May 18, 2020 – 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 and Sacramento California health coaches 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.

It’s important to Keep in mind that Prevention is Much More Effective that Correction (trying to play catch-up once you’re infected).

In the meantime, there’s no harm in taking the vitamin as a precaution. Vitamin D

How Did Researchers Start Looking at Vitamin D?

Vitamin D, produced when the sun hits your skin, has many other benefits, such as bone health. It’s also found in some foods and supplements.

Among recent studies finding a link between vitamin D levels and how severe COVID-19 is:

  • Researchers from the U.K. evaluated the average vitamin D levels and the number of COVID-19 cases, as well as the death rates, across 20 European countries. Countries with low average vitamin D blood levels in the population had higher numbers of COVID-19.
  • Indonesian researchers evaluated 780 documented cases of COVID-19 and found that most patients who died had vitamin D levels below normal.
  • Irish researchers analyzed European population studies and vitamin D levels, finding countries with high rates of vitamin D deficiency also had higher death rates from COVID-19. Those researchers asked the government to raise the vitamin D recommendations.

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

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.

Vitamin D makes the immune cells less inflammatory.“

The sun’s UV rays help your body make this nutrient, which is important for your bones, blood cells, and immune system. It also helps you take in and use certain minerals, like calcium and phosphorus. And while most people get enough vitamin D from food, children who don’t can get rickets, which softens and weakens their bones.

Too much time outside can raise your chances of skin cancer, but the risk of developing certain conditions such as multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases may be higher in people who live in northern climates.  Scientists think this might be linked to lower levels of vitamin D.

Your eyes need light to help set your body’s internal clock.  Early morning sunlight in particular seems to help people get to sleep at night.  This may be more important as you age because your eyes are less able to take in light, and you’re more likely to have problems going to sleep.

Morning light also seems to help people keep the fat off. You need 20 to 30 minutes between 8 a.m. and noon to make a difference, but the earlier you get it, the better it seems to work. Scientists think the sun’s rays may shrink fat cells below your skin’s surface. More sunshine means you’re probably getting more exercise too, which is good for you in lots of ways, including shedding pounds.

Sunlight helps boost a chemical in your brain called serotonin, and that can give you more energy and help keep you calm, positive, and focused.  Doctors sometimes treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other types of depression linked to low levels of serotonin with natural or artificial light.

Moderate amounts of sun over your lifetime, especially in your teen and young adult years, might make you less likely to have problems seeing things at a distance (nearsightedness).  But too much direct sunlight can hurt your eyes.  It can lead to blurred vision and raise your chances of cataracts.

Researchers think the three primary types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma – are mostly caused by too much time in the sun.  So it’s very important to use sunscreen or cover up if you’re going to be outside longer than 15 minutes or so.  But regular, small amounts of ultraviolet light may help ease the symptoms of certain skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo.

Too much time outside without protection can not only make you more likely to get skin cancer, it can make your skin age faster, too, causing wrinkles, a leathery texture, and dark spots.  And sunburned skin uses white blood cells from your immune system to heal.  That can affect your body’s ability to fight off germs and make you more likely to get sick.

You need sunglasses that block UV light and broad-brimmed hats whenever you’re outside for a while. The sun can damage your eyes any time, not just in summer, and the rays can pass right through clouds. (Don’t forget that kids need this same protection, too.)

An SPF of 15 or higher is best. Look for “broad exposure,” which blocks more of the UV light.  Put it on 30 minutes before you go outside, and don’t forget areas like your lips, ears, and neck. Put more on if you swim or sweat.  Try to stay out of the direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest, and take breaks inside.

This also raises your chances of skin cancer.  If you do it before age 35, you’re 60% more likely to get melanoma, the most serious form.  Even one session can raise your odds of melanoma by 20% and other types by as much as 65%. If you want that all-over body tan, tanning lotions might be an option.  Most are safe, but they usually don’t have sunscreen in them, so don’t forget to put that on as well.

The conclusion is that supplements, in a preventive mode, ’‘could possibly improve clinical outcomes of patients infected with COVID-19.”

More about Vitamin D

A simple blood test can detect whether your levels of vitamin D are healthy or deficient.  A level of 20 nanograms per milliliter or over is needed to maintain bone health; under 12 nanograms/ml is termed deficient.

Vitamin D also helps modulate cell growth and reduce inflammation.

To maintain a healthy blood level of vitamin D, the Institute of Medicine recommends children under age 1 year take in 400 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily, and people ages 1 year to 70 years take in 600 IUs. People over age 70 should get 800 IUs a day.

Vitamin D is naturally present in few foods, but it’s added to others and is also available as a supplement.  Three ounces of cooked salmon has 570 IUs, while 3 ounces of rainbow trout has 645. A cup of 2% vitamin D-fortified milk has 120.

But during the pandemic, it may be wise to take more, says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.