Starting or increasing vitamin D supplementation has been a standard recommendation in the fall and winter months for a long time, but new research suggests that there is even more urgency to act on this advice this year than in the past.
New evidence suggests that having sufficient vitamin D stores within the body may help ward off coronavirus infection, and may help reduce the severity of COVID-19 if an infection does occur.
Researchers at Boston University’s School of Medicine found that COVID-19 patients who were “vitamin D sufficient had a significant decreased risk for adverse clinical outcomes.”
One of the study’s authors, Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics and molecular medicine, even confidently remarked that, “This study provides direct evidence that vitamin D sufficiency can reduce the complications … and ultimately death from COVID-19.”
Healthy serum levels for vitamin D range from 20 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL in adults. The authors of this study examined blood samples from 235 patients and found that patients with blood serum level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D of at least 30 ng/mL were less likely to experience common complications from COVID-19 or death.
How Does Having Enough Vitamin D Help COVID-19 Patients?
Probably best known for the role it plays in maintaining healthy bone mass and mood, vitamin D offers a bevy of health benefits. The hormone-like nutrient—which the body makes by converting UV rays into 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)2D], also known as calcitriol—has been shown in studies to offer incredible support for optimal immune system function, as well as brain, and nervous system health.
It’s well documented that vitamin D wards off infections. But perhaps just as significant in the case of COVID-19 is that when vitamin D levels drop off, there is increased risk for upper respiratory infections.
Vitamin D promotes the Treg cells responsible for activating some of the body’s most powerful anti-infectious properties, such as inducing interleukin 10, one of the “good cytokines” responsible for regulating healthy immune response. It’s also thought that vitamin D works to prevent what is known as a “cytokines storm” - an aggressive inflammatory response that comes with large amounts of harmful pro-inflammatory cytokines that are released into the blood too quickly.
This may explain, in part, how the sunshine vitamin is thought to help keep CRP levels in check, which Boston University School of Medicine researchers cite as significant. They note that “higher CRP levels associated with vitamin D deficiency were related to an increased risk for severe COVID-19.”
This may be the reason why vitamin D supplementation was included on the list of medications and nutrients President Trump was given when he was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19.
Despite what public health experts have done to lower deficiency rates by increasing awareness of the need for sufficient vitamin D in recent years, still nearly half the U.S. population is estimated to have low levels of vitamin D.
And in the wake of the pandemic, with many opting to skip the parks and spend more time indoors with immediate family, this year vitamin D deficiency rates are likely to be even higher.
How to Boost Your Vitamin D
The authors of the study out of Boston University’s School of Medicine were clear about one thing: It wasn’t taking vitamin D that improved outcomes from COVID-19, but rather it was having sufficient stores. This means YES!... it might be a great idea for all of us to find ways to increase vitamin D stores and ensure that they stay in a healthy range.
Getting outside for some good old fashion sunshine is always the best option (for a number of reasons!), but as the fall and winter months near, the best approach is to make sure you’re getting enough of vitamin D each day with a high-quality supplement.
And since vitamin D is often hard to absorb in supplement form, here are the two vitally important tips that I make sure to follow when taking a vitamin D supplement: 1) make sure to take vitamin D with food since it is fat soluble, and 2) make sure it also includes magnesium.
This last tip is essential because without sufficient magnesium, vitamin D cannot be properly absorbed to unleash its wide array of health benefits.