The BRIGHT MINDS Risk Factors That Make COVID-19 Worse

The BRIGHT MINDS Risk Factors That Make COVID-19 Worse

Advanced age, obesity, smoking—these are some of the biggest risk factors that make you more likely to develop a severe illness or to die from COVID-19, according to emerging research. They are also many of the same risk factors that attack brain health and contribute to mental illness and memory problems. BRIGHT MINDS is a mnemonic for the 11 major risk factors that steal your mind, and as researchers are discovering, they may also raise the risk for more severe illness or death from the coronavirus.

Know how many of these risk factors you have and follow the tips to minimize your risk.

B is for Blood flow.

The World Health Organization reports that people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease are among those at highest risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19. Statistics compiled by the state of New York show that hypertension, coronary artery disease, and high cholesterol are among the top 10 co-morbidities among patients who died from COVID-19.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: Even though you may be sheltering at home, it’s still critical to exercise to get your blood pumping.

R is for Retirement/Aging.

Research in Clinical Infectious Diseases shows that people of old age are at the greatest risk for poor outcomes from COVID-19. Having dementia, which is typically seen in older people, was listed as one of the top 10 co-existing conditions in people who died from COVID-19, according to statistics from the state of New York.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: New learning keeps your brain young. When quarantined or self-isolating, keep your mind active.

I is for Inflammation.

A study in Clinical Infectious Diseases found that people with high levels of C-reactive protein—a marker for inflammation—are more likely to have severe coronavirus illness.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: Avoid pro-inflammatory foods, such as sugar and refined carbohydrates, that drive inflammation.

G is for Genetics.

Researchers suggest the reason why some younger people with no underlying health conditions become seriously ill from COVID-19 may have to do with their genes.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: Know your genetic risks and be proactive about minimizing them.

H is for Head Trauma.

Although research has yet to show a direct connection between head trauma and coronavirus outcomes, having a head injury increases the likelihood of mental health issues, such as depression, which has been linked to inflammation and immune system dysfunction. In addition, people who have had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are also more likely to suffer from addictions to toxic substances that may impact pulmonary health. (See T is for Toxins below.)

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: Protect your brain—wear a helmet while biking, avoid climbing ladders, hold the handrail when you walk down stairs.

T is for Toxins.

Smoking anything—cigarettes, marijuana, or methamphetamine—poses a greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness. According to a release from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.” NIDA also suggests that people with addictions who abuse opioids or methamphetamine may also be at increased risk because these substances negatively affect respiratory and pulmonary health. In addition, kidney disease ranked among the top 10 co-occurring conditions in people who died from COVID-19 in New York state. The kidneys are one of the body’s 4 organs of detoxification—the other 3 are the skin, gut, and liver. Environmental toxins can harm these organs. This damage reduces your detoxification system’s ability to do its job, creating an even greater buildup of toxins.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: During highly stressful times like during a pandemic, eliminate alcohol and drugs and support your 4 organs of detoxification—liver, kidneys, gut, and skin—by minimizing your exposure to environmental toxins.

M is for Mental Health.

Having depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can interfere with immune system function and make you more susceptible to viral infections.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: Seek treatment for mental health issues but be sure to see a healthcare provider who looks at the brain and treats the root causes of mental illness, rather than just treating symptoms.

I is for Immunity and Infections.

Having a chronic infection, such as Lyme disease, may increase vulnerability to COVID-19 and may worsen outcomes, according to Mark Filidei, D.O., the director of integrative and functional medicine at Amen Clinics in Costa Mesa, California.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: Shore up immunity with vitamin D, zinc, therapeutic mushrooms, and garlic.

N is for Neurohormones.

A recent report in The New York Times shows that men are dying from COVID-19 at nearly twice the rate as women. Science suggests it may be due, in part, to hormones. Research shows the female sex hormone estrogen stimulates the immune system, giving women more robust immunity, while the male sex hormone testosterone inhibits the immune system.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: As a general rule, it’s a good idea to check your hormone levels regularly and optimize them if necessary.

D is for Diabesity.

The word “diabesity” combine diabetes and obesity, both of which are associated with poorer outcomes from COVID-19. Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for hospitalization and critical illness, according to a pre-print study (which means it is not yet peer-reviewed) of over 4,000 people in New York who had tested positive for COVID-19. Having diabetes doesn’t increase the risk of becoming ill from COVID-19, but an analysis in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation reports that people with diabetes could be up to twice as likely to die from coronavirus.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: Eat healthy foods—lean protein, colorful vegetables and fruits, and smart carbs (ones that don’t spike your blood sugar)—not just what’s left on the store shelves during the pandemic.

