Does Vitamin D help with coronavirus (COVID-19)?
How does vitamin D help your body?
What is a vitamin? In simple terms, it is an essential nutrient that is required by human beings and is obtained in tiny amounts (usually a few milligrams (mg) or micrograms per day (μg) mainly from foods. It is essential for the body but unfortunately, vitamins cannot be produced by the body (except for vitamin D) and must be ingested. Vitamin D is the only vitamin that can be synthesised through the action of sunlight on the skin.
Vitamins play diverse roles in the body some of which include acting as co-factors in enzyme activity and serving as antioxidants (preventing damage from free radicals). Deficiency diseases or illnesses can occur if the body lacks any of these required vitamins. Vitamin deficiency diseases are rare in the UK and more of the developed countries but are more common in some parts of the world. Other medical conditions may also occur indirectly as a result of vitamin deficiency.
Vitamins occur as either fat-soluble or water-soluble vitamins. The water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body for longer periods whereas the fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body for long.
Sources of Vitamin D
As previously mentioned, Vitamin D primarily comes from sunlight. Other sources of Vitamin D are;
- – Food
- – Vitamin D Supplements
The sun has provided Vitamin D since the creation of man. However, too much exposure to sunlight is also known to cause skin cancer, photodamage, wrinkles and other problems. It is important to get the right balance between getting enough sun for vitamin D and too much of it that may cause problems. There are a few factors that determine the amount of Vitamin D you get from sunlight. Some of these factors are;
- – The time of the year – During summer, the sun’s rays are more direct and as a result, the body produces more vitamin D. In the UK, the skin can produce vitamin D mainly between 11 am and 3 pm, during the months of April to October.
- – Geographic location – The closer you are to the equator, the more direct sunlight you get for a time each day and for more months in the year
- – Obstacles to sunlight on your skin – Things like clouds, smog, hats, umbrella or sunscreen can limit your exposure to sunlight and may reduce the rate at which Vitamin D is produced in the body.
Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals, meat, and fat spreads.
Dietary or food supplements are an inexpensive way of obtaining vitamin D. With the research and knowledge around the health benefits of vitamin D, vitamin D supplements are widely available on the market in different forms. If you are unable to obtain adequate vitamin D from your diet or sunlight, vitamin d supplements may be a good alternative.
The NHS recommends that during the autumn and winter seasons, everyone should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D.
Between March and September, most people should be able to get all the required vitamin D from sunlight and a balanced diet
Benefits of Vitamin D
Supporting healthy bones – Vitamin D is directly linked to the way the body uses calcium. Healthy levels of calcitriol are known to support the breakdown of old bone and the creation of new bone. If there is a deficiency in Vitamin D, the body is not able to make enough calcitriol and as a result, the bones weaken. On the other hand, abnormally high levels of calcitriol can cause the bone to break down and too much calcium to be absorbed by the intestines; which may cause toxic levels of blood calcium.
Supports muscle health – Another key benefit of vitamin D is the role it plays in supporting optimal muscle strength. Lack of vitamin D in the body can lead to osteomalacia, which is associated with muscle and bone pain. In one research study involving 150 patients with persistent, nonspecific musculoskeletal pain syndromes refractory to standard therapies, 140 had vitamin D.
Supports the Immune System – The immune system is responsible for protecting the body against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. There is ample evidence that supports the fact that vitamin D plays an important role in supporting a healthy immune system. Studies on the cells of the immune system have shown that calcitriol can block the features of the adaptive immune system that may lead to autoimmunity. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity and an increased susceptibility to infection.
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Vitamin D and Cancer – Vitamin D has been associated with the reduction of the risk of cancer in recent times. There is ongoing research to deepen the understanding of how vitamin D may reduce the risk of getting cancer. Some reports suggest that higher blood vitamin D levels may cause;
- – A 50% reduction in the risk of colon cancer
- – A 30% reduction in the risk of breast cancer
- – A 30% reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer
- – A 43% reduction on the risk of pancreatic cancer
Vitamin D in the body
The primary source of Vitamin D in the body is through sunlight. It can also be obtained from a diet in smaller amounts. Vitamin D can occur as either vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) or vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Obtaining Vitamin D from sunlight is quantitatively more important than obtaining it from food mainly because there are not many rich food sources of vitamin D.
