In the Midst of a Pandemic: The Case for Vitamin D

As world governments face the struggles of combatting COVID-19, scientists around the world are racing to create a vaccine. There’s a lot of data in response to finding treatment protocols and interventions for reducing the effects and outcomes of COVID-19. It’s difficult to sort through the data.

Enter vitamin D, which isn’t actually a vitamin. It’s a prohormone or precursor of a hormone. Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods, added to others and available as a dietary supplement. The body produces it when sunlight hits the skin and starts vitamin D synthesis.

Vitamin D assists in:

  • Promoting healthy bones and teeth
  • Supporting immune, brain, and nervous system health
  • Regulating insulin levels and supporting diabetes management
  • Supporting lung function and cardiovascular health
  • Influencing the expression of genes involved in cancer development

Vitamin D has important roles besides bone and calcium homeostasis. Vitamin D deficiency may, therefore, increase the risk of bacterial and viral infection. It’s believed that over 1 billion people worldwide have a Vitamin D deficiency. This deficiency is associated with an increased risk of intensive care admission and mortality in patients with pneumonia. Deficiency is common in critically ill patients and associated with adverse outcomes.

Before we move forward, a HUGE distinction must be made. Vitamin D WILL NOT PREVENT or CURE COVID-19. There is strong evidence pointing towards the ability of vitamin D to help negate deficiencies and lessen the damage caused by respiratory illnesses. 

Vitamin D Relationship with ARDS

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening lung injury that allows fluid to leak into the lungs. Breathing becomes difficult and oxygen can’t get into the body. Most cases of ARDS are people at the hospital for a preceding trauma or illness. Vitamin D deficiency is common in people who develop ARDS. This deficiency of vitamin D appears to contribute to the development of the condition. 

In a study of the correlation between ARDS and vitamin D deficiency, the groups consisted of 52 patients with ARDS, 57 patients undergoing oesophagectomy (at risk of ARDS), and 8 patients undergoing oesophagectomy who had high-dose vitamin D supplementation prior to surgery. The patients with ARDS (100%) were vitamin D-deficient. 55 out of 57 unsupplemented oesophagectomy patients at risk of ARDS were deficient before surgery but levels were higher than in patients with ARDS. Data suggest that vitamin D deficiency is present in patients with ARDS and relates to adverse outcomes.

Vitamin D and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Some researchers think they’ve found a correlation between vitamin D and the severity of COVID-19 cases. Scientists from Northwestern University and the Boston Medical Center concluded in a study that vitamin D might play a role in fighting back the cytokine storm and reduce the risk of death in COVID-19 patients. The new study hasn’t been peer-reviewed but is available in a pre-publish format over at medRxiv

What doctors have seen so far is many of the sickest patients with COVID-19, their blood has high levels of cytokines. Scientists believe these cytokines are evidence of an immune response called a cytokine storm, where the body starts to attack its own cells instead of fighting off the virus.

Researchers looked at patient data from multiple countries, from the following countries: China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States. Previously known data about the relationship between vitamin D and C-reactive proteins (CRP) and COVID-19 deaths were used. Using this data, they concluded that patients with lower levels of vitamin D were more likely to die of COVID-19 complications than people with higher levels.

CRP are proteins made by the liver. CRP levels in the blood increase when there is a condition causing inflammation somewhere in the body. If CRP is a marker for severe COVID-19 and is associated with Vit D deficiency, this may suggest that Vit D may reduce COVID-19 severity by suppressing the cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients.

“A link between Vit D status and COVID-19 A-CMR in the US, France, and the UK (countries with similar screening status) may exist. Combining COVID-19 patient data and prior work on Vit D and CRP levels, we show that the risk of severe COVID-19 cases among patients with severe Vit D deficiency is 17.3% while the equivalent figure for patients with normal Vit D levels is 14.6% (a reduction of 15.6%).”

Supplementing with Vitamin D

Vitamin D appears to show positive correlations that may reduce the harmful effects of illnesses not just limited to COVID-19 but others as well. The relationship with ARDS makes Vitamin D a curious supplement in hopes of reducing negative outcomes and complications of similar respiratory-type health conditions. 

When it comes to supplementing with Vitamin D, the RDI is all over the board from 400 IU to 10,000 IU. According to the Food and Nutrition Board, 2000 IU is a safe daily “tolerable upper intake level” for vitamin D. When considering supplementing with Vitamin D, Vitamin D3 has been shown to efficiently raise levels. You will find Vitamin D in most multivitamins in stores but are often well below effective dosages and sometimes in the least effective forms of the vitamin. Driven Nutrition® HIS™ / HERS™ – Full-Spectrum Multivitamins offer 2,000 IU per serving along with added benefits such as a digestive enzyme complex for better absorption.

References:

  1. Marik PE, Kory P, Varon J. Does vitamin D status impact mortality from SARS-CoV-2 infection? [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 29]. Med Drug Discov. 2020;100041. doi:10.1016/j.medidd.2020.100041
  2. Dancer RCA, Parekh D, Lax S, et al Vitamin D deficiency contributes directly to the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)Thorax 2015;70:617-624.
  3. van Schoor NM, Lips P. Worldwide vitamin D status. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab 2011;25:671–80. doi:10.1016/j.beem.2011.06.007
  4. Amrein K, Schnedl C, Holl A, et al. Effect of high-dose vitamin D3 on hospital length of stay in critically ill patients with vitamin D deficiency: the VITdAL-ICU randomized clinical trial. JAMA 2014;312:1520–30. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.13204
  5. Galesanu, C & Mocanu, V. Vitamin D Deficiency and the Clinical Consequences. Revista medico-chirurgicala a Societatii de Medici si Naturalisti din Iasi. 2015 Apr-Jun; 119(2):310-318.

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