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Should People Take Vitamin D to Ward off the New Coronavirus?

Dariusz J. Nasiek, MD
May 12, 2020

A preliminary, unpublished study speculates that vitamin D deficiency may have something to do with poor COVID-19 outcomes. Its authors suggest people may benefit from ensuring they are getting enough vitamin D. However, there are serious concerns about the research. Vitamin D is one of the nutrients that are crucial to human health, on the whole.

The human body naturally synthesizes this vitamin — in fact, a group of substances — through adequate exposure to sunlight.

Only a few foods, such as egg yolks, can be a source of vitamin D, which means that people who have little access to sunlight may experience vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency.

To prevent or address a lack of vitamin D, people can take vitamin D supplements.

Inadequate levels of vitamin D can cause problems in the bones, as well as issues such as hair loss and joint pain.

Could science link insufficient vitamin D with COVID-19 and, more specifically, COVID-19 deaths?

The investigators claim that countries such as Spain and Italy, which have among the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases in Europe, demonstrate low mean levels of vitamin D in blood in their populations.

Based on this association, the researchers hypothesize that vitamin D may help protect against contracting SARS-CoV-2 or experiencing severe outcomes after developing COVID-19.

In their online paper, they write: “In conclusion, we found significant relationships between vitamin D levels and the number COVID–19 cases and especially the mortality caused by this infection. The most vulnerable group of population for COVID–19 is also the one that has the most deficit in Vitamin D.”

Older people are at risk of having low vitamin D, for instance, due to reduced dietary intake of vitamin D and less time spent outdoors. They are also at greater risk of dying from COVID-19.

But older people may be dying of COVID-19 due to higher rates of other health conditions that are independent of their vitamin D levels.

That is not to say that vitamin D does not play a role in how likely a person is to contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus or die from COVID-19. More studies are needed to explore a possible link in greater depth.

Indeed, another team of researchers found no clinical evidence on vitamin D in COVID-19. 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.

So, while it may be tempting to turn to an easily obtainable dietary supplement to help us keep SARS-CoV-2 at bay, it may be safer to hold off on the enthusiasm for now.

More studies are needed to explore a possible link between vitamin D and its role in how likely a person is to contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus or die from COVID-19.

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Dariusz J. Nasiek, MD

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