As we enter 2022, we are experiencing a dramatic surge of Covid infections driven by the Omicron variant. Most of us are likely to be exposed to the Covid-19 virus, and it’s a good time to consider all the ways in which we can protect ourselves from severe illness.
The strongest method of protection is to get vaccinated. Vaccines give our immune system a massive head-start in recognizing and fighting the virus when it enters our body. We also want to make sure our immune system is functioning at its best when we do meet the virus. We can boost our immune function by maintaining a healthy diet, prioritizing regular sleep and exercise, and managing our stress.
The outcomes of Covid-19 make it clear that our health and lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on how we handle Covid infection. Conditions like obesity, pre-diabetes or diabetes, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol issues are all linked to higher rates of hospitalizations and death due to Covid. These conditions, collectively known as metabolic syndrome, are linked to high levels of inflammation and impaired immune function.
Metabolic syndrome is driven primarily by insulin resistance, which is an impaired biological response to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels and fat storage. Insulin resistance is the result of high and/or too-frequent intake of dietary carbs demanding higher and higher levels of insulin production to regulate the blood sugars at healthy levels.
The most significant factor that determines blood glucose levels is the consumption of dietary carbohydrate in the form of refined carbs, starch and simple sugars (think pasta, breads, rice, cereal, candy, pop and fruit juices). Eating too frequently also contributes to insulin resistance; by eating three meals per day PLUS two or three snacks we keep our insulin levels elevated all day long and promote the development of insulin resistance.
Metabolic syndrome is pro-inflammatory and linked to increased incidence of many eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, retinal artery occlusions, macular degeneration and cataracts. As an eye doctor, I have been fascinated by the recent research on metabolic syndrome and its implications on our eyes and our health. There are many strategies available to improve our metabolic health and even reverse/cure type 2 diabetes. Some excellent authors and speakers to check out on this topic include: Dr. Jason Fung, Dr. Robert Lustig, and Dr. Benjamin Bikman.
Making changes to our diet and eating patterns can improve our insulin sensitivity and metabolic health in a matter of days and weeks. Now is the time to re-focus on those New Year’s Resolutions towards better health and keep our immune systems in top fighting form amidst this Omicron wave of covid-19. Stay safe and healthy everyone!
Dr. Lisa Scharf, OD