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You may have noticed that Vitamin D has been all over the news recently. In fact, just yesterday I was scrolling through my emails and my attention was immediately drawn to a headline proposing that Vitamin D may aid in cancer prevention! And while this correlation may be fascinating, the most currently relevant studies surrounding Vitamin D may prove even more advantageous. Endless recent studies show that LOW LEVELS OF VITAMIN D, AND ESPECIALLY A VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY, MAY EXPONENTIALLY INCREASE THE RISK OF GETTING COVID-19. And for the increasing number of us who DO (unfortunately) contract the virus, these studies show that low levels of Vitamin D may contribute to increased probability of experiencing severe symptoms, and even an increased mortality risk. So what makes Vitamin D so special? In this article, I will break down a couple of things for you:
- Why is Vitamin D so important?
- Why is this all-encompassing vitamin a great thing to take?
- What conditions seem to benefit from a optimal level of Vitamin D?
Did you know that Vitamin D is not a vitamin at all? Vitamins are essential nutrients that our body must get from the food we eat. Vitamin D, however, is mainly manufactured by our body from sunlight. Very few foods contain Vitamin D (salmon, tuna, mackerel and small amounts in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks). Since we can’t find much in food, and we’ll burn if we are in the sun too much, many times we can only optimize our levels of this vitamin through supplementation. Every cell in our body can interact with Vitamin D, which is why it seems to play roles in so many different disease states. It also plays an important role in immune function, which is often the center of many chronic conditions. It helps to inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines (bad guys) and increases anti-inflammatory cytokines (good guys).4 These things together make Vitamin D quite the big player in our bodies.
Some of the benefits seen with higher levels of Vitamin D are:
-Decreasing blood pressure4
-Positive effects in both cardiovascular and respiratory diseases4
Some diseases that are associated with low levels of Vitamin D are:
One of the big benefits seen lately has to do with more severe cases of COVID-19. The main cause of death in these patients is ARDS (adult respiratory distress syndrome).4 Vitamin D deficiency is common in people who develop ARDS.5 Cytokine storms are problematic in these patients, and Vitamin D has a possible role in reducing the complications of these storms.3 Researchers at Northwestern University saw that people with severe Vitamin D deficiency were TWICE AS LIKELY to experience COVID-19 complications.3 Because of the compelling research, and generally low side effects to their recommended doses of Vitamin D, in Ireland researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) are urging the government to change recommendations to encourage ALL adults to supplement with Vitamin D.6
Here in the US, some of the top medical societies have come together to make a statement regarding Vitamin D and COVID-19.7 This statement doesn’t push everyone to take it as much as the TCD did, but they do recognize the importance of getting the daily recommended dose of Vitamin D. For now, they recommend to directly expose the skin to sunlight for 15-30 minutes a day while avoiding sunburn and harm to the skin. They also note, “Vitamin D is very safe when taken at reasonable dosages and is important for musculoskeletal health. Levels are likely to decline as individuals reduce outside activity (sun exposure) during the pandemic.” They go on to say that most adults can safely take 400-1000 IU daily. In my personal clinical experience, this is lower than what is recommended by most doctors I work with (I probably see mostly 2000 IU to 5000 IU/day). I think the takeaway here, even if it be a conservative one from the US medical societies, is that we should all make sure to get some Vitamin D every day. The data suggests it would benefit COVID-19 patients, as well as patients with chronic disease states such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
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- Carlberg C, Muñoz A. An update on vitamin D signaling and cancer. Semin Cancer Biol. 2020. doi:10.1016/j.semcancer.2020.05.018
- NFS Journal. 2020 Aug; 20: 10–21.
Published online 2020 Jun 7. doi: 10.1016/j.nfs.2020.06.001
- Rachel CA Dancer, Dhruv Parekh, Sian Lax, Vijay D’Souza, Shengxing Zheng, Chris R Bassford, Daniel Park, DG Bartis, Rahul Mahida, Alice M Turner, Elizabeth Sapey, Wen Bin Wei, Babu Naidu, Paul M Stewart, William D Fraser, Kenneth B Christopher, Mark S Cooper, Fang Gao, David M Sansom, Adrian R Martineau, Gavin D Perkins, and David R Thickett. 2015. “Vitamin D deficiency contributes directly to the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).” Thorax, 70, 7, Pp. 617-24.