on obesity and its medical management. He is also an OAC National Board Member and serves on the Education Committee.
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