Can Vitamin D Help Beat COVID-19?

More than 80 percent of patients hospitalized with the Coronavirus were found to be deficient in Vitamin D in a new study

With Jose Hernandez PhD and Bart Roep PhD

Vitamin D for the CoronavirusResearch continues to suggest that vitamin D may be protective against COVID-19.

Jose Hernandez PhD of the Hospital Universitario Marques de Valdecilla in Santander, Spain was on the team of Spanish researchers who found that more than 80% of 200 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized in Spain had a vitamin D deficiency. Those with low levels also had longer hospital stays.

While the study did not find significant difference in terms of the severity of disease, Dr. Hernandez says he does not yet rule that out, because the number studied may have been too small to determine that finding, and being hospitalized can itself be an indicator of severity. 

Research linking COVID-19 hospitalizations to vitamin D deficiency continues to accumulate

  • In another study, researchers gave 50 patients in the hospital with COVID-19 a prescription form of Vitamin D but didn't give it to 26 others hospitalized with the Coronavirus. While 13 of those who did not get vitamin D needed the ICU, only 1 of those on vitamin D did. During the study, 2 who did not get vitamin D died, while all of those given vitamin D survived.
  • Boston researchers evaluated blood samples of 235 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, checking to see who had low vitamin D. They then followed the patients, finding that those with adequate levels were less likely to die or become unconscious. 
  • Earlier research found that countries whose residents had low vitamin D levels had higher numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
  • Research done before the pandemic found that vitamin D supplementation can help reduce the risk of respiratory infections.
  • More studies are in the planning stages. As of late October, there are 31 trials looking at vitamin D and COVID-19 still in progress.

Why Vitamin D might help fight the Coronavirus

Infection with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can result in the immune system overreacting and lead to the potentially deadly ''cytokine storm," says Bart Roep PhD, chair of the department of diabetes immunology at City of Hope in Duarte, California. ''Vitamin D3 contributes to balancing the immune system. It doesn't suppress it, unlike some treatments for COVID. Instead, it modulates and negotiates with the immune system."

Benefits of vitamin D supplementation far outweigh risks in populations vulnerable to COVID-19

While all experts acknowledge that more study is needed, Dr. Hernandez says he believes vitamin D treatment should be given to patients with low D levels and COVID-19 as it is a low-risk treatment that might have beneficial effects in both the musculoskeletal and the immune system.

He suggests that the best approach might be to identify and treat vitamin D deficiency, especially in high-risk individuals such as the elderly, patients with endocrine conditions that put them at a higher risk, and nursing home residents who are often vulnerable to severe cases COVID-19.

He points, too, to the possible protection vitamin D provides against other viral respiratory infections. "Although we must wait for the results of the ongoing large and well-designed clinical trials to determine whether vitamin D can prevent SARS-COV-2 infection, or reduce its severity, given the large safety margin of vitamin D treatment, and its low cost, it seems reasonable to use in treating those populations at high risk for vitamin D deficiency that in general coincide with the patients most affected by COVID-19."

Dr. Roep also points out that many people at high risk for COVID-19—older adults, those who are obese and people of color—are also often deficient in vitamin D. The benefits far outweigh the nonexistent risks, he says. "I advise the obvious—be sure your patients have sufficient vitamin D3. If it doesn’t help, it does not harm."

Drs. Roep and Hernandez have no relevant disclosures.

 

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