Local medical experts: how to reduce your Covid-19 risk

Posted 8/18/20

Wendy Romig, Doctor of Clinical Nutrition and founder of Sage Integrative Health Center in Mt. Airy, draws a direct line between your body’s response to disease and your nutrition. (Photo by Edward …

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Local medical experts: how to reduce your Covid-19 risk

Posted
Wendy Romig, Doctor of Clinical Nutrition and founder of Sage Integrative Health Center in Mt. Airy, draws a direct line between your body’s response to disease and your nutrition. (Photo by Edward Fitzpatrick)

By Stacia Friedman

Wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distance are all very fine for most of us, but if you are one of the millions of Americans with a pre-existing condition, you need to step up your game.

“You want to make sure your pre-existing conditions are under control so that you have the best chance of fighting Covid-19,” said Natasha Fonseka, MD, former Chief Fellow in Cardiology at Temple University Hospital, 2017 to 2018, now at Chestnut Hill Temple Cardiology in Flourtown.

“Be compliant with medications and make necessary lifestyle changes. For example, if you have diabetes, get your blood sugar under control. Uncontrolled blood sugars can lead to a variety of complications ranging from infection to poor wound healing. Same applies to patients with high blood pressure. Uncontrolled blood pressure can permanently damage your heart, brain and kidneys.”

If you have any kind of lung disease, including “smokers’ cough,” now is the time to quit. “Quitting has tremendous impact on the outcome of people who get Covid,” said Dr. Fonseka.

Being compliant means more than taking your meds. Those extra 20-30 pandemic pounds, when coupled with lack of exercise due to closure of gyms and the intense heat, can be especially problematic for those with pre-existing conditions.

“Patients have gone into heart failure because they are sedentary, snacking on salty food and drinking caffeinated beverages,” said Dr. Fonseka. “These unhealthy habits shoot up their blood pressure, trigger sleep apnea, depression and anxiety.

A major source of anxiety and depression? Watching too much TV! “National news may not apply to what is happening here,” said Dr. Fonseka, “but it is important to pay attention to the local news.” While Philly’s infection rate peaked in mid-April and is doing much better now than California or Florida, the virus hasn’t totally gone away. According to OpenDataPhilly.org, as of July 25, there were 182 cases of Covid-19 in Chestnut Hill and 546 in Mt. Airy.

The Flourtown cardiologist also encourages people with pre-exiting conditions to maintain good communication with their doctors and to know when to see them. “People suffering from heart disease and stoke are afraid to go to the hospital because of their fear of contracting the virus. They have died at home or suffered permanent, irreversible damage when they could’ve received therapies at the hospital,” said Dr. Fonseka.

TeleMed, a video or phone appointment with your doctor, provides a good alternative to seeing the doctor in person. However, it’s important to remember that area hospitals, including Chestnut Hill Hospital, have taken every safety precaution to protect patients from infection throughout the premises, including doctors' offices, reception areas, out-patient facilities and the ER. Everyone who enters Chestnut Hill Hospital gets a temperature check and must wear a mask. Plus, the hospital has special floors for Covid patients.

For those who need help making smarter food choices, Wendy Romig, Doctor of Clinical Nutrition and founder of Sage Integrative Health Center in Mt. Airy, draws a direct line between your body’s response to disease and your nutrition. “People should always be thinking about boosting their immune system,” says Romig, who offers Clinical Care Programs for people with chronic conditions.

“The pandemic is a wake-up call. America is not healthy as a country,” said Romig, who emphasizes that she is not a weight counselor. “As a practitioner  of functional medicine, my goal is to help people make lifestyle changes that boost their immune system,” she said.

“I look at health from the inside out, starting with the gut. If it isn’t functioning properly, it is not going to absorb the nutrients necessary for the function of every cell and organ in your body. The bad bacteria in your gut are taking the lead over the good bacteria. And bad bacteria increase your risk for disease,” which is true whether you have a pre-existing condition or not.

“Bad bacteria come from eating foods containing sugar, caffeine, processed flour and too many carbs,” said Romig, who specializes in vegetarian and vegan diets. She also works with people who eat chicken, fish and meat. “Everyone needs to increase their plant food intake. I will suggest that meat eaters cut back to having meat just once a week,” Romig said. Why more plants? They boost your immune system and lower inflammation.

Boosting your immune system is not just dependent on what you eat, it’s also dependent on how you move. “Physical activity and engagement of the body’s musculature actually activates anti-inflammatory immune function,” said Romig. “More specifically, exercise before eating can lower inflammation brought on by dietary intake of certain foods like fats, meats and simple carbs.”

Speaking of fats and carbs, if you think it’s okay to indulge in pizza, ice cream and Frappuccinos because your meds are controlling your cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, guess again. “As long as you are depending on medications alone to control your disease, your body is out of balance,” said Romig, a trained clinical herbalist, who also offers her clients custom-blended teas and tinctures that address their specific health issues.

For more information, visit sageintegrativehealth.com

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