Vitamin D has been getting far more publicity lately, with researchers suggesting a potential link between the so-called sunshine vitamin and Covid-19. Let’s take a look at what Vitamin D does for the body, how deficiency is diagnosed, and what current research says about its relationship to the present coronavirus.
What Is Vitamin D & What Role Does It Play?
Vitamin D is a vital vitamin that can be made naturally within the body in response to sunlight. It can also be found in limited quantities within certain drinks and foods, though many people need supplements to keep their levels optimal year-round.
This ‘sunshine vitamin’ plays various roles in the body, yet its importance is often overlooked or underestimated. Once your body gets hold of Vitamin D, it’s sent on to the liver and transformed into 25(OH)D, which can then be redistributed throughout your body. The different tissues in your body transform it into ‘activated vitamin D’ so that it can perform its various duties.
Vitamin D is crucial to bone health, helping the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diets, in turn being beneficial for muscles, teeth and bones.
Vitamin D is vital for the healthy functioning of your lungs, brain and heart, as well as within the immune system for fighting infections. It supports the immune system and body’s cells in various ways throughout your life. It’s this aspect that appears to link to COVID19, with vit D supporting our body’s ability to fight the virus.
In essence, vitamin D plays a pivotal role in your cardiovascular system, respiratory system, muscles, bones, brain and immune system.
What Are The Sources Of Vitamin D?
We typically get around 90% of Vitamin D from this sunshine exposure. To actually get the benefit of sunshine, however, you need at least 15 minutes of proper sunlight each week on bare skin. There’s a catch-22 here, because the general advice is to use sunscreen to protect your skin, and yet this can prevent some of the goodness being absorbed. What’s more, the vitamin tends to only be stored in your body for 2 months, so you need ongoing top-ups of exposure throughout the year.
Vitamin D can also be absorbed from different fluids and foods, though they’re somewhat limited. You might get some of your intake from the likes of egg yolks, fortified dairy or grain products, some red meat or certain types of oily fish.
Many people need, or prefer, to supplement. Because vitamin D is a little tricker to naturally obtain, many people, especially those in less gloriously sunny climates, will find themselves lacking to some degree, from sub-optimal to severely deficient. Supplements come in different forms, like tablets, sprays, and the drops that I personally use, to help bring up or keep your vitamin D at optimal levels.
What Are The Signs Of Deficiency?
Many of those with vitamin D deficiency don’t experience symptoms, but when symptoms are present they may include the likes of general aches and pains, bone pain, muscle weakness, or more regular infections. Low vitamin D has been associated with various other health issues, like migraines and depression, but more research is needed to confirm the links and to really understand the myriad of ways a lack of Vitamin D can affect our bodies.
As symptoms are often not present, it’s a deficiency that can all too often be misdiagnosed or go unnoticed entirely.
How Is Vitamin D Deficiency Diagnosed?
A blood test can check your 25(OH)D levels and tell you whether you’re lacking Vitamin D.
While exact ‘normal’ ranges vary slightly, the following are often suggested:
- Low : 30nmol/l (12ng/ml) or below
- Adequate : 50nmol/l (20ng/ml) or above
- High : 125nmol (50ng/ml) or above
I was diagnosed age 27 with osteopenia, with results actually being just 0.1 away from an osteoporosis diagnosis. Not the best news I’ve ever had. My vitamin D level was found to be almost non-existent. I wonder what would have happened if it weren’t for that bone scan prompting the blood test. I would have already been deficient for quite some time, but it’s not a vitamin that had ever previously been checked. Unless doctors are looking for it in particular, vitamin D doesn’t end up on typical blood screens.
If you’re concerned or just curious, speak to your doctor about a blood test for Vitamin D. If you’re in the UK and either your doctor is unwilling to test you or you would just prefer a home blood test, then you can get a reasonably priced check privately from Medichecks.
For further information on their tests & service, you can check out my full review of Medichecks here.
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What Are The Best Vitamin D Supplements?
The exact recommended levels of vitamin D vary depending on the country and authority site you’re looking at. The general gist is around 10 to 1510µg daily for adults. For instance:
- The NHS suggests that that adults need 10µg (mcg / micrograms) daily of vitamin D, which is the equivalent to 400IU.
- In the US, it’s typically said that babies need 10 micrograms (400IU), adults 1-170 years need 15 micrograms (600IU) and those over 71 years need 20mcg (800IU).
