by Eileen West, MD, FACP, NCMP
Women have known for years that getting enough vitamin D is important to ensure bone health and prevent osteoporosis. Researchers have also noted over the years that vitamin D may be useful to help treat menopause symptoms and ward off a variety of illnesses.
Now, researchers are turning their attention to investigate if vitamin D levels could be important in preventing and treating COVID-19—and some initial studies are encouraging.
Why Vitamin D?
Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” is important to our bodies’ immune systems. We get it through exposure to sunlight or by eating foods that contain vitamin D, such as fatty fish, fortified dairy and fortified cereals, and egg yolks.
Doctors think many people might have a vitamin D deficiency, especially during winter in geographic areas that don’t get strong sun. Some people are already at a higher risk of not getting enough vitamin D, including older adults and people with darker skin, which does not produce vitamin D as readily.
What Has Research Found?
Studies in recent years have found that some adults taking a vitamin D supplement reduced their risk of developing acute respiratory infections. These were positive results for older adults in long-term care facilities, where respiratory infections are one of the leading causes of serious illness and death.
Since COVID-19 infections began, a number of studies have looked into vitamin D status and potential rates of infection or illness severity and found some connection. For example:
· One study examining vitamin D levels in 20 European countries found that the countries with low vitamin D levels were also the countries with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection and mortality.
· Observations from South Asian hospitals have shown that in patients with COVID-19, vitamin D deficiency was much higher in patients with severe cases.
· Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and one of the leading voices in vitamin D research, is in the process of planning a clinical trial examining the impacts of vitamin D on the risk of developing COVID-19 and its impact on the severity of infection.
While more study is needed to understand the link between vitamin D and COVID-19, it could also be a good time to ensure you are getting an adequate amount in your daily life. Clinicians suggest a daily vitamin D supplement of 800 – 1000 ius a day for most Americans. Also, make sure you are eating a diet that includes a variety of healthy foods to boost your immune function.
No evidence shows that high doses of vitamin D are beneficial, and taking too much in the form of a supplement could be harmful to your body. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions.