At the time of writing, the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to sweep across the world, infecting millions and bringing societies to a halt.
Politicians grapple with how best to confront this disease while scientists perfect and distribute vaccines to immunize the world’s population.
What measures can we take to reduce the risk of contracting this virus? The best remedies are to wear masks, to socially distance ourselves from others and to wash our hands frequently. Lately, another potential candidate has entered the fray and has engineered a lively debate. That candidate is Vitamin D. First of all, what is Vitamin D?
The chief purpose of this vitamin is to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies. They are especially important for our bones, teeth and muscles. A deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to the onset of such bone deformities as rickets, mostly found in children, and pains in the bones brought on by osteomalacia in adults.
A healthy level of Vitamin D can also minimise the risk of broken bones. The body creates Vitamin D when it comes into direct contact with sunlight and foods such as oily fish and red meat are good nutritional sources. At present, the British National Health Service recommends that we should take 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day, especially during the period between October and early March.
There is a debate over whether the taking of Vitamin D can reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic it was established that groups who were most vulnerable to contracting the disease, such as older adults, those who lived in care homes and the various BAME communities were also those who traditionally exhibited deficiencies in Vitamin D.
A December 2020 rapid review published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), in conjunction with Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition focused on the link between Vitamin D and COVID-19 and supported the Government’s initiative to persuade all at-risk groups to take regular supplements of Vitamin D.
The report also pointed out a lack of evidence either way on whether Vitamin D is effective in reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 and recommended that more research be conducted on the subject. The debate began in earnest in June 2020, when a study from Indonesia found that nearly 99% of people who died from COVID_19 had Vitamin D deficiencies.
Although this particular evidence was later discredited and withdrawn, the debate nonetheless continued and further studies have maintained the possibility of a link. A study which was conducted in Spain and later published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism tested 216 patients who had been hospitalized due to contracting COVID-19.
The results showed that 82% had a low level of Vitamin D in comparison to only 47% of the general population who were also tested. In the United States, Dr. David Meltzer of the University of Chicago led a study which, he argued, uncovered a link between Vitamin D levels and COVID-19 resistance. 489 hospital patients participated in the study and it was found that those with a Vitamin D deficiency were 1.77 times more likely to test positive for the virus than those whose levels of Vitamin D were considered normal.
However, they did not regard their findings as definitive and called for further studies into the matter to be conducted, as well as emphasizing the need to continue wearing masks and social distancing. Similarly, Dr. Luigi Gennari of the University of Siena presented evidence before the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research which appeared to show a link between low levels of Vitamin D and serious cases of COVID-19.
It spoke of how people who died of the virus in San Luca Hospital in Milan typically showed lower levels of Vitamin D than those who survived. The British Medical Journal has reported that over forty patient studies have displayed some evidence in favour of the theory that Vitamin D aids in the fight against COVID-19.
Dr. Claire Hastie, of the University of Glasgow, is one of the leading sceptics. She points to the fact that the studies often fail to take into account factors that increase the risk of low Vitamin D levels and increase the threat from COVID-19, but are not strictly linked. She cites the example of people from ethnic groups having darker skin, which reduces the levels of Vitamin D that they produce.
That they are at a greater risk from COVID-19 and also have lower than usual Vitamin D levels does not strictly infer that the two are related. Dr. Hastie also pointed out that once a person becomes sick with a virus such as COVID-19, measuring their level of Vitamin D can be misleading as a lack of the vitamin could be just as much a result of the body reacting to the disease than to an underlying cause. She also emphasized the point that levels of Vitamin D do not tend to increase drastically over a period of time.
A review prepared by the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine based at the University of Oxford agreed with Dr. Hastie’s evaluation. While they found some evidence that daily intake of Vitamin D may prevent other similar infections, the evidence has limitations, most notably in such areas as interventions and definitions of respiratory infections.
Ultimately, the only way of determining whether a connection between Vitamin D supplementation and the level of risk of COVID_19 and whether it can be taken as an effective remedy lies in the conducting of a large-scale clinical trial. Several are already in development.
It is much too early to say with any degree of authority whether Vitamin D is an effective prevention method against COVID-19.
This article is for educational and informational purposes only and must not be used or taken as a substitute in any form for any medical advice, medication you are currently taking or any alternative treatments without the prior advice, guidance and consent from your medical doctor. Please speak with your doctor fist before making any changes to your diet or medicine as a result of reading any information laid out on this website or in this or any other articles.
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