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Which pre-existing health conditions increase your coronavirus risk?

As the cases of coronavirus in the UK mount, we are beginning to confront the reality that not all infections are equally dangerous.

Most people infected will catch a mild version, in which case the latest advice is that you should stay at home instead of getting hospital treatment amid rising pressure on the NHS.

Only a small proportion of those infected face a fatal risk. Men are more at risk than women; children seem to be at very little risk. At the greatest risk of all are the elderly and those who have underlying health conditions.

A paper has just been published in the New England Journal of Medicine analysing the first 1,001 cases in Wuhan, so we now know which pre-existing health conditions are dangerous when it comes to coronavirus. They include: diabetes, heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and simple old age.1

At first glance, it’s a slightly odd mix. Diabetes? Why should diabetes predict fatality when you’re talking about a respiratory virus?

As a gut health expert who runs a team of Nutritional Therapists, this list makes sense to me. Here’s why: everything on this list is connected to the gut microbiome. At Chuckling Goat we do daily consultations with clients who have taken a Microbiome Test to determine the health of their gut microbiome, and so we are very aware of the impact that gut health has on all these diverse health issues.

In a nutshell, your gut is home to over 100 trillion living bacteria, called the microbiome. Think of your microbiome as a delicate natural ecosystem, like the Amazon rainforest. Your gut microbiota performs a number of vital functions, including production of vitamins, metabolization of dietary compounds, protection against the expansion and systemic infiltration of gut pathogens. Like any natural system, the one inside your gut is fragile, and can be easily damaged by common elements in modern life, including sugar, antibiotics, stress and chemicals. This damage is called “dysbiosis,” and it is linked with many different types of disease.2

Here’s how each of the risk factors for coronavirus are linked to the gut microbiome:

Diabetes – Type 1

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that results from destruction of the insulin‐producing pancreatic β‐cells. However, less than 10% of genetically susceptible people actually develop clinical T1D. This demonstrates that non‐genetic factors play a critical role in T1D. Microbial dysbiosis with altered permeability of the gut barrier has been well-documented in T1D subjects.3

Diabetes – Type 2

Studies have reported gut microbiome dysbiosis as a factor in T2D, which accounts for about 90% of all diabetes cases worldwide. The gut microbiome dysbiosis may reshape intestinal barrier functions and host metabolic and signaling pathways, which are related to the insulin resistance in T2D.4

Heart Disease

Gut dybsiosis has been shown to cause inflammation and metabolic disorders, leading to the development of cardiovascular disease.5 Changes in the composition of gut dysbiosis, have been firmly linked to pathologies such as atherosclerosis, hypertension and heart failure.6


Dysbiosis in gut microbiota has been implicated in several lung diseases, including allergy, asthma and cystic fibrosis. The bi-directional cross-talk between gut and lung (termed as Gut-Lung axis) is best exemplified by intestinal disturbances observed in lung diseases.7


Recent research has established the link between the lungs and the gut—the gut-lung axis -and the gut microbiome is a major component. The gut microbiome is likely perturbed in COPD, contributing to chronic inflammation.8


Over time, the multiple strains of bacteria inside the gut are depleted by exposure to drugs, sugar, chemicals, stress and toxins. This process deprives the gut microbiome of its resilience, as strains die off, and immunity is compromised. The gut microbiome is closely associated with several features of gut barrier integrity, intestinal pro- and anti-inflammatory balance, immune and cardio-metabolic health, and gut-brain axis. These old-age-related clinical issues have been found to contribute to the increased predisposition to various infectious and gut-associated diseases by causing alterations in the microbiota of elderly people. Studies suggest that the gut microbiota may be associated with inflammation and age-related chronic health conditions.10

Improving your gut health is a safe and natural way to boost your immunity and protect yourself against any virus or disease.

Top tip: make yourself a daily Gut Health smoothie, containing (per person):

  • 170 ml of an unflavoured, all-natural, multi-strain kefir daily. This puts the “good bugs” into your gut.
  • 10 g of a complete prebiotic powder. This feeds the good bugs that you’re adding to the microbiome, enhancing the benefit of the probiotic.
  • 1 TBSP of virgin cold-pressed flaxseed oil; anti-inflammatory for your gut and adds valuable Omega-3s.
  • If you’re over 30, add 1 TBSP fish collagen supplement daily. Collagen production begins to slow at age 25, and stops by age 50. Supplementing will help heal to heal the lining of the gut, which is only one cell thick and can get ripped and torn over time.
  • Handful of blueberries, antioxidant superfood.
  • Half banana, flavour, potassium and pectin, good for your gut bugs.

Questions? Talk to a Nutritional Therapist on live chat!

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