There are plenty of over the counter supplements available in store or online. Many will be higher than 10mcg, and I personally consider that to be preferable, especially as I don’t absorb nutrients well from food these days and my skin rarely sees adequate sunlight.
Always check the dosage and strength before buying. Always speak to your GP or pharmacist if you have any queries, and before starting a new supplement if you have any medical conditions or take other prescription medications.
I’ve listed some of the Vitamin D supplements I would recommend here.
What Are The Findings Linking Vitamin D to Coronavirus?
A few studies of current data have been conducted to shed some light on the links between Covid19 and Vitamin D levels, though more research is clearly needed along withmore reliable, controlled studies.
In one reported study, researchers have looked at 216 patients in Spain’s Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital. They found that 82% of those in hospital with coronavirus had a deficiency of Vitamin D. They also discovered increased inflammatory markers alongside this deficiency such as increased D-dimer. Such inflammatory markers tend to rise when your body is fighting an infection. Of the vitamin deficient patients, 44 went to ICU and 37 required mechanical ventilation.
The researchers at the University of Cantabria in Santander who were behind this study are calling for Covid patients to have Vitamin D as one potential treatment option, considering it may be beneficial and it’s also less likely to have any side-effects.
A systematic review and meta-analysis published on medRxiv has found that vitamin D may take an important supportive role for the immune system, particularly regarding the cytokine response regulation when fighting Covid19. They found that, of 4922 patients, 48% were clinically deficient in vitamin D and 41% had insufficient levels.
Some research has shown less positive results, such as one loosely suggesting Vitamin D failed to reduce the mortality risk or length of hospital stays for patients hospitalised with Covid-19 compared to patients who received a placebo.
However, further research indicates more hopeful findings. For instance, other research has shown high instances of Vitamin D deficiency among those infected with Covid-19 who experienced respiratory failure and thus had a higher risk of dying.
In another randomised study, patients were split into two groups: 50 hospitalised patients with Covid19 received a high dose calcifediol (vitamin D) supplement, and it was found found that only one patient needed subsequent intensive care treatment. In the 26 patients with the virus who didn’t receive vitamin D therapy, 13 subsequently required intensive care treatment.
From initial findings, it seems reasonable to suggest Vitamin D is unlikely to be a way of fully preventing infection or being used as any kind of robust cure, but it may offer meaningful protective qualities.
An Upcoming Coronavit Trial
With mounting evidence hinting that Vitamin D can be beneficial in the fight against coronavirus, other researchers are keen to do more standardised investigations. A trial is now underway by London’s Queen Mary University, where 5,000 volunteers will take Vitamin D for a 6 month period to see whether it can help prevent them from catching coronavirus, or if they do catch it, whether it can protect them from becoming seriously ill.
This Coronavit trial has been looking for participants age 16 and over in the UK, providing they don’t already use high doses of Vitamin D. They’ll then be sent the supplements in the post as part of the trial. If you’re interested in participating, you can send an email to email@example.com.
Adrian Martineau, the Professor of Repspiratory Medicine and Immunity at the Queen Mary University has stated numerous issues with current research, such as in lacking controls and not being able to show any definitive causation. However, he’s also cautiously positive and states that “…there’s a fighting chance it might help against Covid – but cause and effect has not been proven yet”. Martineau says he’d go with what the government recommends for most individuals, which is for low dose daily supplements of Vitamin D at 10mcg, especially during the winter and spring months.
Raising Awareness Of Vitamin D
From my own experience of severe deficiency and osteopenia, I would personally highly recommend people to get their levels checked and/or take supplements. After my initial high dose treatment, I now take vitamin D daily for life. Whether you live in a sunny climate or not, whether you have symptoms or not, vitamin D levels can struggle and potentially have a significant impact on your overall health.
Regardless of the true impact of Vitamin D during the coronavirus pandemic, it seems sensible to say it could have its benefits, and that deficiency could put people at greater risk generally speaking.
It’s also a good time to raise awareness of the importance of the sunshine vitamin, so that more people can get checked and ensure their levels are optimal for the sake of their own overall health, whether they come into contact with the virus or not.
Do you supplement your vitamin D? Do you think it could play a protective role for the immune system in the current Coronavirus pandemic?
[ I’m not a scientist or a medical professional. Sources, where relevant, have been referenced, and any personal opinions included are mine alone.]