It has been clear since the early days of the pandemic that carrying extra weight dramatically increases your risk of dying from COVID-19.
An analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that being obese doubles your chances of coronavirus death. And being morbidly obese (a body mass index of 40 or higher) quadruples the death risk. 
Another study in the journal Obesity Reviews found that obese people with COVID-19 are 113% more likely to be hospitalized than those of lower body weight.
What is it specifically about being heavy that makes the coronavirus so lethal?
Until recently, doctors did not have an answer.
“Fat Hormone” Makes COVID Deadly
A new analysis in the International Journal of Obesity blames the hormone leptin. It’s produced by fat cells.
Leptin is sometimes called the satiety hormone. It acts on your brain to reduce hunger. It’s part of the system that your body uses to help keep your weight stable.
When you have less fat tissue than normal in your body, you produce less leptin. This makes you hungry and you put on weight. When you have more fat tissue than normal, your leptin levels go up. This makes you less hungry, and you lose weight.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. But in obese people, the process goes haywire. Their leptin levels become so high—one study found they are four times higher than in people of normal weight—that their brain no longer responds to it. They become leptin resistant. Even though they have lots of fat tissue producing lots of leptin, they feel hunger more often than thinner people, causing them to pack on even more weight.
Dr. Candida Rebello believes leptin resistance also makes people more vulnerable to the coronavirus. She is lead author of the new leptin study.
“The problem for people with obesity is that their leptin levels are always high, and that can affect the response to a COVID-19 infection,” said Dr. Rebello. She’s an obesity researcher with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
Her analysis found that elevated leptin decreases the number of T cells in the body and makes them less active.
T cells are a crucial part of your immune system. They are a type of white blood cell that search out and destroy pathogens that invade your body. Other studies have found that T cells are vitally important in helping COVID-19 patients fight off their illness. 
High leptin levels may worsen coronavirus infections in another way. Too much of the hormone “promotes a low-grade systemic inflammatory state,” Dr. Rebello said. Runaway inflammation is what kills many COVID-19 patients.
4 Ways to Reduce Leptin
If you’re carrying extra weight, the obvious way to decrease your leptin levels and increase your sensitivity to it is to reduce the amount of fat in your body. But that is easier said than done. Chances are that you’ve tried to lose weight in the past, long before the pandemic.
There are other ways that you can cut your levels of the hormone. Researchers have found that these four measures have an almost immediate effect on leptin levels and sensitivity:
1.) Take lipoic acid. A 2015 study published in the journal Obesity tested lipoic acid supplements in obese women trying to lose weight. They lost an average of 15 pounds. That was 40% more than subjects who didn’t take the supplement. What’s more, those taking lipoic acid saw their leptin levels drop by a third.
Lipoic acid supplements are widely available online and at health food stores.
2.) Practice time-restricted eating. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine found the eight weeks of time-restricted eating (TRE) reduced leptin levels and body fat.
TRE is also sometimes called intermittent fasting. It is not a diet in the usual sense. You can eat whatever you want and as much as you want. You simply change when you eat.
You do all your day’s eating in a window of nine hours or so. So, if you started eating breakfast at 9 a.m., you should finish dinner by 6 p.m.
TRE not only reduces leptin, a 2019 study by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that it lowers blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and helps get rid of belly fat. Many people find that it works better than traditional diets for weight loss.
For a detailed explanation of how to ease into TRE, go HERE.
3.) Get plenty of omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements reverse leptin resistance, according to a 2005 animal study published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.
A 2013 review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed the findings and also noted that fish oil reduces the body-wide inflammation associated with high leptin levels.
One note of caution: Make sure that the supplement you take contains the triglyceride form of fish oil. It should be noted on the label.
Most fish oils are made with a cheap manufacturing process that yields something called an ethyl ester (EE). Your body can’t absorb it as easily as triglyceride fish oil. Labels of EE fish oil often say the product is derived from “marine oil concentrate.”
4.) Do aerobic exercise. A 2011 study published in the journal Social and Behavioral Sciences divided 24 obese women into two groups. One group jogged on a treadmill for a half hour, three times a week. The other subjects, the control group, did no added exercise.
After eight weeks, leptin levels in all the joggers significantly decreased. The control group’s levels stayed the same.
The authors concluded that not only jogging, but any type of light to moderate aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up to 65-85% of its maximum, is effective in reducing leptin. That means biking, rowing, stairclimbing, calisthenics, using an elliptical machine, or playing a sport that keeps you moving will work.
If you’re heavier than you should be, the pandemic gives you more incentive than ever to slim down. But until you do, the steps above may help lower the risk of carrying too much weight.
Editor’s Note: Read our monthly newsletter Independent Healing to discover the most-effective, science-backed strategies to stay healthy during the pandemic.
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