Does Vitamin D Lessen COVID-19 Risk?

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The headlines have been abuzz recently with the possibility that vitamin D could lessen the risks of COVID-19.

Much of the information has pointed out that the pandemic began in the Northern Hemisphere during winter. Down under things began during summer and we’ve seen notably better outcomes [so far]. Some say the virus doesn’t like the heat; others put it down to higher levels of vitamin D.

So, as we head into the cooler months in Australasia it seems timely to talk about it with you.

We include vitamin D3 in 55+ as it’s known to be critical to bone health – a big issue for menopausal women. However, among other things, it’s also proven to help with respiratory illness and the immune system.

Vitamin D & COVID-19

Currently, a number of studies are underway in Europe investigating whether vitamin D is able to reduce the risk of infection and death with COVID-19.

Some schools of thought say yes, there’s an out and out link, others say not so much.

  • One widely reported study looked at 212 patients in hospitals in South Asia with mild, severe and critical cases of COVID-19. Researchers observed those with the mildest symptoms had higher levels of vitamin D.
  • Another was conducted by the Queen Elizabeth Foundation Trust and the University of Anglia in England.  The research looked at 20 European countries and found vitamin D levels of patients with COVID-19 were “strongly associated” with how they fared.
  • The Irish Longitudinal Study (TILDA) at Trinity College in Dublin released a report on vitamin D and it’s relation to COVID-19 in response to the pandemic. Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA, said:

‘’We have evidence to support a role for Vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, particularly in older adults who have low levels. In one study Vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infections to half in people who took supplements. Though we do not know specifically of the role of Vitamin D in COVID infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of Vitamin D. Cocooning is a necessity but will reduce physical activity. Muscle deconditioning occurs rapidly in these circumstances and Vitamin D will help to maintain muscle health and strength in the current crisis.” 

While that’s not to say vitamin D is a cure-all or the answer to wiping out COVID – would that it was that simple right? –  it does present a case to ensure we’ve got good levels of vitamin D in our bodies.

Position Statement: Vitamin D and health in adults in Australia and New Zealand.

Winter & Vitamin D

Technically vitamin D is not a nutrient, it’s a hormone. Rather than getting it through food, our main source comes from sunlight on our skin. During the warmer months, we get a nice dose as we’re outdoors a lot. However, when its cooler we stay inside more (as we do in quarantine!) and our levels can reduce. While our bodies store vitamin D for some weeks/months our skin still needs sunlight to maintain optimum levels. A good half an hour of sunshine daily – just until your skin begins to turn pink – is enough to get some lovely vitamin D synthesis going on. A good dose will serve up to 10,000-20,000 units.

Tip: Darker skins need longer exposure

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According to the Vitamin D Council in the US when we’re in our winter clothes we get 10 percent exposure, in a summer dress 40 percent and in a bikini 80 percent.

Food Sources Of Vitamin D

There are few food sources of vitamin D but you’ll find it in:

  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines
  • Mushrooms grown in sunshine
  • Cod Liver Oil

How Much Vitamin D Do We Need?

There are many differing opinions on this.

FYI: iu refers to international units.

Australia’s Health and Medical Research Council and New Zealand’s Ministry of Health recommend about 400 iu per day for women up to 50 after which they double it. The reason for this is probably that as we grow older we’re not outside as much and mature skin doesn’t synthesise vitamin D as well.

The general consensus is 800 iu per day. However, experts say this is woefully low.

Leading authority Dr Michael Holick, author of The Vitamin D Solution recommends more like 1500-2000 iu for women per day. He believes insufficient vitamin D is the most common health problem we are faced with today.

How To Get Your Vitamin D Levels Tested

  1. You can ask your doctor for a vitamin D test. When I requested one my GP told me they are expensive and I would need to pay. But then I had an appointment with a rheumatologist who gave me one as a matter of course.
  2. There are home kits available also. I’ve not used one but you can get them here in Australia, $49 AUD, and here in New Zealand. $75 NZD.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Deficiencies or low levels of vitamin D are linked to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression
  • Bone disease
  • Hair loss
  • Autoimmune diseases – Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis

The vitamin D master himself, Dr Michael Holick, believes women should be particularly concerned about their vitamin D levels as a deficiency can see us lose about 3-4 percent of our skeletal mass per year.

I found what he had to say below interesting as from about 2016 to 2019 I experienced debilitating chronic pain in the fascia (tissue around the bone). Rheumatology couldn’t get a diagnosis saying the closest was fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis, which is wasn’t. Interestingly, turning my diet around improved it 80 percent.

“Women who suffer from aches and pains in their bones and muscles are often misdiagnosed as having fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome when in fact they are suffering from vitamin D deficiency. It is also recognised that women who had the highest intake of vitamin D reduced their risk of developing multiple sclerosis by 41 percent and rheumatoid arthritis by 44 percent. The Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard University revealed that women who had the highest intake of vitamin D reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by 50 percent.”

While that’s nothing to do with vitamin D’s possible link to COVID-19, I know lots of you suffer from aches and pains too so it may be helpful to you.

If you do have a deficiency or low levels of vitamin D I recommend seeing a good functional medicine doctor. It may take a few months of high dosing to build back up to optimum levels after which you can comfortably move back to maintenance doses.

A Vital Vitamin

Vitamin D is vital to the health of our bones, brain, and heart which is why we include it in 55+. It performs best in combination with magnesium and that’s one of the reasons you’ll find magnesium in 55+ too.

  • Taking your two capsules of 55+ per day gives you 600iu.

Vitamin D is also a great mood and sleep aid. Science shows it also helps us to have a robust immune system and can help protect us against the ‘flu.

And who knows? There is the possibility that it could help protect us from COVID-19 too and that’s got to be a bonus.

Tip: A new study has found that vitamin D is 50% better absorbed when it is taken with food.

Please read this story too:

What Is Vitamin D3?

I hope this was helpful. Any questions fire them through here.

Main photo by Daoudi Aissa on Unsplash

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