Should you be taking Vitamin D supplements in order to protect against the coronavirus?
You have no doubt seen the news that there is a correlation between blood serum levels of Vitamin D, and susceptibility to Covid-191.
Though results have been somewhat mixed depending upon the study, overall it has been found that between 70-80% of people with severe cases are deficient in Vitamin D, significantly more than the population average2, 3.
Based on studies like these, there have been calls for widespread supplementation of Vitamin D. It could be a very low hanging fruit if the correlation proves to be causative – so should we all be shovelling down handfuls of Vitamin D capsules like
smarties nut and seeds just to be on the safeside?
Don’t (Fully) Believe (All) the Hype
The first thing to be totally clear about, is that at the time of writing this post, there is zero hard evidence that taking Vitamin D supplements to protect against the coronavirus will either reduce your risk of catching it, nor reduce the diseases severity if you do.
While Vitamin D deficiency is correlated with increased risk from Covid, it is also correlated with obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. These are all also independently correlated with worse outcomes from Covid19 (and any other illness for that matter).
That said, there are plausible mechanisms by which Vitamin D could reduce the severity of, and speed recovery from respiratory infections1, so it’s not impossible that it is the vitamin deficiency itself that is the (or a significant) underlying factor.
Vitamin D Deficiency is Never Good
Something I think is very important in these strange times, is to try and avoid being myopic and only focusing on what we can do to reduce risk from Covid-19.
Regardless of whether Vitamin D levels turn out to be a significant factor in susceptibility to, and severity of, coronavirus infections, you should be concerned with avoiding deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency has a whole host of known horrible consequences, including increased risk cardiovascular disease, cancer and cognitive impairment4. So ensuring you’re not deficient is definitely a good idea, whether the connection with covid turns out to be true or not.
Before you guzzle down the entire pot…
Remember, more is not necessarily better, in fact you can have too much of a good thing!
Excess levels of Vitamin D inhibit its beneficial effects and can even lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries or soft tissues5.
But how do you know what your Vitamin D levels are?
The only way to know for sure is to take a test. This would either require going to a doctor (though perhaps not the preferred destination at the moment, particularly if you think you’re high risk from the virus!), or ordering a Vitamin D home test kit.
Whether it’s worth you doing a test or not really depends upon the likelihood that you’re deficient.
Risk factors include:
- Darker skin
- Living at higher latitudes
- Little exposure to natural sunlight
- Poor diet / Vegan diet
If you fall into two or more of these categories, it’s definitely worth doing a test, particularly if you often feel tired or low in energy, a typical symptom of Vitamin D deficiency.
I’ve got low levels, so should I be taking Vitamin D supplements to protect against the Coronavirus
Any regular readers to this blog will know that in general I think that supplements suck, and don’t recommend their use.
I stand by this viewpoint for most people, most of the time.
A good diet and healthy lifestyle will generally provide you with all the necessary nutrients you need.
That said, it’s important not to be dogmatic about things, and realise that perhaps in some cases, supplementation might be a wise option.
For example, if you’re 1 dark skinned, 2 live in the Northern hemisphere, 3 work indoors all day, 4 it’s winter, and 5 you don’t eat fish, meat or dairy, it’s going to be pretty much impossible for you to increase and maintain your serum Vitamin D levels without supplementation.
What was that about sleeping in a car?
The latter hypothetical is pretty extreme, most people are only going to hit 3 or 4 at the most out of the 5, and so I think Vitamin D supplements should be used as a temporary stopgap solution, not a permanent fix.
My analogy would be that taking Vitamin D supplements for your health is like sleeping in your car if you find yourself homeless.
Sleeping in your car is considerably better than sleeping in the street.
Well, that’s anecdotal I know, but I’m sure if they were to do a study on it people that slept in their cars would have better outcomes than those that slept in the street.
Studies show that sleeping in your car is 95%:
Wow, that’s amazing, we should all be sleeping in our cars!
Well no, you’re actually much better off sleeping in a house, providing you have the option. Had the study compared sleeping in a house, to sleeping in a car, the car wouldn’t have looked quite so peachy.
In the same way, avoiding Vitamin D deficiency via supplementation is certainly much better than doing nothing, but it’s better longterm to optimise your diet and lifestyle by eating real foods and spending time in the sun without sunscreen. This way not only do you avoid the risk overdoing the Vitamin D, but you also ensure you get all the other nutrients your body needs, and the additional benefits of sun exposure.