Muscle Mass and the Immune System…in the COVID-19 Environment and Always

Given our current climate, we all know it is extremely important to have a strong immune system. This is not intended to spark political debates about the implications of the virus. It’s bad and a lot of people have died and I’ll just leave it at that. What we are seeing though, and again I’m not trying to spark debate you can believe what you want, is that mostly this virus is extremely threatening to our elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Have there been some cases in which young, “healthy” individuals have passed away? YES. But I think for the most part it’s understood that those people are the exceptions not the rule. 

So, what are some things we know about the elderly? Well, in this country 43.8% of all people over the age of 40 are overweight according to the CDC. This doesn’t necessarily mean these people are unhealthy. There have been plenty of overweight people to live into their advanced years without any real health issues. But, obesity is generally correlated to people living with chronic disease. What we know for sure is that obese people are out of shape and have poor muscle mass. The other thing we know about the elderly is that due to their age, most have stopped exercising altogether for years and as a result have poor muscle function. This is why >50% of women over the age of 65 who break a hip never walk again. So, we know that the majority of people dying from this disease likely are overweight and have poor muscle function. So, what role does muscle mass play in aiding your immune system?

Well, according to this study done by Dr. Robert Wolfe, the stressed state of the body that comes with disease requires greater demands for amino acid from muscle protein breakdown than does fasting. Physiologic response necessary  for recovery may include the accelerated synthesis of acute phase proteins in the liver, synthesis of protein for immune function, and synthesis of protein in wound healing. And, any guess where the greatest reservoir for amino acids are? Correct. In your muscle mass. Increased muscle mass provides a storage for these essential proteins that are needed to combat all kinds of traumatic experiences you might encounter, including disease. 

Is this a slightly simplified version of what happens with the immune system? Yes. Does the immune system also rely on actually being exposed to viruses? Yes. This is the reason vaccines work so well and why we’re all waiting desperately for them to develop one for COVID-19. Now, again, if you think this whole thing is hoax and it’s not that bad, that’s fine. But, just in case it isn’t, you would do yourself a huge favor by ensuring you have some extra muscle mass hanging around. 


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