Impaired Immune Response in Obesity Could Be a Problem in Achieving Herd Immunity

by Mike Mutzel


Scientists find lean subjects made protective antibodies after infection while obese subjects did not make protective antibodies—they made maladaptive autoantibodies instead. Researchers speculate that leptin plays a role in skewing the immune response toward autoimmunity after infection.



Researchers at the University of Miami have published studies finding that obese subjects have an impaired immune response to the now-endemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 infections in lean subjects were followed by a predictable rise in protective IgG antibodies to the spike protein; not so for the infected obese subjects. Although antibodies did rise after infection in obese subjects, these autoantibodies were directed toward self-tissues, not the protective antibodies toward the spike protein.

The autoimmune antibodies increased in the obese subjects but not the lean subjects and were specific for a marker of oxidative damage and fat cell death, known as malondialdehyde (MDA) and adipocyte-derived protein antigens (AD), respectively.

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The researchers also noted a strong association with increased levels of autoantibodies directed at self-tissues and levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). Higher CRP, more autoantibodies formed—especially in the obese subjects compared to the lean subjects.

The implications of these studies are important for four main reasons:

-Obese individuals are at higher risk for severe infection and reinfection

-Obese subjects are at greater risk for autoimmunity post-infection

-Obesity is linked with higher baseline levels of oxidative stress and fat cell damage, which is worsened following infection

The research team speculated that leptin plays a role, skewing the immune system to be less tolerant of self-tissues and initiating the formation of autoantibodies.

This research adds even more impetus to make nutrition, exercise and healthy living part of the conversation as we learn to “live with the virus.”

If you found this helpful, please share it with a friend or family member to help motivate them to make small changes in their habits and associated metabolic health.

Time Stamps:

0:00 Intro
0:09 Endemic Virus
0:59 Obese Don't Make Protective Antibodies
1:15 Obese people make autoantibodies
1:40 Leptin and Fat on Fire
2:40 Leptin exacerbates inflammation, autoimmunity
3:13 Study we're discussing
3:49 Make Americans Healthy Again
4:35 Blood Work MasterClass
5:30 Daniela Frasca, PhD: Obesity Hinders Immune System Response
6:10 Antibodies and BMI, C-Reactive Protein
6:43 Metainflammation and Inflammaging
7:15 Blood sugar and inflammation
8:13 Leptin and immunity
9:29 Summary of Study: immune tolerance breakdown
11:30 Lifestyle matters
12:30 Antibodies directed at fat tissue
12:52 Omega-6 Oils, Seed Oils & autoimmunity
13:50 Excess deaths related to heart disease on the rise
14:42 Image: CRP and autoantibodies
15:39 New study summary
16:21 Italy Research from fat cell spill over
16:58 Obesity is an autoimmune disease
17:05 Change your habits
17:47 Image: Behavior model

Books and References:

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything

Belly Fat Effect: The Real Secret About How Your Diet, Intestinal Health, and Gut Bacteria Help You Burn Fat

Frasca, D., Reidy, L., Cray, C., Diaz, A., Romero, M., Kahl, K., & Blomberg, B. B. (2021). Influence of obesity on serum levels of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies in COVID-19 patients. Plos One, 16(3), e0245424–16.

Frasca, D., Reidy, L., Romero, M., Diaz, A., Cray, C., Kahl, K., & Blomberg, B. B. (2021). The majority of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies in COVID-19 patients with obesity are autoimmune and not neutralizing. International Journal of Obesity, 1–6.

Daniela Frasca, PhD: Obesity Hinders Immune System Response

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