July 18, 2020
The first showed how data from millions of users of our COVID Symptom Study app can be used to predict whether someone is likely to have COVID-19, even without a formal test.
When the coronavirus pandemic came along, we saw that some people became seriously ill with COVID-19, while others were only mildly ill or had no symptoms at all.
We quickly used our expertise in personalized data science and machine learning to develop the COVID Symptom Study app to understand why the disease affects people so differently, and with over 4 million contributors, it's now the world’s largest study of COVID-19 symptoms.
Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic health are the three significant risk factors for worse COVID-19 outcomes. Genetics, gut health, and inflammation are all key players in determining how each of us will respond to the disease. And we also know that social factors like deprivation and ethnicity also play a role.
The second paper details the findings from PREDICT - the largest study of nutritional responses in the world.
Based on detailed data from more than 1,000 participants, we showed that everyone responds to food in their own way and that even identical twins, who share 100 % of their genes, can have very different responses to exactly the same meals.
The best time to eat for nutritional health also depends on the individual rather than fixed “perfect” mealtimes - for example, we found that some people clearly metabolized food better at breakfast while others saw no difference.
We’ve also found that changes in fat and glucose in our blood after eating a meal differ hugely between individuals. Repeated, excessive blood sugar peaks and dips on a regular basis - for example, by always eating meals that trigger unhealthy fat and sugar responses - could underpin metabolic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Because everyone is unique in the way their bodies respond to eating food, this means that there is no one “right” way to eat. For example, someone who is particularly sensitive to glucose might need to cut their carbs, while someone else can eat them freely.
Both of these studies show the power of large-scale data to understand how the body works on a highly personal level, whether in sickness or in health. And they also reveal that there are plenty of similarities between how people respond to food and how people respond to coronavirus:
There’s another important factor here too, which is the role of the billions of bacteria in our guts, known collectively as the microbiome, which can be altered by what we eat and plays a significant role in determining how we respond to food.
Although we don’t yet have firm data on how the microbiome influences individual COVID-19 risk, we do know that it plays an important role in immunity and immune responses. So there’s likely to be a connection there too.
So, what does this all mean for our health?
Not only does this increases the chances of becoming overweight or obese, as well as the risk of developing conditions like diabetes and heart disease, but it also increases the chances of ending up in intensive care and dying from COVID-19, including for younger people.
The healthier you are, the better your chances of remaining that way over the months to come and the better it is for us as a nation. But - as our PREDICT results show - simple "one-size-fits-all" diet solutions aren’t going to work when it comes to helping each individual move towards their best metabolic health.
Our nutrition research has shown that improving your responses to food and your overall metabolic health relies on an intimate understanding of your own body.
Using the results of our research, we’re developing a personalized home test and app to help you understand how your unique body responds to food and what you can do to improve and optimize your health.