The Coronavirus Attacks Fat Tissue, Scientists Find

The New York Times
The New York Times

From the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus seemed to target people carrying extra pounds. Patients who were overweight or obese were more likely to develop severe COVID-19 and more likely to die.

Although these patients often have health conditions like diabetes that compound their risk, scientists have become increasingly convinced that their vulnerability has something to do with obesity itself.

Now researchers have found that the coronavirus infects both fat cells and certain immune cells within body fat, prompting a damaging defensive response in the body.

“The bottom line is, ‘Oh, my God, indeed, the virus can infect fat cells directly,’” said Philipp Scherer, a scientist who studies fat cells at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who was not involved in the research.

The research has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, but it was posted online in October. If the findings hold up, they may shed light not just on why patients with excess pounds are vulnerable to the virus, but also on why certain younger adults with no other risks become so ill.

The study’s authors suggested the evidence could point to new COVID-19 treatments that target body fat.

“Maybe that’s the Achilles’ heel that the virus utilizes to evade our protective immune responses — by hiding in this place,” said Dr. Vishwa Deep Dixit, a professor of comparative medicine and immunology at Yale School of Medicine.

The finding is particularly relevant to the United States, which has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world. Most American adults are overweight, and 42% have obesity. Black, Hispanic, Native American and Alaska Native people in the U.S. have higher obesity rates than white adults and Asian Americans; they have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with death rates roughly double those of white Americans.

“This paper is another wake-up call for the medical profession and public health to look more deeply into the issues of overweight and obese individuals, and the treatments and vaccines we’re giving them,” said Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has studied the heightened risk that COVID-19 poses to those with obesity.

“We keep documenting the risk they have, but we still aren’t addressing it,” Popkin said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times .

Comments / 2387

John Doe

Terrific! So all I have to do is catch Covid and I will lose a lot of weight? Why didn’t they say so at the beginning I wouldn’t be wearing a mask🤪🤪🤪


Really???? I know too many very obese ppl that had very mild symptoms and I know skinny who died. It doesn’t discriminate


I bet if you tested those same patients they would be deficient in Vit D, C and zinc but heaven forbid we promote that, there's no money to be made in vitamins


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