Can Vitamin D Prevent COVID-19 Infection?
Nutrition experts have long established that vitamin D is essential for optimal bone health as it helps absorb calcium. However, a low vitamin D status has been associated with a range of autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases due to its role as an essential immunologic mediator.*
Vitamin D levels are influenced by nutrition, certainly, as it can be partially sourced from food — things like fatty salmon, beef liver, egg yolks and Swiss cheese all contain ample vitamin D — but is often sourced naturally just by being outside. The most well-known way to get your dose of vitamin D is exposing yourself to sunlight; however, risks of skin cancer have decreased such simple methods of vitamin D supplementation.
Who is at risk for vitamin D deficiency?
Experts have previously established that these at-risk individuals would benefit from discussing vitamin D supplements with a doctor:
- Adults over the age of 65
- People with clinical obesity
- People diagnosed with liver disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis and/or Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- Those who experience limited sun exposure
- Those with dark skin tones
- Those enjoying a plant-based lifestyle
Your healthcare provider can order a blood test to examine your vitamin D levels.
Can Vitamin D Lower Your Risk of COVID-19?
The need for vitamin supplementation including vitamin D has long been debated regarding the current pandemic. Pre-existing medical conditions, healthcare accessibility, and socioeconomic factors may contribute to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority populations worldwide. A higher rate of COVID-19 positivity among the Black and Hispanic population in the US was attributed to low circulating vitamin D status but also to other, non-biological factors such as greater barriers to social distancing were also major contributing factors. However, a new piece of research has once again reignited the public's interest in these supplements, as scientists highlight a possible association between vitamin D levels and the immune system's ability to fend off severe COVID-19 symptoms, particularly associated with the Omicron variant.
The small-scale study, which was organized by researchers in Israel and is based on data collected between April 2020 and February 2021, was recently published in PLOS ONE and presents a case that researchers say is "equally relevant" for Omicron spread as well. The data was collected from 253 people who were admitted to hospitals for treatment (at a time before vaccines were available) and was used to conclude that those who had a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to develop a severe or critical case of COVID-19, as compared to patients who had sufficient vitamin D levels within blood samples taken at the time of hospitalization. About half of those in the study were deficient in the vitamin. Another small study from MLB Medical College, enrolled 154 patients with COVID-19 age group 30-60 years admitted during the study period of 6 weeks. Study included either asymptomatic COVID-19 patients (Group A) or severely ill patients requiring Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admission (Group B). Serum concentration of Vitamin D were tested in all patients at time of admission. Standard statistical analysis was performed to analyze the differences. The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was 32.96% and 96.82% respectively in Group A and Group B. Serum level of inflammatory markers were found to be higher in vitamin D deficient COVID-19.
These small studies need further studies to improve our understanding of the association of Vitamin D and the current pandemic. However, one thing is clear that being vitamin D deficient is not necessarily negligible risk and not so uncommon at least among patients who require hospitalization.
THE BEST WAY TO TAKE MY VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENT?
There are two major types of vitamin D:
- Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) – which is synthesized by plants
- Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) – which is made in large quantities in the skin when sunlight strikes bare skin
Vitamin D₃ (cholecalciferol) is the form of vitamin D that is naturally made by our bodies after the skin is exposed to direct sunlight. It can also be found in vitamin supplements and foods, such as fortified milk, fatty fish, fish liver oil, and egg yolks. However, the body cannot use vitamin D3 until it is changed into an active form of vitamin D by the liver and kidneys. Since vitamin D3 is naturally found in the human body, it is considered the preferred form of vitamin D supplementation.
If you are taking your vitamin D3 in pill form, experts recommend taking the pill with a full meal – preferably a fatty meal – to maximize absorption; however, most of the population is either not following these instructions or not absorbing the vitamin D3 that they swallow. Hence there is a possibility that an absorbable, under the tongue vitamin D3 can have an advantage over the swallowed products by direct absorption into the bloodstream. The advantage of any under the tongue or what the pharmaceutical industry coins as sublingual is the fact that you no longer need to worry about your gut absorption and fatty meals since the vitamin D3 absorbs under your tongue and directly into your bloodstream, hence no worries about fatty meals or no meals in the stomach at all!
More sunlight and foods rich in vitamin D are the best way to get more vitamin D. Try to get 15-20 minutes of sunlight, three days a week. And eat foods like: oily fish (like salmon or sardines), red meat, egg yolks, and foods with vitamin D added. Supplements are also an option. Ask your doctor how much vitamin D you need before taking them.
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This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Laird E, Ward M, McSorley E, Strain JJ, Wallace J. Vitamin D and bone health: potential mechanisms. Nutrients. 2010 Jul;2(7):693-724. doi: 10.3390/nu2070693. Epub 2010 Jul 5. PMID: 22254049; PMCID: PMC3257679.
- Jain A, Chaurasia R, Sengar NS, Singh M, Mahor S, Narain S. Analysis of vitamin D level among asymptomatic and critically ill COVID-19 patients and its correlation with inflammatory markers. Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 19;10(1):20191. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-77093-z. PMID: 33214648; PMCID: PMC7677378.
- Cozier YC, Castro-Webb N, Hochberg NS, Rosenberg L, Albert MA, Palmer JR. Lower serum 25(OH)D levels associated with higher risk of COVID-19 infection in U.S. Black women. PLoS One. 2021 Jul 27;16(7):e0255132. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0255132. PMID: 34314458; PMCID: PMC8315514.
- Charoenngam N, Holick MF. Immunologic Effects of Vitamin D on Human Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2020 Jul 15;12(7):2097. doi: 10.3390/nu12072097. PMID: 32679784; PMCID: PMC7400911.
- MBBSCouncil. MLB Medical College Jhansi NEET Cutoff | Rank | Fees | Admission. [Accessed 3 March 2022].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know. [Accessed 3 March 2022].
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