S is for Sleep.

Even though sleep has not been directly associated with worse outcomes from coronavirus, it is tightly linked to immunity. Research on identical twins in the journal Sleep shows that chronic sleep deprivation lowers immune system function.

BRIGHT MINDS Tip: Sleep is often the most affected during a crisis, but you need to make sleep a priority. Aim for 7 hours a night.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, or other mental health issues, you aren’t alone—45% of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their mental health. Just because you’re sheltering at home doesn’t mean you have to wait for the pandemic to be over before seeking help. In fact, during these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting to get treatment is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples, as well as in-clinic brain scanning to help our patients. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. I want to thank you for sharing this information about the risk factors of different health issues and Covid-19.
    Greatly appreciated!!

    Comment by Carolyn M Misero — May 8, 2020 @ 2:35 AM

  2. I learned lots of things from this information that I need to tend to. Cause I have copd use a cpap. I am very careful about not going out . Also I am 69 and very over weight have anxiety andd very lazy lol. There is 7 people in my home and some do not take this serious so it does scare me.

    My husband is 70 also over weight high chlosterol high blood pressure so of course he is my life been married almost 51 years so I want to keep him safe also. So I do thank you for your information and I will do my bet to try and stay safe I have grandchildren that I want to see graduate.

    Comment by DARLENE DENT — May 8, 2020 @ 3:24 AM

  3. You missed one point: a vitamin D blood level of 15 ng/mL or lower is a high risk factor for Covid-19 coronavirus mortality. A vitamin D level above 30 ng/mL restores the immune system. The safest is to have a vitamin D level in the higher range of normal: 50-80 ng/mL. Toxic vitamin D levels are only starting above 150 ng/mL, so there is a wide margin of safety. Below 150 ng/mL there is no concern about hypercalcemia or kidney stones. Keeping your vitamin D level in the high normal level helps to overbridge the time before a vaccination becomes available.

    Comment by Ray Schilling, MD — May 8, 2020 @ 5:48 AM

  4. Hopefully, intelligent, scholarly, wisdom thinking individuals will step forward… In checking the death notices for the last five years, prior to the scary pandemic, I discovered the majority of people who died were old…Also, many were compromised by prior illnesses, diseases…Why the great surprise because old, sick people are now among the majority who die?

    Please know, I will be 75 this year…I do everything possible to live cleanly, eat healthy (Mediterranean diet), no smoking, very minimal wine drinking, support family, believe in God & attend church, etc…Take responsibility for your personal health, wellbeing…don’t seek to have the government support you or take care of you…Regardless, even if you do it all correctly…you’re going to die…

    Comment by Dr. Henry Sinopoli — May 8, 2020 @ 10:21 AM

  5. Dr. Sinopoli, brilliant comments! Thank you for providing wisdom. How can we get more of that into the heads of very scared and fearful people?

    Comment by David Uitdeflesch — May 8, 2020 @ 6:08 PM

  6. It is interesting that no chronic respiratory conditions rank a mention.

    Comment by Roger Bourne — May 9, 2020 @ 3:41 AM

  7. Hello – I follow Dr. Amen sometimes on channel 9 when he is on. I would love to make the $240.00 donation to the channel to receive all the great information as the gift, but cannot currently afford it. I have Fibromyagia. I have also heard him talk about “brain types” how can I find out my brain type and what would be a good suplement for my condition? I have I also have a lot of trouble sleeping , usually 3-4 hours a night. I feel that that constant lack of sleep is aging my brain. I am 62. My brain is probably much older given it is not resting properly every night. I have purchased some of Dr. Amen’ s products and theys have not worked that great. I don’t want to just keep spending money when it does not work as I hoped it would. For me to write to your website must show that I am in the desprite category. Any help is greatly appreaciated. Thank You. Janice Day

    Comment by Janice L Day — March 7, 2022 @ 8:54 AM

  8. I love your book “The End to Mental Illness!” It was phenomenal. I have shared it with over 50 other Health teachers and three people at a psychiatry office! Can you tell me how to get a copy of the Bright Minds poster?

    Comment by Cindy — May 23, 2022 @ 6:16 PM

  9. Hello Cindy, thank you for reaching out. To order the BRIGHT MINDS poster, please contact our BrainMD Health team: We are so happy to hear that you loved Dr. Daniel Amen’s release “The End of Mental Illness!”

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 23, 2022 @ 7:16 PM

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