Global data shows a high rate of mortality from COVID-19 in countries with known vitamin D deficiency. Countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, China, Spain, Switzerland and the UK have, populations with little exposure to sunlight, and subsequent severe deficiency of vitamin D.
The vast difference between the mortality rates of COVID-19 in different countries prompted scientists to investigate the exact cause behind it.
A research team from Northwestern University, therefore, embarked upon the journey of identifying the relation between vitamin D and COVID-19 deaths. The researchers noted that in countries where the virus has not hit hard, the population has a higher level of vitamin D, in comparison to the people in countries which are hardest hit.
The way scientists justify this is by the impact of vitamin D on the immune system. Vitamin D plays an essential role in controlling the immune system of the body, and keeping it in check.
Coronavirus induces a cytokine storm in the body led by an overactive immune system, which in turn causes severe respiratory damage. Additionally, it is this ‘hyper-inflammatory’ action of the immune system that is responsible for death, instead of direct damage to the lungs by the virus. This misdirected immune system firing actually wreaks havoc on the body, and causes irreversible damage from which recovery is difficult.
In children, the mortality rates from COVID are lower, and a likely reason behind this is that their immune system is not very well developed. With a lower response from the immune system, children are less likely to die from the complications of COVID.
What is the role of vitamin D?
Vitamin D helps to balance the immune response perfectly—whereby it strengthens the immune system of the body, but prevents it from being overly active. This means that with the help of vitamin D, we are likely to prevent severe complications from COVID-19, including death.
In fact, scientists think that it can even cut the mortality rate in half. While it may not be as effective in preventing the contraction of virus, it can help lower the debilitating immune response that eventually causes death.
Even though there is no denying the role of vitamin D in prevention of coronavirus, it is important, however, that people not take excessive doses of vitamin D, as that itself is associated with negative side effects. Unlike water soluble vitamins, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and excess amounts cannot be easily removed from the body.
Therefore, supplementation with vitamin D should be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider with a recommended dose sufficient to overcome the deficiency.
For the vulnerable population—the elderly, the immuno-compromised, and those with chronic diseases, supplementation with vitamin D can help prevent extreme morbidity and mortality.
At the same time, it must be remembered that vitamin D should not be pushed on everybody. Researchers caution against using supplements for those without known deficiency, as it can have potentially negative effects.
What sources are rich in vitamin D?
There are many food sources that are rich in vitamin D, and it can also be obtained from sunlight; the recommended daily intake (RDI) for vitamin D is 600-800 IU. This fat-soluble vitamin can be found abundantly in fish like mackerel, herring, salmon and tuna. According to the food database of Department of Agriculture, salmon has 526-988 IUs of vitamin D.
Other sources of vitamin D include: green leafy vegetables, egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified food.
Our body also makes its own vitamin D when its exposed to sunlight. The UVB rays in the sunlight convert the cholesterol in our body to vitamin D. It is by far the best way to obtain the vitamin. Studies show that in summers, midday is the best time for getting some vitamin D as the body is most efficient then.
It is also safer to get the sun around noon, as later in the day sun exposure can increase the risk of certain skin diseases, including cancer. Moreover, less amount of time is needed around noon for a higher amount of vitamin D formation.
Skin exposure, without sunscreen for 10 to 30 minutes, three times a week is enough to make adequate vitamin D. Darker people may need a bit more.
What are the causes of vitamin D deficiency?
There are a number of reasons for vitamin D deficiency:
Most people are deficient because they don’t spend enough time in the outdoors, under the sun. Additionally, many people fail to take advantage of the best time to soak in the sun, which is sometime around midday. However, during this time, many of us are busy with our indoor jobs to get much sun.
Darker skinned people need more time in the sun to make vitamin D. this is because darker skinned people have more melanin in the skin—the pigment that gives skin its color. This melanin also absorbs more UV rays from the sun in order to protect the skin. As a result, less UV is available for the conversion of cholesterol to vitamin D. hence, dark people need more time in the sun to make vitamin D.
Our diets have westernized a lot in the recent years, which explain the increase in the nutritional deficiencies and obesity. This is another major cause of vitamin D deficiency, as we incorporate less greens and vegetables in our everyday meals.
If you are facing vitamin D deficiency or want to know the exact dose that is appropriate for you, consult with a nutritionist in Lahore, Islamabad or Karachi via oladoc.com. You can also call at our helpline at 042-38900939 or download the oladoc app.