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Last modified on August 25th, 2020
Covid-19 or the novel coronavirus as it’s also known as is something that’s dominating our daily lives. This isn’t just true in the United States. Around the world people are facing shutdowns, lockdowns and high illness rates because of covid-19.
While many places are looking forward to reopening, we’re reminded that it has to be done cautiously. This leaves people wondering how to protect themselves against covid-19. There are the social distancing measures such as staying six feet apart and wearing masks that are of course, important, but what about other ways you can make sure you’re as healthy as possible? Of course, being healthy doesn’t mean you don’t get sick, but it can help prepare your body to fight off an illness.
Holistic medicine isn’t necessarily something often discussed in the mainstream media, but vitamin D has gotten a lot of attention lately. So what are the links between vitamin D and covid-19? Should you take a vitamin D supplement to protect against coronavirus, or is there any evidence this is worth your time and money? It’s a topic we decided to explore, based on currently available research.
What Does Research Say About Vitamin D and Coronavirus?
The Role of Vitamin D in Protecting the Immune System
Researchers are finding interesting links between vitamin D levels and the likelihood that someone becomes seriously ill with covid-19.
While we can get vitamin D from the sun, some health care providers advise patients to take a supplement.
Vitamin D may help reduce the potential of being infected with viruses, it can balance the immune system in people with autoimmune disorders and it may have mental health benefits as well.
What Is Vitamin D and What Does It Do?
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that helps our bodies absorb calcium, and it also helps you maintain strong bones, but it does more than that as well. Vitamin D helps the nerves in your body carry messages between the brain and body.
Your immune system uses vitamin D to combat viruses and bacteria. When you’re older, you need plenty of vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis.
There is evidence suggesting vitamin D deficiency is linked to chronic health disorders, including diabetes, hypertension, and certain autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis. There are also some links between vitamin D deficiency and cancer.
According to the NIH, some studies show vitamin D can help protect against colon cancer as well as possibly prostate and breast cancer. Doctors and researchers don’t have enough concrete evidence to suggest that low vitamin D levels increase your risk of developing certain cancers or that supplementation could protect you, but it’s an interesting topic.
The amount of vitamin D you need varies depending on your age. For example, adults between the ages of 19 and 0 need 15 mcg a day, while adults who are 71 and older should get at least 20 mcg a day.
Certain foods have vitamin D, including mushrooms, beef liver, egg yolks and fatty fish. Most foods have very little vitamin D, however, so some foods are fortified to include it. As an example, some cereals may have added vitamin D.
Your body also makes vitamin D when your skin is directly exposed to the sun.
However, if you’re getting sun indoors through a window or it’s cloudy out, your body is going to make less vitamin D.
As you can see, it’s actually fairly difficult to get vitamin D without using a supplement, especially if you don’t live in an especially sunny climate.
Some Americans are vitamin D deficient, but researchers believe that almost no one in the U.S. has levels that are too high.
If you are older, you may have lower vitamin D levels because it’s more difficult for your skin to make the vitamin as efficiently as it did when you were younger. People with darker skin also tend to have a difficult time producing enough vitamin D because their skin doesn’t produce as much with sun exposure as someone with lighter skin.
If you’re obese, you may be deficient in vitamin D because body fat can bind to vitamin D, and that then prevents it from reaching your bloodstream.
If you have a gastrointestinal disorder like Crohn’s disease, you may be deficient in vitamin D because your body may have a difficult time handling fat, and vitamin D needs fat to absorb properly.
Vitamin D and Covid-19
There are quite a few different areas of research coming to light right now that show possible relationships between vitamin D and covid-19.
First and foremost, when it comes to coronavirus and vitamin D, you first have to understand that no one is advocating the use of a vitamin D supplement to prevent or cure the disease. But, with that being said, we do know that vitamin D helps the immune system by activating particular white blood cells that combat infections.
With almost 40% of Americans being deficient in vitamin D, and with shelter in place guidelines across the country, it could be especially important right now to think about using a vitamin D supplement during the coronavirus pandemic. If you aren’t spending much time outside during the covid-19 outbreak, a vitamin D supplement could help make up for lack of vitamin D from sunlight.
Vitamin D and Cytokine Storms
We’ve heard a lot about coronavirus and cytokine storms.
