CHICO, Calif. - "I was sick for a very very very long time. I had a spinal cord disease and was going paralyzed," said Mary Adams, who now lives in Chico.
About a decade ago, Mary Adams left the hospital with a little hope, a catheter and a lot of painkillers. Then came a new problem.
"I was ordering dominos pizza.. they come with the cookie pizza too," Adams said.
She gained 100 pounds over several years. But one day she said enough is enough.
"God gave me 9 lives, and I think I'm on my 9th," Adams said.
Then the pandemic hit.
"There were days I was on my bathroom floor crying, and yes I ate In-and-Out and Cheetos and all that stuff, but I didn't give up," Adams said.
It's a good thing she didn't; a 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found poor diet is the number 1 factor in pre-existing chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Those are three things that make surviving COVID-19 less certain.
The CDC reports, as BMI increases, so does the risk of death from COVID-19.
"Somebody carrying extra weight on their body, why is it that they're so susceptible to this specific virus?" I asked Chico State Associate Professor and Virologist Troy Cline.
"If infected, an obese patient is more likely to be hospitalized, they're more likely to be intubated and more likely to experience fatal disease," said Cline.
Professor Troy Cline has seen it over and over again in flu studies.
"These people have lower numbers of certain white blood cells circulating, and those white blood cells that they have don't perform their antiviral functions that they have as effectively as they would in a lean person," he said.
So what can we do to change that?
"Stop. Eating. Sugar. Suger is a profound inflammatory," said Dr. Deborah Penner, who practices Functional Nutrition and Orthopedic Chiropractics in Chico.
The USDA reports the average American consumes 156 lbs of sugar every year.
Most of it comes in the form of hidden, added sugars in sauces, condiments and even the crackers we give our kids.
"Anytime you have elevated inflammatory process in your body, every system in your body is compromised. And even a small amount of sugar will compromise your immune system for up to 24 hours," Dr. Penner said.
Dr. Deborah Penner says "living" foods are the best bet for a healthy body.
"Fresh food doesn't need a label, and that's where your optimal nutrition lies. Fresh vegetables, healthy meats, cheeses," Penner said. "If you're getting your vitamin D from mushrooms or egg yolks, you're not just getting vitamin D, you're getting a whole array of things that work synergistically.
Both experts say exercise, sleep and cutting stress can also go a long way.
Adams now meditates, sweats it out with a home-sauna bag and bikes.
She sticks with fresh, unprocessed food. Most of the time.
"Once you realize you're not in control of anything out there, only what's right here, you're kind of just putting on armor for battle... if I can put good food in my body, I feel like I've taken that power back," Adams said.
Professor Cline warns he doesn't believe healthy lifestyle habits should minimize the pandemic threat, and urges us all to continue wearing masks in crowds, and wash our hands as we wait for vaccines to become widely available.