It is obvious that a vitamin that is mainly sourced by exposing your skin to the sun will be deficient in most people in temperate or cold climates for most of the year. Even if it’s sunny, the sun isn’t strong enough and we’re wearing clothes!
So it’s no surprise that more than 40% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. This is even worse in elderly people1, especially if they are stuck at home. Not only are they often confined at home or in elderly care facilities, but if they do get to be outside in the sun their skin doesn’t make vitamin D as efficiently as young people.
Even worse, those are just the statistics for ‘deficiency’ which is the worst-case scenario. The data on people who have either ‘insufficient’ or worse levels of vitamin D shows that well over 60% of people don’t have enough in their body2. Once you factor in skin colour these numbers become insane, with over 80% of African Americans suffering from deficient levels of vitamin D3.
Under normal circumstances, we recommend that most clients take a vitamin D supplement because it is so rare these days to have good levels (bearing in mind that if below 30ng/ml is insufficient, that doesn’t mean that over 30ng/ml is amazing, just ‘acceptable’). We do this because vitamin D is essential for normal bodily functioning, normal immune function, healthy bones and mood, along with good energy levels and many more factors in life.
But with the current COVID-19 pandemic we need to be even more emphatic. There are more and more studies being released that show two important things:
One: The link between low vitamin D levels and increased susceptibility to COVID-19
More and more studies are showing a strong relationship between low vitamin D levels and increased susceptibility to COVID-19. In a recent study of nearly 8,000 people, low levels of vitamin D were associated with a doubled chance of hospitalisation because of COVID, and a more than 50% higher chance of being infected with SARS-CoV-24. This is a very dramatic difference – imagine if we could have halved the number of deaths from COVID simply by giving everyone vitamin D supplements in advance. Well guess what, we could have done if anyone had bothered to do anything about the huge percentage of people who have vitamin D levels below ‘sufficient’.
This result is backed up by other studies, for example a huge population-based study involving data from more than 500,000 people in Israel not only showed that there was a significant association between low levels of vitamin D and the risk of COVID-19 but also showed that there was a significant protective effect for those who had been given vitamin D supplements in the previous 4 months5.
Two: The positive effect that vitamin D has when given to people testing positive for COVID-19
Studies are building up that show the huge effect that vitamin D has when given to people who test positive for SARS-CoV-2, or who are diagnosed with COVID-19. One of several recent studies gave vitamin D to hospitalised patients in Spain with amazing results: of 50 patients treated with vitamin D, only one required admission to the ICU (2%), while of 26 untreated patients, 50% (13) required admission. This is a bigger study than the Singapore study we quoted earlier this year, making the results more significant scientifically speaking6.
In light of the above-highlighted evidence, and many more studies adding to the weight of support for vitamin D supplementation to reduce the effects of COVID, why aren’t governments everywhere recommending this to people? Rather than spend literally billions on testing and many billions on developing vaccines, why not provide vitamin D supplements to everyone? To quote Professors Rose Anne Kelly and Adrian Martineau in The Lancet7: “We know vitamin D is important for musculoskeletal function, so people should be taking it anyway.”
“There is no downside to speak of [to taking vitamin D] and good reason to think there might be a benefit”. The NHS could give everyone in the UK a winter’s supply of vitamin D supplements for less than a billion pounds. But unfortunately, common sense has been sparse among policymakers during this epidemic, so you’re going to have to get your own supply. If you can’t spend 30 minutes in the sun daily, U.P. sells tubs with 120 capsules for GBP15 – that’s 4 month’s worth – why aren’t you using it?
1 Gloth FM, Gundberg CM, Hollis BW, Haddad JG, Tobin JD. Vitamin D Deficiency in Homebound Elderly Persons. JAMA. 1995;274(21):1683–1686. DOI: 10.1001/jama.1995.03530210037027.
2 Kumar J, Muntner P, Kaskel FJ, Hailpern SM, Melamed ML. Prevalence and associations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D deficiency in US children: NHANES 2001-2004. Pediatrics. 2009;124(6):e362-e370. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-0051.
3 Forrest KY, Stuhldreher WL. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res. 2011;31(7):48-54. DOI: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001.
4 Merzon, E., Tworowski, D., Gorohovski, A., Vinker, S., Golan Cohen, A., Green, I. and Frenkel‐Morgenstern, M. (2020), Low plasma 25(OH) vitamin D level is associated with increased risk of COVID‐19 infection: an Israeli population‐based study. FEBS J, 287: 3693-3702. DOI: 10.1111/febs.15495.
5 The link between vitamin D deficiency and Covid-19 in a large population. Ariel Israel, Assi Albert Cicurel, Ilan Feldhamer, Yosef Dror, Shmuel M Giveon, David Gillis, David Strich, Gil Lavie. medRxiv 2020.09.04.20188268; DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.04.20188268.
6 Marta Entrenas Castillo, Luis Manuel Entrenas Costa, José Manuel Vaquero Barrios, Juan Francisco Alcalá Díaz, José López Miranda, Roger Bouillon, José Manuel Quesada Gomez. Effect of calcifediol treatment and best available therapy versus best available therapy on intensive care unit admission and mortality among patients hospitalized for COVID-19: A pilot randomized clinical study. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 2020, vol 203 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2020.105751.
7 Vitamin-D and COVID-19: do deficient risk a poorer outcome? Fiona Mitchell. The Lancet, published: May 20, 2020. DOI: 10.1016/S2213-8587(20)30183-2.