What do vitamin D and COVID-19 have to do with each other? New research has shown that vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for getting COVID-19 as well as for developing increased complications and mortality from the virus and vitamin D is being studied as a treatment option for COVID-19.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be taken as medical advice. It is for informational purposes only. While I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. Please always discuss any lifestyle, supplement or medication changes with your own doctor or other health care providers.
If you have followed me for a while you guys know that I am passionate about preventative medicine and the role of nutrition and natural remedies in helping prevent, treat and heal chronic disease. So when I saw a headline this morning that more than 80 percent of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 were vitamin D deficient, that was something I couldn’t ignore and had to look into further.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble steroid hormone that has many different roles in the human body. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, so sun exposure is the main way that we naturally obtain this vitamin. Vitamin D from the diet or that we get from sun exposure is biologically inactive and requires conversion to become active within the body through processes that occur in the skin, liver and kidney.
Vitamin D is very important for optimal health and plays many different roles within the body. It is involved in bone health, and regulation of both the innate and acquired immune systems and vitamin D deficiency has been linked to numerous health problems including, but not limited to muscle weakness, colon cancer, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, asthma, tuberculosis, systemic lupus erythematous (SLE), heart disease, type I and II diabetes, depression, Alzheimers and more.
Vitamin D and COVID-19
A recent study (reference) from Spain found that over 80 percent (82.2% to be exact) of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were deficient in vitamin D. This was compared to the healthy control group (people without COVID-19) where 47.2% of people were vitamin D deficient.
Other European data has also shown a significant correlation between vitamin D levels and the number of COVID-19 cases in the population. In other words, the lower the vitamin D levels in the population, the more COVID-19 cases, although vitamin D deficiency was not associated with increased risk of death from COVID-19 (reference). Many other studies have also shown this association, including data from Belgium, Indonesia, and the USA which all have found that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for developing COVID-19 infection (reference). However, there have also been a few studies that did not show this same correlation including studies from the UK (reference).
Some studies have also shown a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 severity and mortality, while other studies have not shown this same correlation (reference).
Many other studies have shown that vitamin D can reduce the risk of getting other acute viral respiratory tract infections and pneumonia. Vitamin D supplementation has also been shown to be a safe and effective way to protect against acute respiratory tract infections (reference). In other words, it’s pretty clear that vitamin D plays an important role in various respiratory tract infections.
There are many proposed mechanisms for the role that vitamin D deficiency plays in COVID-19 infections, but if you are not familiar with the immune system trying to explain these various pathways would be very difficult. If you are interested in reading more about that I recommend reviewing this article.
Treating COVID-19 with Vitamin D
There have been very few studies looking at actually treating COVID-19 with vitamin D supplements. Currently there are a few studies that are being conducted looking at vitamin D as a treatment, but so far only one study has actually been published:
In Singapore, a small observational study reported that fewer COVID-19 patients who received supplementation with vitamin D (1000 IU), Mg (150 mg), and vitamin B12 (500 μg) required subsequent oxygen therapy compared to controls that didn’t receive these vitamins (3 out of 17 patients compared to 16 out of 26 patients). This study showed that patients treated with combined vitamin D, Mg and vitamin B12 showed protective effects against clinical deterioration from COVID-19 (reference).
When we look at other infections, a previous meta-analysis showed that vitamin D supplementation is safe and effective in preventing acute respiratory tract infections and that those who had the worst vitamin D deficiency were the ones who benefited the most (reference).
Take home points – vitamin D and COVID-19:
- Many studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for getting COVID-19
- It is unclear if vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for more severe COVID-19 infections
- Vitamin D supplementation is being explored as a treatment for COVID-19, and so far one small study has shown that vitamin D and other vitamins can be helpful in treating COVID-19
- Vitamin D supplementation is safe and effective in preventing other acute respiratory tract infections and may be beneficial for preventing COVID-19 as well
Frequently asked questions:
Whether or not you need to supplement with vitamin D will depend on many factors including your age, other health conditions, where you live, the other supplements you take and your diet. The current Canadian guidelines recommend that healthy adults between 19-50 years of age, including pregnant or breast feeding women, require 400 – 1000 IU of vitamin D per day. Those over the age of 50 require 800 – 2000 IU daily, so if you are not getting enough vitamin D from other sources you will need to supplement. It is very difficult to get enough vitamin D from the sunlight or diet in Canada (and many other parts of the world) and so Health Canada and Osteoporosis Canada both recommend that Canadian adults take a daily vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to be safe for most adults and is recommended in many countries around the world, but how much vitamin D you will need to take must be individualized so please discuss how much to take with your doctor.
For most people, vitamin D3 is the type of vitamin D that you should supplement with. However, if you have certain health conditions such as chronic kidney disease, you may need to take a different form of vitamin D, so always check with your doctor as to which form you should be taking.
I hope you found this helpful and informative!
Other health information you might be interested in:
- Healing keratosis pilaris with diet
- Supplements for acne
- Why you should switch to a natural deodorant
- How to pick a safe sunscreen
- Uptodate.com: Overview of vitamin D
- Uptodate.com: Vitamin d and extra skeletal health
- Vitamin D status in hospitalized patients with SARS-COV-2 infection
- Role of vitamin D in preventing of COVID-19 infection, progression and severity
- A cohort study to evaluate the effect of combination Vitamin D. Magnesium and Vitamin B12 (DMB) on progression to severe outcome in older COVID-19 patients
- Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data
- Alberta Health: Vitamin D and Calcium
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