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Who Is High Risk for COVID? – Coronavirus Risk Factors

Holistic Health

“What determines the severity of COVID symptoms turns out to be age, pre-existing health conditions and possibly other factors such as blood type, inflammation levels, genetics and more.”

“For everyone, whether you have low risk or multiple risk factors for COVID, supporting the immune system is the best way to strengthen your body and help keep yourself safe.”

It has now been a year since we first heard of about coronavirus and here we are today still in a global pandemic that has disrupted so many lives. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2 is the highly contagious virus that causes COVID-19, the 2019 coronavirus disease, which I’ll call COVID in this article. 

As you are likely aware, symptoms of COVID range from nothing at all (asymptomatic) to severe disease and even death. What determines the severity of COVID symptoms turns out to be age, pre-existing health conditions and possibly other factors such as blood type, inflammation levels, genetics and more. While we’ve learned a lot about who is high risk for COVID, there is still a lot to uncover. 

In today’s article, I’m going to talk about risk factors for more severe coronavirus cases along with how to boost the immune system to keep your body in the best condition to fight a viral infection, naturally. 

Keep reading to learn more about:

COVID-19 Risks – Blood Type and Age

Age is prominent risk factor for COVID severity and death. As we age, the immune system begins to decline in function and older adults become more vulnerable to viruses and other pathogens in the environment. The term “inflamm-aging” describes the chronic inflammation that often correlates with age and may help to explain why older adults have higher rates of chronic disease than those who are younger. As we get older, especially in our society, we may become more sedentary and more set in our ways making it harder to develop new health habits. Vitamin D deficiency also tends to increase in the older population. 

In a study of 5700 COVID patients in New York City hospitals, age correlated with COVID deaths wher the death rate was 4.8% for people in their 50s, 6.4% for those in their 60s, 12.6% for those in their 70s and 26% for those 80 or older. The CDC reports significantly higher rates of hospitalizations, ICU admissions and death for those 65 years and older. They report 31% of all COVID cases, 45% of hospitalizations, 53% of ICU admissions and 80% of COVID deaths occur in those over 65. In contrast, there have been substantially significantly fewer deaths in those under 19 years old. 

COVID blood type risk is another interesting area of study. A study published in September of 2020 correlates positive COVID tests with those with blood types B and AB, whereas blood type O was less likely to test positive. They also report those with a positive Rh factor (Rh+) were also more likely to test positive. Another study, from November 2020, found slightly increased infection rates among non-O blood types. It’s important to note that this type of study shows a correlation and not a cause. It will be interesting to see what we learn in the future about different blood types, genetics and other individual factors that may explain why some are inherently more susceptible to, or protected from, severe disease. 

COVID-19 Risks – Pre-Existing Conditions

Pre-existing medical conditions are among the top coronavirus risk factors. In a meta-analysis of 22 studies on comorbidities and COVID, of the total cases over 40% had comorbidities and of those who died from COVID, 74% have comorbidities. 

Pre-existing conditions that correlate with COVID severity include:

How to Boost Your Immune System 

For everyone, whether you have low risk or multiple risk factors for COVID, supporting the immune system is the best way to strengthen your body and help keep yourself safe. Here are some ways to do just that. 

  1. Eat a whole foods diet with plenty of plant foods and ditch the sugar and processed foods. Nutrition is incredibly powerful immune support. 

  1. Check in with your stress level, eliminate the stress you can and give your adrenals a little extra love

  1. Reduce inflammation to support immunity. Read more about this connection here.  

  1. Prioritize sleep and self-care. We are all facing pandemic fatigue and it’s important to keep taking good care of you. 

  1. Optimize your vitamin D levels. Low levels of vitamin D correlates with positive COVID tests and supplementation could reduce risk. Work with your functional medicine provider for testing and proper supplemental dosages. 

  1. Address underlying health concerns with your functional medicine provider. 

  1. Consider additional supplementation for immune support such as: vitamin C, zinc, NAC, curcumin, melatonin and others. Work with your functional medicine provider to personalize your supplements and vitamins for immune system balance. 

While there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID, and the severity of disease associated with these risk factors can be scary, a lot is still within your control. My hope is that you find these tips helpful and know that functional medicine has many tools to support you during these uncertain times. 

In Part 2 of this COVID series, I’ll dive into the long-term effects of COVID, which is now called post-COVID syndrome or long haulers, and discuss what can be done from a functional medicine perspective. 


  1. Chen, Y., Klein, S. L., Garibaldi, B. T., Li, H., Wu, C., Osevala, N. M., Li, T., Margolick, J. B., Pawelec, G., & Leng, S. X. (2021). Aging in COVID-19: Vulnerability, immunity and intervention. Ageing research reviews, 65, 101205. Full text: 
  2. Richardson, S., Hirsch, J. S., Narasimhan, M., Crawford, J. M., McGinn, T., Davidson, K. W., the Northwell COVID-19 Research Consortium, Barnaby, D. P., Becker, L. B., Chelico, J. D., Cohen, S. L., Cookingham, J., Coppa, K., Diefenbach, M. A., Dominello, A. J., Duer-Hefele, J., Falzon, L., Gitlin, J., Hajizadeh, N., Harvin, T. G., … Zanos, T. P. (2020). Presenting Characteristics, Comorbidities, and Outcomes Among 5700 Patients Hospitalized With COVID-19 in the New York City Area. JAMA, 323(20), 2052–2059. Full text: 
  3. CDC COVID-19 Response Team (2020). Severe Outcomes Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - United States, February 12-March 16, 2020. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 69(12), 343–346. Full text: 
  4. Latz, C. A., DeCarlo, C., Boitano, L., Png, C., Patell, R., Conrad, M. F., Eagleton, M., & Dua, A. (2020). Blood type and outcomes in patients with COVID-19. Annals of hematology, 99(9), 2113–2118. Full text: 
  5. Zietz, M., Zucker, J., & Tatonetti, N. P. (2020). Associations between blood type and COVID-19 infection, intubation, and death. Nature communications, 11(1), 5761. Full text: 
  6. Gold, M. S., Sehayek, D., Gabrielli, S., Zhang, X., McCusker, C., & Ben-Shoshan, M. (2020). COVID-19 and comorbidities: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Postgraduate medicine, 132(8), 749–755. Abstract: 
  7. D'Avolio, A., Avataneo, V., Manca, A., Cusato, J., De Nicolò, A., Lucchini, R., Keller, F., & Cantù, M. (2020). 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations Are Lower in Patients with Positive PCR for SARS-CoV-2. Nutrients, 12(5), 1359. Full text: 
  8. Grant, W. B., Lahore, H., McDonnell, S. L., Baggerly, C. A., French, C. B., Aliano, J. L., & Bhattoa, H. P. (2020). Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths. Nutrients, 12(4), 988. Full text: 
  9. The Institute for Functional Medicine. The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Virus-Specific Nutraceutical and Botanical Agents. Updated 12.20.2020. 


The Fork Functional Medicine
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