A recent study, conducted by a team of researchers at Queen Mary University of London, found that cardiovascular risk factors associated with obesity were linked to a higher probability of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection.
The study, published in Frontiers in Genetics, utilized an innovative approach called ‘Mendelian Randomization’ (MR). This strategy made use of genetic information to explore the impacts which cardiovascular risk factors may have on the likelihood of possible COVID-19 infection.
Previous observational studies have divulged that cardiovascular risk factors like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, have been linked to the severity of COVID-19 infection. However, due to the observational design of these studies, they were never able to determine how exactly they were associated. This is what lead author Nay Aung, MD, and her colleagues set out to discover.
The multivariable regression analyses looked at observational data from one MR sample of individual-level genotypes from a UK Biobank, as well as two MR samples of genome-wide association data supplied by the COVID-19 host genetic initiative. These samples were used to investigate if obesity traits, such as body mass index (BMI), and quantitative cardiometabolic parameters, like systolic blood pressure (SBP) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), were casually connected with COVID-19 diagnosis.
"… [they] show that individuals with high body mass index (BMI), a marker of obesity, and high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (also known as 'bad' cholesterol) are at an increased risk of getting COVID-19,” Aung said. “Other cardiovascular risk factors (high blood pressure and diabetes) do not appear to elevate the COVID-19 risk.”
The findings brought to light in the study show that using BMI and LDL cholesterol as metrics, in conjunction with other established characteristics, like ethnicity and age, can be used to assess the vulnerability of people and their risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. For example, those with higher genetic risks of these traits can use this information to ensure that they follow guidelines like social distancing and wearing a mask. The results also suggest that there may be a role for lipid modification in the potential for prevention and assessment.
This study has implications on both public health policy and future studies. Public health experts can use these findings to help those who are more at risk of becoming infected by initiating policies. Future studies may want to look into the role in which cholesterol modification therapy may play a part.