In a new study, researchers found a hormone that connects the body’s metabolism and immune response system may explain why COVID-19 is so dangerous for people with obesity.
They found that for people with obesity, the problem is that their leptin levels are always high, and that can affect the response to a COVID-19 infection.
The hormone leptin regulates appetite and metabolism. Leptin also regulates the cells that fight infection.
Leptin is produced by fat cells, and to a lesser extent by tissues in the lungs. The more fat a person has, the more leptin circulates in their body.
In the study, the team traced the link between obesity and the virus.
They found elevated leptin levels hamper the body’s ability to fight off infections, in the lungs and elsewhere. High leptin levels promote a low-grade systemic inflammatory state.
According to the team, if people have obesity, there are a number of underlying health issues that make it more difficult for them to fight off a COVID-19 infection.
The entire body, including the lungs, may be inflamed. The immune response is likely compromised, and the lung capacity reduced.
Add in a virus that further weakens the body’s ability to fight infection, that can limit the body’s ability to control lung inflammation.
COVID-19 vaccine developers should take the immunocompromised state resulting from obesity into consideration, in much the same way they would advancing age.
The researchers say the role of leptin in COVID-19’s development bears investigation along with the viral proteins that alter the immune systems of people with obesity.
One potential treatment may be a drug that prevents inflammatory responses to the virus.
Another potential work includes examining how proinflammatory fat tissue in people with obesity might contribute to activating fewer infection-fighting cells and why those cells die more quickly.
One author of the study is Candida Rebello, Ph.D., R.D.
The study is published in the International Journal of Obesity.
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