Vitamin D is one of the many vital nutrients our bodies need to function optimally. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D from cholesterol and UV light – all it takes is about 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight a few times a week. We also get it by taking supplements or eating vitamin D-rich foods like dairy, eggs and fortified products.
Vitamin D is important for strong bones and muscles, energy and mood. It even plays a role in the body’s immune response to disease.
This is where the importance of vitamin D becomes interesting. Vitamin D has been shown to play a role in the mortality and severity of COVID-19. How? It regulates the inflammatory cytokine response of respiratory cells to various pathogens, including viruses involving the lungs.
But what does this mean? Let’s take a step back.
Cytokines are proteins produced by the cells in the immune system. When the body comes across a virus it hasn’t seen before, it may not know how to react. The immune system could overreact, producing high levels of cytokines that cause extreme inflammation. This severe response is called a cytokine storm.
This type of hyper-inflammation can seriously damage the lungs where the body is trying to fight off the virus.
A recent study done in Dublin suggests that efficient levels of Vitamin D in the body may help to prevent these cytokine storms or over-reactive immune responses.
Countries in the southern hemisphere, like Australia, are seeing a relatively low COVID-19 mortality rate and it could be because of higher levels vitamin D, related to increased sun exposure. Countries like Spain and Italy – with a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiencies – are seeing higher COVID-19 mortality rates. Nordic countries, however, cannot be grouped within this category. These countries take sufficient supplemental vitamin D, thereby also lowering their mortality and severity rates for COVID-19.
A person’s ability to produce vitamin D is affected by age and some countries have now started recommending supplemental vitamin D, especially among the elderly and those under lockdown with limited exposure to the sun. It’s been shown to be safe and effective against acute respiratory infections.
While vitamin D will not lower your chances of getting COVID-19, urgent further research is necessary to establish the correlation between COVID-19 severity and vitamin D deficiency, and the protective effect of adequate vitamin D status against cytokine storm and the subsequent acute respiratory distress syndrome in severely ill COVID-19 patients.
Read this article on the benefits of supplements to help you stay healthy.