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More Vitamin D, Lower Risk of Severe COVID-19?

06/10/2020 06:00AM | 580 views

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Could having a healthy blood level of vitamin D help you avoid the intensive care unit and death if you become infected with COVID-19?

 

Several groups of researchers from different countries have found that the sickest patients often have the lowest levels of vitamin D, and that countries with higher death rates had larger numbers of people with vitamin D deficiency than countries with lower death rates.

Experts say healthy blood levels of vitamin D may give people with COVID-19 a survival advantage by helping them avoid cytokine storm, when the immune system overreacts and attacks your body's own cells and tissues.

The early research is not yet peer-reviewed, and other experts say scientific proof is lacking that vitamin D could prevent COVID-19 or make the infection milder.

Researchers are trying to figure that out -- at least 8 studies are listed on clinicaltrials.gov to evaluate vitamin D's role in preventing or easing COVID-19.

In the meantime, some people say there’s no harm in taking the vitamin as a precaution.

"I feel like if there is anything we can be doing at the moment to support our body, I am totally on board," says Jackie Wilcox, 38, of Newburyport, MA, near Boston. Her family, including her husband and two children, are taking daily supplements.

Pre-COVID-19 Research on Vitamin D's Benefits

While the recent research on vitamin D and COVID-19 is just starting, other research has found that vitamin D supplements can help reduce the risk of respiratory infection. And researchers who looked back at the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic found that patients with healthy vitamin D blood levels were less likely to die.

The research linking vitamin D levels and COVID-19's cytokine storm is also just starting, but not surprising, says Bart Roep, PhD, chair of the department of diabetes immunology at City of Hope, a cancer center in Duarte, CA. Vitamin D, he says, is ''the negotiator" because "it doesn't suppress the immune system, it modulates it. Vitamin D makes the immune cells less inflammatory."

While research finds that low vitamin D may affect how severe COVID-19 is, it's not yet known if restoring vitamin D to normal levels would help as a treatment. Nor can anyone say for sure that having a healthy vitamin D level will help you avoid the virus.

A researcher from the University of Southeastern Philippines evaluated the vitamin D blood levels of 212 people diagnosed with COVID-19 and found the blood level of vitamin D was lowest in those in critical condition and highest in those with a milder infection. The conclusion of his paper, not peer-reviewed, is that supplements ''could possibly improve clinical outcomes of patients infected with COVID-19."

"We already know we need it for bone health," says Ilie, the U.K. researcher. "Waiting for the evidence on vitamin D and COVID-19 -- how do I say this -- the evidence may come too late to help."

But not everyone agrees that vitamin D may be useful in taming COVID-19. Researchers from the Center for Evidence-Based Medicine posted a ''rapid review" of the evidence on May 1, concluding ''There was no evidence related to vitamin D deficiency predisposing to COVID-19, nor were there studies of supplementation for preventing or treating COVID-19."

The researchers also say that while there is ''overlap" between some groups at risk of being low in vitamin D and groups at high risk of getting COVID-19, including older adults, people of color, and those with chronic diseases, those associations are not proven.

In a recent peer-reviewed study, researchers who evaluated more than 348,000 people, including 449 with confirmed COVID-19, found no link between vitamin D levels and risk of infection, nor a link that might explain ethnic differences in developing the infection.

 

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