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COVID-19 Explanations: Why Are Overweight People and Older People at Higher Risk?

by Noach Nestor Bittelman, LAc

Understanding why a particular population is at higher risk for suffering from any specific illness is key to developing a successful treatment strategy. In this paper I will analyze some of the factors which contribute to the overweight and the elderly being at higher risk for suffering serious complications or dying from the current Coronavirus.

The Overweight:

The current novel Coronavirus, responsible for COVID-19, is categorized from the perspective of Chinese Medicine as primarily an assault by a “damp” pathogen; this damp pathogen is variously described as being a cold-damp, a toxic-damp, or an epidemic-damp. (Chinese Medicine categorizes the pathogenic factors which can attack and penetrate the body as having different natures; there are cold, damp, wind, dry, hot, and extreme heat pathogenic factors.) After the damp pathogen penetrates the body it moves to attack the Lung and Spleen systems of the body. Spleen symptoms include body aches, fatigue, diarrhea, frontal headache, loss of appetite, and loss of sense of taste. Lung symptoms include cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, and loss of sense of smell.

Other body systems may also be involved, either through also suffering along with the Lung and Spleen from the damp attack, or through participating in the defense of the body; symptoms of this sort may include fever, alternating chills and fever, low back ache, changes in heart rate, skin conditions, etc. Weakness of any system in the body makes that system vulnerable to attack by the pathogenic factors. Likewise, latent underlying pathologies extant in any body system are ripe for being “joined” by the attacking pathogenic factors, exacerbating an already clinical or sub-clinical situation.

One of the primary medical challenges with COVID-19 illness is its severe attack on lung function. The pathogenic factor, the dampness, enters the body and typically goes to the Lung and Spleen, as mentioned above. The damp pathogenic factor (this particular Coronavirus) after typically causing relatively low-key flu symptoms for the first few days, begins to rapidly cause a build up of fluids in the lungs (dampness). As the fluid stagnates heat may develop as an attempt by the body to deal with the fluid. In many cases there is latent heat already pre-existing in the lungs, either from earlier illnesses which were never fully cleared, or from dietary, drug, alcohol, or other habits such as smoking which cause there to be latent heat in the lungs. Either way the heat combines with the fluid in the lungs, drying and congealing the fluids into very thick, viscous, sticky phlegm. This phlegm coats the alveoli, preventing the exchange of oxygen from the lungs to the blood, and likewise preventing the exchange of carbon dioxide from the blood to the lungs.

The heat can additionally scorch the lung tissue itself, drying out the lubricating, nourishing fluids which keep the lung tissue supple and functional and thereby bringing about a stiff, fibrosis-like state (think of skin which has been burned, either by the sun or by some other factor, it becomes dry and stiff and must be moistened and lubricated in order to restore flexibility and function). This second factor, whereby the heat dries out the normal lubr