Diet and gut health are crucial modifiable risk factors in coronavirus severity, says professor

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

COVID Symptom Tracker App
COVID Symptom Tracker App

Related tags Research COVID-19 diet microbiome

The professor behind the COVID Symptom Tracker app - said to be the biggest ever citizen science project in health - predicts that diet and nutrition will soon be recognised as an essential element of immunity and a big modifiable risk factor in the fight against coronavirus.

Professor Tim Spector, of King's College London, well known for his TwinsUK microbiome study and subsequent ZOE digital health startup, is the key scientist behind the COVID Symptom Tracker which has been downloaded by over 2.25 million people since its launch just one month ago today (launched March 24th).

With so many downloads and about 15 million individual reports logged to help track how the disease is progressing across the UK, prof Spector argues it is "the biggest citizen science project in health that's ever been in the world"​.

Speaking in an app update webinar hosted on the Zoe website​, he pointed out that it is becoming better understood that diet and gut health could have a massive impact on virus symptom severity.

"In the US, we've seen that people in poorer areas have been at around ten times higher risk of severe disease.

"There's increasing awareness that having an unstable metabolism, poor diet, and a compromised microbiome, which is so crucial for our immunity, is a big factor.

"We will see in the next few month, things like diet and health coming into play here as being a big modifiable risk factor we can look at for people at risk.

"We know diet and gut health are absolutely crucial for immunity and this could be one unifying reason why these groups are suffering so badly at the moment."

Predicting a second wave

The app will also become hugely important when it comes to predicting and avoiding a second peak, according to the professor, and its data could help keep the number of hospital admissions under control.

"Using the app is probably the fastest way to tract if a second wave is likely to happen as this point.

"A swab test can take 4-5 days to get the results, plus tests can still give false negative results and contact tracing is better when the number of cases is down to the hundreds, as opposed to the thousands.

"For now, sharing symptoms through the app gives us a good level of information to provide the NHS with predictions of future surges."

Discovering new symptoms

Another benefit of the app is its ability to discover new symptoms of COVID-19, with one being loss of smell.

"About 20,000 app users have tested positive for COVID-19 and we can use their data to see what symptoms are associated with a positive test.

"We can see that loss of smell gives us a six fold increased risk of having a positive test result."

Prof Spector said he is now working to encourage the government to add loss of smell to its list of key virus symptoms so that those who are experiencing this symptom will be advised to self isolate in the same way as those with a temperature and cough.

The team behind the app is working to get NHS England to support the app by encouraging people to sign up.

"We ask anyone out there is influential and if they can help us to please get in touch. All technology that can work to help beat this should be working together as we all have a role to play," ​added prof Spector.

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