That Time I Got COVID

Mark Sisson sitting in a blue shirtJust before Thanksgiving, I got COVID. Or the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV2. Whatever you wish to call it, I had it. Here’s how it all went down…

I was driving in the car with someone for 45 minutes who tested positive the next day. They didn’t appear to be symptomatic, perhaps they were presymptomatic (the positive test was a surprise to them), but at any rate they ended up testing positive for COVID. That was on a Monday.

Immediately after they told me they’d tested positive, I self-isolated. Stayed home, avoided the gym, all of that. Just to be safe. I scrapped my Thanksgiving plans and ate steak alone in my room (which actually worked out, because I never much liked turkey).

How Was It?

I started getting symptoms the Friday following. It started as a single bout of water diarrhea on Friday. One bout, and then it resolved and never returned. No further GI problems. I began getting sniffles and some mild congestion and chest congestion later that day, so before bed I took an antihistamine and slept pretty well.

Next morning, I had an in-home PCR test from a local private company. End of day I had results: positive for COVID. By then, the symptoms had gotten a little stronger or maybe the same. More sniffles, congestion. But again, I managed to sleep well and woke up feeling quite fine. By the end of Sunday, all respiratory symptoms had resolved.

My sense of smell and taste took about a week to come back to normal. But I never had a fever, never felt like I was even close to knocking on death’s door. All in all, it felt like a fairly mild summer cold other than the loss of smell and taste.

Long  Term Effects

I was most worried about that. After all, smell and taste aren’t “tongue” or “nose” senses, they happen in the brain. What was happening to the portions of my brain that manifest those sensations? There are reports of people with altered taste and smell sensations even after their bout with COVID has concluded. As a lover of food (indeed, it’s basically my entire brand), I didn’t want that to happen.

Luckily it didn’t. A week was all it took to return to normal. Everything I knew and loved before COVID tastes and smells the same.

One suggestion I’ve seen is that the virus affects the ability of the brain cells responsible for taste and smell to metabolize glucose. The idea is that this could inhibit their function and make it very difficult to smell and taste. If that’s the case — and I want to reiterate that it’s just a hypothesis and there are other candidate explanations — then I can imagine being fat-adapted and ketone-adapted would be very helpful for staving off the worst of those effects. After all, I have an “alternate” fuel source available and my brain is ready and willing to utilize it. Now, this being true is contingent on those portions of the brain being able to metabolize fatty acids or ketones; some parts of the brain must run on glucose, no matter what.

Again, all speculation.

After all my symptoms had resolved, I still took a week to start working out and another week to resume life as normal. Again, just in case. I didn’t notice anything from my time away from training — breathing was normal, performance the same when I got back to my workouts.

My experience was mild and fairly ideal, from what I can tell. That doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a real virus that’s hitting some people very hard. And I won’t present myself as a refutation of the severity of COVID. I am but a case study, an N=1 experiment. I’ll be watching for any latent symptoms cropping up down the line, but for now I have to say I feel pretty good.

I know people who look really good on paper health-wise, who have had a much worse experience with COVID than I did. Researchers have found a few factors that determine whether you have a mild or severe experience with COVID, but not all of them. Even though I had a relatively easy time with it, I still hold that this isn’t something to mess around with. Take your precautions.

Biomarkers of Note

I did find a few things interesting about some prior bloodwork and how it possibly related to my experience.

A couple weeks prior to my experience, I had bloodwork done. My vitamin D levels were well above normal. My total cholesterol was about 265, with low triglycerides, moderately “elevated” LDL, and high HDL. My fasting insulin level was 2 with a normal range of 3-20. Overall, my metabolic health was pretty good going in.

  • Vitamin D: In the early days of COVID, I was uncertain whether vitamin D supplementation would increase or lower your risk due to vitamin D increasing ACE2 receptor expression, the pathway through which the virus infects a person. But subsequent data shows that vitamin D is protective against COVID and COVID severity and I strongly suspect that my vitamin D levels were an important reason why I had such a mild case.1 I can’t say for sure whether one vitamin had a major impact, a minor role, or no effect at all, because hundreds of other factors could be in play.
  • Cholesterol: Cholesterol doesn’t exist in our body to kill us and give us heart disease. It plays many important roles, including roles in the immune system. One reason why some researchers suspect hunter gatherers and other non-industrial people tend to have such low cholesterol levels is that they are fighting off infectious diseases and parasites. Could somewhat elevated cholesterol be protective? Who knows.
  • Good metabolic health: If I were to have elevated cholesterol with low HDL and high triglycerides, I probably would have been at a greater risk, as that profile indicates poor metabolic health — another major risk factor for COVID severity. In fact, one study found that hospitalized COVID patients with high triglycerides and low LDL cholesterol levels were at a higher risk of dying from the disease.2
  • Fasting insulin: Some studies have found links between higher insulin levels and COVID, just like they have with many other diseases and health conditions. Although the most important explanation for the relationship is that low fasting insulin is a strong marker of metabolic health, one paper did find that diabetics who used insulin therapy were at a greater risk of dying from COVID than diabetics who did not use it.3
  • Low stress: Stress inhibits the immune system, especially if it’s chronic. Since I wasn’t very worried about the virus and was quite confident I’d be okay if I did get it, I wasn’t stressed out about how it would affect me personally (I still didn’t want to give it to anyone else, which is why I isolated just to be safe). My baseline stress levels were low, and low cortisol levels could improve immune function. Being wracked with stress (from any cause, including constant digestion of scary pandemic news) would have made me more vulnerable to the virus.

In other words, I could say that I’ve been training for this my entire life – not just this virus, but anything that could present an insult to my biology. Did all the stuff I’ve been talking about and practicing for decades help me stave off this disease? I’ll never know. But I’m going to keep it up.

COVID is a unique virus. It’s not a stressor any of us have ever encountered. But that’s where the power of good metabolic health comes in: it’s a catch all. It helps prepare you for a lot of things that come your way.

There are other factors too, many of them unknown and lurking beneath the surface. Genetics plays a role, as does basic luck of the draw. At the very least, however, being fit and healthy won’t make anything worse. It’s not a cure-all, but it doesn’t hurt. There is no argument for being less healthy, fit, or strong. There’s no argument a person can make that being in good health, staying active, and eating well will leave you more open to diseases.

Am I immune? Of course not. No one is. I got it, didn’t I? Eating and moving well can’t bestow immunity. But it has to be part of everyone’s battle plan to give them their best shot at avoiding and beating this thing.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

If you’re comfortable sharing your experience with COVID, please do so down in the comment section.


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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