Vitamin D on its own does nothing in the body and is completely inactive, however, it is able to convert into a prehormone that travels through the bloodstream to the kidneys where it is turned into the active form (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (1,25(OH)2D)). Once it has been converted into its active form, it is released back into the bloodstream where it then regulated how the body utilises calcium and phosphorous.
If the liver or kidney fails to perform properly, the conversion of Vitamin D to its active form may be impacted and may result in the lack of this vitamin in the body.
Click here to read about How to identify Vitamin D deficiency symptoms
The difference between vitamin D and Vitamin D3
Vitamin D2 which is one form of vitamin D commonly occurs in plants and fungi, derived from ultraviolet irradiation of the plant sterol ergosterol. Vitamin D3 on the other hand is formed from the action of UV irradiation on 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin of animals including humans. So, in simple terms, Vitamin D2 is found in plants and D3 is the form found in animals.
Does Vitamin D help with coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease that is caused by a coronavirus. This coronavirus was recently discovered in China in December 2019 and has managed to spread to many countries globally.
The known symptoms associated with Covid-19 include fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Some other symptoms that may show up when you have coronavirus (Covid-19) are aches and pains, nasal congestion, headache, conjunctivitis, sore throat, diarrhoea, loss of taste or smell or a rash on skin or discoloration of fingers or toes. It generally takes around 5 t 6 days for symptoms to develop but it can also range from 1 – 14 days.
Typically, the majority of the people (about 80%) who get infected from the disease recover without needing hospital treatment. People who have a higher risk of developing serious illness when infected with the virus include those with underlying health conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart and lung problems) and older people.
To date (June 2020), there are no known or approved medicines that can prevent or cure the disease. There are unconfirmed reports of some traditional or home remedies that may help reduce the symptoms associated with Covid-19. The most effective and acceptable ways of reducing the risk of catching the virus are to:
- – Regular washing and cleaning of the hands thoroughly
- – Limiting touching your eyes, mouth, and nose
- – Maintaining a reasonable distance of about 1m and more from others
- – Covering your cough with a tissue or the bend of your elbow to avoid the spread
The impact of vitamin D in reducing the risk of COVID-19 remains unknown and inconclusive. There is currently no conclusive study available that has looked specifically at the impact of vitamin D on immune responses to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A research paper that looked at how vitamin D supplementation could possibly improve clinical outcomes of patients infected with COVID-19 (coronavirus) reported that this may be possible.
Another paper reported that to reduce the risk of infection, it is recommended that people at risk of influenza and/or COVID-19 consider taking 10,000 IU/d of vitamin D3 for a few weeks to rapidly raise 25(OH)D concentrations, followed by 5000 IU/d. The goal should be to raise 25(OH)D concentrations above 40–60 ng/mL (100–150 nmol/L). For the treatment of people who become infected with COVID-19, higher vitamin D3 doses might be useful. Randomized controlled trials and large population studies should be conducted to evaluate these
A lot of the previous studies and available data have been around other respiratory viruses, however, and found that vitamin D metabolites augment innate antiviral immune responses while simultaneously dampening down inflammation, which has been highlighted as a major problem in COVID-19 (coronavirus).
There is ample and compelling evidence that vitamin D offers significant health benefits which include; supporting a healthy immune system and supporting healthy bones and muscles, however, the effect of vitamin D on COVID-19 (coronavirus) remains uncertain. Some studies have suggested that it may help reduce the risk of infection but this has to be confirmed by more clinical studies with larger populations.
DISCLAIMER: THIS SHOULD BE USED FOR INFORMATION AND EDUCATION PURPOSES. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO TREAT, DIAGNOSE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE. WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO MAKE YOUR OWN HEALTH CARE DECISIONS BASED ON RESEARCH AND ADVICE FROM A QUALIFIED HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL
Rubin, A., 2011. Vitamin D For Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.