While the world anxiously awaits the global deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine, a rather surprising star has emerged as a potential defence against the dangerously infectious disease and it’s none other than our favorite nutrient – Vitamin D.
Vitamin D has been making headlines lately, after research revealed an association between Vitamin D deficiency and the severity of COVID-19 cases.
While this has led to a rather sharp increase in the intake of Vitamin D supplements by concerned people, doctors warn against overdosing on the nutrient, which can lead to other health complications, such as kidney failure.
So how exactly did researchers come to this conclusion? And what is the best source of Vitamin D to help fight disease and boost your immunity? Here’s what you need to know.
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How Vitamin D Helps Boost Immunity
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble, hormone-like vitamin that plays an integral role in regulating the body’s uptake and usage of calcium, enhancing bone mineralization, and supporting a healthy immune system. Even though calcium absorption is its principal role, vitamin D also plays a major part in boosting the immune function.
For starters, Vitamin D boosts the “innate immune system” – the body’s primary defense against infections. Secondly, it stimulates the function of dendritic cells that are responsible for clumping and chomping up disease-causing organisms and presenting them to the immune system. This helps activate the “adaptive immune system,” which then destroys these organisms by producing antibodies specifically against them.
On the whole, Vitamin D functions as a signaling hormone, boosting immune function – particularly the first line of defense – and then balancing the immune response that follows. This has been identified as one of the reasons individuals with optimal vitamin D levels report fewer viral and bacterial infections.
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The Link between Vitamin D and Protection against COVID-19
Given the impact of Vitamin D on the immune system, it makes sense why people suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency are the most vulnerable when a novel disease such as COVID-19 presents itself, since their immune systems have to work in overdrive to fight off incoming infections.
Hence, Vitamin D intake is being hailed as an economical and highly potent method of maintaining the immune system and boosting its function, with particular application to COVID-19.
And here’s the science to back these claims: a study conducted in May at the Northwestern University analyzed publicly available patient data from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from 10 countries. The researchers discovered a correlation between Vitamin D levels and something called the “cytokine storm” – a hyper-inflammatory condition that results due to an overactive immune system, causing respiratory distress and extensive damage to the lungs, which may also lead to death.
Researchers also noted that patients from countries where COVID-19 mortality rates were higher, such as Spain, Italy, and the UK, had lower levels of Vitamin D as compared to patients from countries with lower death rates.
Hence, it can be concluded from similar observational studies that people with a Vitamin D deficiency are more prone to suffer from serious cases of COVID-19.
Vitamin D Supplementation – What’s the Right Amount?
Vitamin D supplements are a highly effective way to increase blood levels of active Vitamin D. However, researchers warn against the excessive hoarding and intake of supplementary Vitamin D, especially if your levels are optimal. Too much Vitamin D can result in toxicity, and in extreme cases may also lead to kidney stones and calcification of the heart and blood vessels.
Scientists say that much more research is still needed to fully determine how Vitamin D could be used as an effective tool against COVID-19 complications.
Figuring out exactly how much, or if any, Vitamin D is required by your body starts by getting your Vitamin D levels checked via a simple blood test. In case of a deficiency, the Institute of Medicine recommends that adults up to 70 years old should get supplements containing 600 IU of Vitamin D, and people older than that, and those with autoimmune diseases should get 800 IU.
Avoid supplements that deliver more than these amounts. However, if your levels are very low, your doctor might recommend a higher dose and will most likely recheck your levels after a few weeks.
Vitamin D has been proven to stimulate and enhance the immune system and improve its functioning. With the raging coronavirus targeting the most vulnerable people, it’s best to keep your immunity at a maximum.
Taking a Vitamin D supplement will do you no harm and will potentially protect you against the disease, but remember to first get your levels checked and use a supplement only after prescribed by a physician.