As studies link low vitamin D to covid-19 deaths, here’s what we need to keep in mind

As more studies investigate the link between low vitamin D levels and high covid-19 mortality rates, we decided to decode the relation between the two.
foods to boost immunity
The relationship between vitamin D and covid-19 deaths is quite surprising. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Meghna Kriplani Updated: 8 May 2020, 16:05 pm IST
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Of late, vitamin D has been making news—and not because summer provides us with ample opportunities to soak up the sunshine vitamin. You see, this essential nutrient is being linked with covid-19 by multiple studies—the most recent one being a British review that has found an association between low levels of vitamin D and a high number of covid-19 cases in Europe.

Conducted by researchers at UK’s Anglia Ruskin University, the study claims to have found a “significant crude relationship between average vitamin D levels and the number covid-19 cases, and particularly covid-19 mortality rates.”

What does vitamin D have to do with covid-19?
Well, isn’t that question on everyone’s lips! According to researchers, vitamin D plays an important role in modulating the response of white blood cells (WBCs) whilst they fight infections. The sunshine vitamin keeps WBCs from releasing far too many inflammatory cytokines.

vitamin D covid-19
It’s time to understand the importance of the sunshine vitamin in covid-19 protection. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

For the initiated, cytokines are substances released by cells in the immune system that regulate immunity and blood plasma production amongst other things. Inflammatory cytokines, as the name suggests, are responsible for inflammation in the body. Now, the novel coronavirus is known to trigger the excess production of these pro-inflammatory cytokines. And without sufficient vitamin D in the middle doing its job, the covid-19 virus can make these cytokines run amok.

The British study, whose findings are published in the journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, found that Italy and Spain (both countries have Europe’s highest covid-19 mortality rates) have lower-than-average vitamin D levels than most North-European countries.

“Vitamin D has been shown to protect against acute respiratory infections, and older adults, the group most deficient in vitamin D, are also the ones most seriously affected by COVID-19,” says lead researcher Dr Lee Smith.

This British study isn’t the only connect the dots between high covid-19 deaths and low vitamin D levels. A study from Northwestern University, US, analysed data from 10 countries—including Italy, Spain, Iran, UK, China, France, Germany, South Korea, Switzerland, and the US—to come to the same conclusion.

But that doesn’t mean you should start popping vitamin D supplements
A 2018 review of Indian studies claim that 50% to 94% of Indians could be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency (a shocking revelation, given how sunny most Indian states are through the year). And yet, running to the pharmacy to get vitamin D supplements is not a great idea.

vitamin D covid-19
Loading up on vitamin D supplements might not be a good idea though. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Here’s why: If you don’t have a diagnosed deficiency, then popping vitamin D supplements can cause vitamin D toxicity, which can lead to an excess build-up of calcium in your body and cause bone and kidney problems.

Moreover, researchers are still calling for further examination of their findings. Vadim Backman, who led the research at Northwestern University, says: “While I think it is important for people to know that vitamin D deficiency might play a role in mortality, we don’t need to push vitamin D on everybody. This needs further study, and I hope our work will stimulate interest in this area.”

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And if you’re still worried about your vitamin D levels, you can always soak up the morning sun for 30 minutes daily and consider including dietary sources of vitamin D like fatty fish and egg yolks in your meals. But please, for the sake of your health, do talk to your physician before popping those supplements. For more covid-19 updates, stay tuned.

(With inputs from IANS)

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About the Author

Waging a war against diets one cookie at a time, Meghna is a content creator and editor focusing on women's issues, wellness, and lifestyle. ...Read More

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