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Can Vitamin D Protect You From COVID-19

Can Vitamin D Protect You From COVID-19

By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES, MDVIP
Photograph courtesy of MDVIP

It’s a simple question: Can vitamin D protect you from the coronavirus? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple, despite recent research that shows a crude, but clear relationship between countries with high levels of vitamin D deficiency and high levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

In May, researchers published a small study involving European countries that showed a link between levels of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, and levels of COVID-19 infections and mortality. The new research is preliminary, but it piggybacks on previous research that suggests normal levels of vitamin D may protect you against common respiratory illnesses like the flu.

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In fact, a 2016 study published in British Medical Journal suggested that supplementation for people with low levels of vitamin D may cut respiratory infection risk in half. Could the same supplementation work for COVID-19?

The new study, published in the journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, doesn’t answer that question, and researchers used words like “preliminary” and “crude” to describe their work, but the idea is intriguing. As researchers point out, the elderly, who are most at risk for COVID-19, are also the one group “that has the most deficit vitamin D levels.”

So how is vitamin D, best known for its contributions to bone health, connected to respiratory infection risk? Low vitamin D levels may indicate a weak immune system.

Overview of the Immune System

The immune system defends your body against infections. It’s comprised of the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes and vessels, skin, and bone marrow that creates red blood cells (which help control immune response), white blood cells (white protect against bacterium, allergens and viruses) and platelets (which have a major role in coagulation and healing, and respond to bacterium, allergens and viruses). And when a foreign invader enters your body, these organs and blood cells work together to recognize it and create antigens to get rid of it. 

Vitamin D and the Immune System

Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory benefits. It helps strengthen the immune system by activating disease-fighting enzymes on the surface of white blood cells, which enhance their effectiveness.

Healthy vitamin D levels help the immune system stay balanced. An overactivated immune system is linked to autoimmune diseases, while an underactive immune system can lead to frequent infections, gastrointestinal problems and slow wound healing.

And a low level of vitamin D is associated with an increased risk for infections and diseases, particularly respiratory diseases such as asthma, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary conditions (emphysema and chronic bronchitis). Experts also believe that low vitamin D levels exacerbate autoimmune diseases.

Maintaining a Healthy Vitamin D Level

About 42 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient, with numbers increasing in those over 65, the group most at risk for COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. Why? Getting an adequate daily amount of vitamin D isn’t easy. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, but generally doctors recommend getting vitamin D this way in small doses to control your risk for skin cancer. Only a handful of foods – egg yolks, fatty fish (e.g., tuna, mackerel and salmon), beef liver, cheese and fortified dairy products, orange juice and cereals – have vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements are another option and are often recommended for people with low levels of the vitamin. Talk to your doctor about whether you need a vitamin D supplement. If you don’t have a doctor, consider partnering with MDVIP. The MDVIP Wellness Program includes a vitamin D screening, and doctors in the network have the time and resources to develop a personalized wellness program that can focus on improving nutrition and strengthening the immune system.

Need a primary care doctor? Find an MDVIP-affiliated physician near you by visiting mdvip.com.


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