Hypotheses about sub-optimal hydration in the weeks before coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as a risk factor for dying from COVID-19.
Medical hypotheses. 2020;:110237
To address urgent need for strategies to limit mortality from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), this review describes experimental, clinical and epidemiological evidence that suggests that chronic sub-optimal hydration in the weeks before infection might increase risk of COVID-19 mortality in multiple ways. Sub-optimal hydration is associated with key risk factors for COVID-19 mortality, including older age, male sex, race-ethnicity and chronic disease. Chronic hypertonicity, total body water deficit and/or hypovolemia cause multiple intracellular and/or physiologic adaptations that preferentially retain body water and favor positive total body water balance when challenged by infection. Via effects on serum/glucocorticoid-regulated kinase 1 (SGK1) signaling, aldosterone, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), aquaporin 5 (AQP5) and/or Na+/K+-ATPase, chronic sub-optimal hydration in the weeks before exposure to COVID-19 may conceivably result in: greater abundance of angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors in the lung, which increases likelihood of COVID-19 infection, lung epithelial cells which are pre-set for exaggerated immune response, increased capacity for capillary leakage of fluid into the airway space, and/or reduced capacity for both passive and active transport of fluid out of the airways. The hypothesized hydration effects suggest hypotheses regarding strategies for COVID-19 risk reduction, such as public health recommendations to increase intake of drinking water, hydration screening alongside COVID-19 testing, and treatment tailored to the pre-infection hydration condition. Hydration may link risk factors and pathways in a unified mechanism for COVID-19 mortality. Attention to hydration holds potential to reduce COVID-19 mortality and disparities via at least 5 pathways simultaneously.