Updated: Apr 1, 2020
By Neerav D. Padliya, Ph.D.
Unless you are a Geologist based at McMurdo Station in Antarctica (or a penguin that lives nearby), your life has probably been turned upside down by COVID-19. I can’t remember a time other than the present when it was cool to practice social distancing, Costco ran out of toilet paper and I binged on ‘80s movies like Uncle Buck and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to get my mind away from life in 2020 and COVID-19. Although these can seem like strange times to be alive, as a Biochemist I understand that we are not in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Social distancing will slow the spread of COVID-19, healthcare systems around the world will increase their ICU bed capacity, companies like Dyson and GM will manufacture ventilators, most people will develop antibodies towards the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS CoV-2 and companies such as Moderna, CureVac and BioNTech will eventually bring a vaccine to market.
IMPORTANCE OF TESTING
One area that will play a major role in eventually declaring victory against COVID-19 will be testing. Testing is critical because it enables patients and their healthcare providers to make informed and intelligent decisions. 80% of people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. However, the people that fall within this 80% have the capability to spread SARS CoV-2 to members of their family, friends, co-workers and people within their community. Once people know that they have tested positive for COVID-19, they can take steps to self-isolate so that they don’t infect others.
The plot (Figure 1) below shows the distribution of COVID-19 cases in Iceland and Netherlands as a function of age using data provided by the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (https://www.rivm.nl/en) and the Directorate of Health, Iceland (https://www.landlaeknir.is/english/). The age distribution plot from Iceland assumes the form of a classic ‘bell-shaped curve.’ If I didn’t know any better, I would I have guessed that the Icelandic data represents SAT scores at a high school in Cedar Knolls, NJ, the town where my company, MYOS RENS Technology (www.myosrens.com) is based. The Dutch data assumes a very different form with respect to the Icelandic data; the distribution is very much skewed to the right with the maximum number of COVID-19 cases being reported in adults between 70 to 79 years of age. Why do the datasets on COVID-19 cases vary so drastically in these two European countries? In Iceland, people were tested broadly for COVID-19 irrespective of whether or not they presented symptoms. In the Netherlands, testing was done very narrowly; only people that presented with symptoms were tested for COVID-19.
WHAT DOES THIS TEACH US?
What do we learn from these two tales of Iceland and the Netherlands? It is apparent that SARS CoV-2 does not practice age discrimination, but older people have a much more difficult time dealing with COVID-19. One reason could have to do with something called immunosenescence, an age-related decline of the immune system . In an article in The Scientist, Ralph Baric, PhD, a Coronavirus Researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill remarked , “As you age, your immune system undergoes senescence and loses its capacity to respond as effectively or be regulated as effectively.”
Just as the immune system declines with age, our muscle tissue also declines with age and this decline in muscle tissue has important implications with respect to our ability to fight disease. In a study involving 8,762 men, Researchers at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, University of South Carolina, and University of North Texas reported that men with age-related muscle loss (also known as ‘sarcopenia’) had an increased rate of mortality from all causes . Further, a study published by Researchers at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Taiwan reported that patients with sarcopenia are more likely to become difficult-to-wean from a ventilator and suffer mortality in the ICU relative to patients that are not sarcopenic . This has very important implications as many of the very important policy decisions concerning COVID-19 have focused on ICU bed capacity and the worldwide supply of ventilators. Although building muscle mass will not reduce the odds that you will get COVID-19, it is likely that it may help your body ‘weather the storm’ better if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in that situation.
Learn more about how the advanced nutrition product, Fortetropin® in combination with protein and resistance training can help you build muscle mass at www.myoslongevity.com. In the meanwhile, build muscle, stay healthy.
1. Gruver, A. L., L. L. Hudson, and G. D. Sempowski. “Immunosenescence of ageing.” The Journal of Pathology: A Journal of the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland 211.2 (2007): 144-156.
2. King, Anthony. “Possible Biological Explanations for Kids’ Escape from COVID-19.” The Scientist, March 16, 2020.
3. Ruiz, Jonatan R., et al. “Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study.” Bmj 337 (2008): a439.
4. Kou, Hao-Wei, et al. “Sarcopenia is an effective predictor of difficult-to-wean and mortality among critically ill surgical patients.” PloS one 14.8 (2019).
Figure 1: COVID-19 and A Tale of Two Countries: Iceland and The Netherlands.