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Does COVID Cause Weight Loss?

by: Post-COVID Support Team

March 3, 2023

Research has well-established that COVID-19 has significant clinical manifestations in vital organs. In many cases, one of these effects is weight loss, especially for patients entering the recovery phase.

While information regarding weight loss and the increased risk of malnutrition after contracting COVID-19 is still evolving, studies have shown that nearly 30% of patients lose over 5% of their baseline body weight after an infection.

Experiencing clinically significant weight loss due to COVID-19? This guide will outline potential symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Does COVID-19 make you lose weight?

Yes, severe cases of COVID-19 can make you lose weight. In extreme cases, patients can lose up to 5% lean body mass. This condition is also known as cachexia or sudden, unintentional weight loss.

According to a Milan study, observed COVID-19 patients who lost weight experienced higher levels of inflammation, impaired renal function, and delayed clinical remission. While COVID weight loss may seem advantageous to some, rapid weight loss can lead to complications like arrhythmia and electrolyte deficiency, especially in normal-weight individuals.

How does COVID-19 cause weight loss?

COVID-19 can cause unintentional weight loss in many ways. Below are a few potential culprits:

  • Fat and muscle loss: Many patients inflicted with COVID have a decreased food intake due to a loss of appetite and physical activity. Loss of taste and smell can also make food less palatable.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms: Nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain can all contribute to a loss of appetite and affect an individual’s nutritional intake.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome: Severe respiratory distress can also affect food intake, as it makes it harder to swallow.
  • Cellular damage: When the body’s tissues become inflamed, it can significantly drain your energy and hamper your immune system. In addition, cellular damage can cause metabolic imbalances.
  • Confinement: Being confined in either a medical ward or tertiary health care hospital can eliminate the patient’s amount of physical activity and lead to a loss of lean mass.

The relationship between coronavirus and fat cells

While the coronavirus attacks fat tissue, it doesn’t shrink them as calorie restriction does. Instead, COVID-19 restricts replication and directly infects and damages fat cells.

The coronavirus attacks fat tissue by entering the cells through angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) receptors. Because ACE-2 enzymes affect adipose (fat) cell health, it makes the tissue in your body more susceptible to severe disease.

How does weight affect COVID-19?

Your weight is one risk factor that can affect the severity of a COVID infection. Individuals with a higher body mass index (BMI), typically over 25, are six times more likely to contract COVID-19 with worse clinical outcomes. Worldwide, countries with obesity prevalence have death rates 10 times higher than elsewhere.

In addition, someone with a higher body weight might have more difficulty breathing or weaker respiratory muscles, making swallowing difficult. Paired with potential issues like diabetes 2, heart disease, and high blood pressure, a high body weight can put someone at increased risk of severe illness.

Fortunately, the COVID vaccine has decreased these risks for people with comorbidities like obesity. Experts suggest that obese individuals shouldn’t focus on the number of pounds they need to shed when they experience COVID-related weight loss. Instead, patients should focus on where the weight is distributed.

Abdominal fat is the hardest to lose, as it can wrap around vital organs like the arteries. When the arteries collect too much cholesterol and become clogged, it can increase the risk of stroke.

How to gain weight after COVID-19

Contrary to popular belief, clinically significant weight loss can last long beyond an initial COVID infection. A prospective cohort study showed that over 8% of people who survive COVID experience prolonged weight loss.

If you have lost weight due to a COVID-19 infection, the good news is that you can easily gain it back.

Try to address gastrointestinal symptoms

While most gastrointestinal issues disappear independently, consistent GI problems may require a doctor’s attention. Symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, and abdominal pain can affect food intake drastically. You can prevent further weight loss and get back to a healthy weight by seeking treatment.

Eat healthy fats and proteins

COVID weight loss is often a result of less eating, so you will want to gradually reintroduce a balanced diet of healthy fats and proteins. Include lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and nuts in your healthy diet.

Many healthcare professionals recommend the Mediterranean diet for maintaining a normal weight, as it reduces adipose tissue inflammation, improves blood vessel function, and reduces the risk of diabetes mellitus.

If you are unsure how to develop a healthy meal plan, consult a professional for nutritional management strategies. These programs can help you safely lose weight:

  • NHS Weight Loss Plan
  • Noom
  • GetSlim
  • Slimming World
  • Weight Watchers

Know your symptoms

If you have problems eating, understanding your symptoms and how to combat them can help you reverse the effects of lost weight. Consider the following signs and how you can make increasing your body weight more manageable:

  • Difficulty breathing: Have four to five smaller meals daily and hydrate between meals. Eat softer foods like mashed potatoes, soup, or rice.
  • Dry mouth: Take small and frequent sips of water throughout the day. Alternatively, you can chew on ice, frozen fruit, or sugar-free gum to encourage salivation. If you can, have your meals with sauces like gravy and dips.
  • Exhaustion: It can be exhausting to increase your food intake when you are already ill. So, take your time when eating your meals – don’t rush. If you are too physically exhausted to cook meals, consider ordering ready-made meals throughout the week.
  • Constipation: Being constipated can keep you full for longer. As such, drinking lots of water and eating soft or liquid meals can help loosen your bowels and make eating more enjoyable.

Calculate the correct body weight

Getting your body mass index (BMI) is a good way to determine whether you are at a healthy weight. You can quickly get your BMI with an online calculator.

Remember that BMI is no’t the best measure of your overall health, just your body weight. BMI is not appropriate for evaluating muscle mass, muscle loss, or body fat. In addition, pregnant women should take their BMI before pregnancy for an accurate reading.

When you calculate baseline BMI, use these ranges as a guide for altering your food intake:

  • Underweight: < 18.5
  • Healthy weight: 18.5 – 24.9
  • Overweight: 25 – 30
  • Obese: > 30

The bottom line

Weight loss is one of the most common clinical manifestations that occur due to a COVID-19 infection. Patients might experience significant weight loss due to generally decreased food intake, an impacted immune system, or severe respiratory distress.

In addition, obese individuals may be prone to contracting a more severe illness because of inherent risk factors like acute systemic inflammation, poor clinical nutrition, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

If you have lost weight as a result of COVID-19, you can easily gain weight by getting a nutritional evaluation, starting a healthy meal plan, addressing persisting issues, and understanding your symptoms.

Are you in constant low because of your weight? This could be due to Post-COVID effect. If you need further information how to navigate your current situation, talk to us and know our programs for COVID sufferers like you.