In regard to a deficit in vitamin D, researchers proposed that increasing vitamin D levels for COVID-19 patients, particularly the elderly, may increase their chances of survival
While serious respiratory complications from COVID-19 require extensive medical treatment, most people can greatly reduce their risk of contracting the disease through basic preventive health measures such as washing their hands, wearing masks while out in public, and keeping a minimum social distance of six feet. However, some breaking research may also show benefit for vitamin D, or reducing deficit in vitamin D, in lowering death rates related to COVID-19. While your patients may be familiar with vitamin D as a general immunity booster, they may not be aware of its use in fighting off respiratory issues, possibly including COVID-19.
Deficit of vitamin D and respiratory disease
As stated previously, vitamin D has been found useful for generally boosting immunity. There have been a number of small studies that have specifically examined the benefit of vitamin D for treating chronic respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, that are linked to the immune system. Vitamin D is thought to modulate white blood cells by preventing them from releasing too many inflammatory cytokines, thus stopping the inflammatory process associated with many respiratory infections.
A 2019 paper published in the journal Respiratory Research performed a meta-analysis to look for patterns of similarities among smaller papers, in order to strengthen their overall findings.2 The researchers found that both adult and pediatric asthma patients with a deficit of vitamin D also had lower forced expiratory volume (FEV) levels and forced vital capacities (FVC) than those with sufficient vitamin D levels. Both FEV and FVC measure lung function in asthma. The researchers concluded: “Serum vitamin D levels may be positively correlated with lung function in asthma patients.”2
Vitamin D and COVID-19
A short communication, just published in the journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, reported on observational data showing a possible effect of vitamin D for COVID-19, similar to that for asthma.3 In looking at geographical data for COVID-19 mortality rates throughout Europe, the researchers found that Italy and Spain, in southern Europe, had significantly higher mortality rates than in northern European countries. Patients in southern Europe also had significantly lower vitamin D levels than those in northern latitudes with less strong natural sunlight.
The difference appears to be that, although southern Europe has more sunlight, COVID-19 patients, particularly the elderly, are more likely to avoid strong sun. In comparison, patients in northern European countries have less exposure to strong natural sunlight, so instead use vitamin D and cod liver oil as supplements to avoid a deficit in vitamin D.
The researchers noted: “In conclusion, we found significant crude relationships between vitamin D levels and the number COVID-19 cases and especially the mortality caused by this infection. The most vulnerable group of population for COVID-19, the aging population, is also the one that has the most deficit vitamin D levels.”3 Furthermore, in extrapolating from previous research on the connection between deficit of vitamin D levels and asthma, the researchers proposed that increasing vitamin D levels for COVID-19 patients, particularly the elderly, may increase their chances of survival.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Cases and Deaths in the U.S. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. Updated July 14, 2020.
- Liu J, Dong YQ, Yin J, et al. Meta-analysis of vitamin D and lung function in patients with asthma. Respiratory Research. 2019;20(1):161.
- Ilie PC, Stefanescu S, Smith L. The role of vitamin D in the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 infection and mortality. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research. 2020 Jul;32(7):1195-1198.