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Researchers Link Several Heart Disease Risk Factors to Increased Risk of COVID-19 Infections

April 09, 2021 | Deborah Kotz

Charles Hong, MD, PhD

Levels of “Good” HDL Cholesterol Appear to Play Important Role in Determining Risk of Infection 

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, researchers have found associations between certain lifestyle factors and a person’s risk of getting infected. While it has already been established that those with Type II diabetes and a high body mass index (BMI) are at greater risk of experiencing hospitalizations and other severe complications related to COVID-19, they are also at greater risk of getting symptomatic infection in the first place. That is the finding of a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) that was published in the journal, PLoS ONE.

Using data from the UK Biobank of 500,000 British volunteers over age 40, the researchers examined health factors in those who tested positive for COVID-19 and compared them to those who tested negative.  They found that those who had positive COVID-19 test results were more likely to be obese or have Type II diabetes. Those who tested negative were more likely to have high levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and be at a healthy weight with a normal body mass index (BMI). 

“Certain baseline cardiometabolic factors appear to either protect a person from COVID-19 infection while others make a person more vulnerable to infection,” said study author Charles Hong, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Director of Cardiology Research at the UMSOM. “However, this study wasn’t designed to determine what factors actually cause COVID-19 infections. These are statistical associations that point to the importance of a healthily functioning immune system for protecting against COVID-19 infection.”

He and his colleagues controlled for potential confounding factors like socioeconomic status, age, gender, and ethnicity.

“Our findings point to some healthy measures people can take to help potentially lower their risk of COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Hong said. “Controlling body weight is very important during this time, and measures to increase HDL levels like regular exercise and a diet rich in monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil and avocados might be helpful too.”

“This study raises some important questions about the role HDL cholesterol plays in determining the immune system’s ability to fend off infections,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Clearly more research is needed in this field to help protect public health during future epidemics.”

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world -- with 45 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs; and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a distinguished two-time winner of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1.2 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic, and clinically based care for nearly 2 million patients each year. The School of Medicine has more than $563 million in extramural funding, with most of its academic departments highly ranked among all medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total population of nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 student trainees, residents, and fellows. The combined School of Medicine and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has an annual budget of nearly $6 billion and an economic impact more than $15 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine, which ranks as the 8th highest among public medical schools in research productivity, is an innovator in translational medicine, with 600 active patents and 24 start-up companies. The School of Medicine works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit www.medschool.umaryland.edu.

Contact

Deborah Kotz
410-706-4255
dkotz@som.umaryland.edu

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