A cytokine storm is what doctors believe could be linked to more severe and deadly outcomes for a small percentage of people who get coronavirus. For most people, the virus is mild, but in people who are the sickest with covid-19, their immune system seems to have very high levels of what are called cytokines. Cytokines are a type of protein in the blood.
Researchers believe these cytokines are part of an immune response known as a cytokine storm. With a cytokine storm, your body attacks its own cells and tissues, instead of just fighting the virus itself.
Cytokine storms are frequent in autoimmune diseases, and they can happen when someone is undergoing certain types of cancer treatment.
Infections like the flu can trigger cytokine storms in some people, and this is likely the case with covid-19.
During a cytokine storm induced by covid-19, what may happen according to doctors and researchers is that the tissue in the lungs is primarily targeted. That makes the air sacs in the lungs leaky, and then they can fill with fluid. At that point, the blood may be deprived of oxygen, and it can cause pneumonia.
The cells in the lungs are killed off during a cytokine storm, and it erodes the lungs. That lung damage can cause respiratory distress and organ failure.
With that being said, there was recently released research that showed a potential role of vitamin D to reduce the cytokine storm linked to covid-19. Early research found that there were potential links between someone’s levels of vitamin D and inflammatory markers such as CRP that could indicate a cytokine storm or overactive immune response.
Researchers found that the risk of a severe covid-19 case is 17.3% in patients with a vitamin D deficiency. For patients with normal vitamin D levels, that number was 14.6%. These researchers concluded that vitamin D could reduce the severity of covid-19 by suppressing a cytokine storm.
Researchers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation Trust and the University of East Anglia in England looked at the average vitamin D levels from 20 countries in Europe, with high covid-19 death rates. They found what they described as a significant relationship between the number of deaths caused by coronavirus and vitamin D levels. Researchers described Nordic countries, which they said are lacking in natural sunlight, as being most at risk.
The researchers said that based on what they’d found, they believed they could advise the use of a vitamin D supplement to protect against covid-19.
A study from Trinity College Dublin showed a critical link between vitamin D and respiratory infections and immune system health. Those researchers said that they found the use of a vitamin D supplement reduced the potential for infections in the chest by half.
Tyler Perry’s Call for Vitamin D Supplementation
Media giant Tyler Perry recently made an Instagram video, calling on members of the African American community to be aware of the importance of vitamin D during covid-19.
He said in his video that while vitamin D isn’t a cure for covid-19, he’d read studies showing that vitamin D deficiency could be linked to worse immune and respiratory health outcomes. He also spoke to the fact that African Americans are naturally deficient in vitamin D.
Choosing a Vitamin D Supplement
If you’re someone who may be at risk for a vitamin D deficiency during covid-19 and you’d like to boost your intake, you can go with a supplement. Vitamin D supplements can be especially helpful for people who are most at risk for a deficiency, such as African Americans, people who are obese, older people, and people who don’t get a lot of natural sunlight.
Vitamin D is one of four fat-soluble vitamins. The other three are A, E, and K.
There are two forms of vitamin D, which are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.
Vitamin D2 comes from foods that are fortified with it, plant-based foods, and supplements.
Vitamin D3 can come from fortified foods as well as animal food sources like fatty fish, eggs, and liver, supplements, and it can be made inside of your body when your skin is exposed to the sun’s UV radiation.
Increasingly as we became aware of the potential risks of too much sun, people started getting less and less exposure, which could be why there has been an uptick in chronic illnesses thought to be linked to vitamin D deficiency, such as autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer.
We have a complete guide to the best vitamin D supplements and everything you should know about vitamin D. We encourage you to read that to help you learn more about the importance of vitamin D and how to choose the right supplement, and we also highlight some of our picks for the best options from that article below.
This vitamin D soft gel is easy to take because of its small size and it’s filled with 1000 IU of vitamin D. You take one capsule a day with meals, and this product is well-rated among Amazon users. There is no added coloring and this product is gluten-free.
This product is an inexpensive way to get vitamin D. The capsules are small and easy to swallow with no artificial colors or flavors. Amazon users rank this product well, and they cite that the small size is one of the big perks of getting your vitamin D this way.
Again, we encourage you to read our full post on vitamin D. It can explain more about how much vitamin D you might need daily, people who are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D, and natural ways to get more vitamin D outside of a supplement.
Nothing in this article is meant to be taken as a cure or prevention for coronavirus, but we do like to present new research, and interesting things are coming out about the links between vitamin D and coronavirus. We’ve included direct links to our sources below.