A study challenges a long-standing myth about covid-19 and vitamin D

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you can’t live without vitamins; that’s an absolute no. These macronutrients are the fat in our gears, making sure all of our bodily systems are up and running in tip-top condition. A deficiency in any of the 13 essential vitamins can lead to a host of health problems, illness, and possibly death.

During the pandemic, there was one vitamin in particular, vitamin D, that received a lot of buzz as a possible therapeutic agent against covid-19. This was due in part to vitamin D’s influence on the immune system and its potential protection against respiratory infections according to previous research. Notably, when then-President Donald Trump contracted the coronavirus, his doctor revealed that along with a course of the antiviral drug remdesivir and the antibody cocktail Regeneron, Trump’s treatment regimen included a vitamin D supplement.

But there has been a lot of back and forth about whether vitamin D supplementation actually helps make Covid-19 less severe or even prevents the disease to begin with. And according to two studies published this month in the British medical journal, maybe not. The two papers, one from the UK and the other from Norway, found that vitamin D supplementation did not appear to protect against COVID-19 or other respiratory tract infections. These findings are not a definitive answer to the question about vitamin D and the coronavirus; Both studies have limitations that we will delve into. But they do raise the importance of continuing research to find easy-to-implement solutions to keep the spiky virus at bay.

Here is the background – Vitamin D belongs to a group of fat-soluble vitamins, which means that these nutrients are better absorbed when you eat high-fat foods and are stored in adipose tissue, liver, and skeletal muscles. Because fat-soluble vitamins stay in the body much longer than water-soluble vitamins that need regular replacement, for the most part, you can get too much of a good thing (aka toxicity) when these vitamins are consumed in large amounts. excessive.

The human body naturally produces vitamin D (which comes in many forms) after getting a few feel-good rays of sunshine. The exact mechanism involves ultraviolet B (UVB) energy converting cholesterol, which is abundant in the skin, into an active form of the vitamin called vitamin D2. Dietary supplements come in vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. The latter is slightly more active, therefore more effective, and what most doctors recommend.

Fatty fish like salmon are a rich source of vitamin D.Shutterstock

Vitamin D is best known for its role in keeping bones healthy by helping us absorb calcium and phosphate during digestion (thereby preventing osteoporosis). As for its role in immune health, which is where its influence on Covid-19 infection comes in, some studies have shown that taking a supplement regularly can prevent autoimmune diseases and metastatic or fatal cancers. Other studies have found that vitamin D can calm inflammation, which may be the link between the vitamin and covid-19. Additionally, this association appeared to carry some weight, as scientists observed high rates of vitamin D deficiency alongside severe COVID-19, especially in black and Hispanic communities, where such deficiency is highest.

What did you do – In the UK-Norway study, the goal was simple: to see if vitamin D, either as a vitamin D3 supplement or fortified in a teaspoon of cod liver, could prevent Covid-19 infection.

Researchers led by the University of London conducted a phase three randomized controlled trial involving 6,200 volunteers over the age of 16 from a much larger research cohort called COVIDENCE UK and tested their vitamin D levels. of the vitamin in the blood, determined through a finger prick test and defined as less than 75 nanograms per deciliter, received a high-dose (3,200 international units per day) or low-dose (800 international units per day) dose of vitamin D3 . These people, who were mostly women in their 60s, were followed for six months, from December 2020 to June 2021.

In northern Scandinavia, researchers led by a team from the University of Oslo gave more than 34,000 Norwegians between the ages of 18 and 75 five milliliters of cod liver oil a day (containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D) or a placebo in the form of corn oil. The participants, also mostly women but trending younger (around 45 years old), were also followed for six months from November 2020 to June 2021.

What they found – None of the studies found that vitamin D made a dramatic difference in the number of Covid-19 infections, serious illnesses (including hospitalizations and deaths), or other respiratory tract infections between controls and those taking the vitamin in any form.

“Among people aged 16 years and older with a high baseline prevalence of suboptimal vitamin D levels, implementation of a population-level test-and-treat approach to vitamin D supplementation was not associated with a reduction in risk. of all-cause acute respiratory tract infection or covid-19,” the UK study authors wrote.

“Daily supplementation with cod liver oil, a low dose of vitamin D, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid supplementation, for six months during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic among Norwegian adults, did not reduce the incidence of SARS infection. -CoV-2. Severe Covid-19 or other acute respiratory infections,” the Norwegian researchers wrote in their study.

If you’re worried you might have a vitamin D deficiency, here are some telltale signs. Shutterstock

Delving into the details – Before you go and throw your bottle of made by nature‘s D3 in the nearest garbage, these two studies have a number of limitations, the most obvious being vaccination.

In an accompanying editorial, Peter Bergman, a physician and clinical researcher at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, who was not involved in either study, said that having a substantial number of people already vaccinated (more than 35 percent in the Norwegian study) or getting vaccinated (from 1% to 89% in the UK study) may have masked any protective effect of vitamin D.

There is also the question of representation in any of the studies. In the UK study, “men, people from ethnic minorities, and those with a lower educational level were relatively underrepresented compared to the general population,” the study authors wrote, affecting the generalizability of their findings.

While the Norwegian study was quite large with more than 34,000 participants, most were women, “relatively young and healthy, and 86.3% had adequate vitamin D levels … at the start of the study,” Bergman said. And the fact that cod liver, which contains large amounts of vitamin A, was used also means that vitamin D’s ability to regulate the immune system may have been interfered with.

Whats Next – While these two studies don’t suggest you give up vitamin D altogether (because you definitely need it for your health and well-being), it’s not a replacement for the COVID-19 vaccine, at least in people with normal levels of the vitamin.

“Importantly, these new trials remain consistent with the two large meta-analyses that suggest vitamin D supplementation may be beneficial for people with vitamin D deficiency,” wrote Bergman, who also recommended certain groups at risk of low levels of vitamin D, such as those with darker skin. skin, pregnant women and the elderly with chronic diseases consult their doctor before taking supplements.

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