Official News Magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association

 

Vitamin D and the pandemic

Though the jury’s still out, some evidence suggests that vitamin D can protect against COVID-19. It certainly can’t hurt.

by Gabrielle Bauer

 

As the COVID-19 pandemic grumbles on, researchers continue to explore various strategies for combating the virus. One of them is vitamin D. Here, we present the latest evidence about the possible role of vitamin D in mitigating COVID-19 − and the news is encouraging.

Vitamin D and respiratory health

One of the body’s physiological powerhouses, vitamin D helps maintain bone health, cell growth and immune function. You can get it naturally from sun exposure and certain foods, or in supplements. As it happens, colds and flus tend to occur in fall and winter, when people’s vitamin D levels drop down. Coincidence? Possibly not, based on research suggesting that vitamin D boosts lung function and helps defend against respiratory infections.

Shorter, milder, rarer

Given what we know about vitamin D physiology, it makes sense that the molecule would provide some ammunition against COVID-19 − and several studies seem to bear that out. In two European studies, people with higher vitamin D levels had a lower risk of either catching or dying from COVID-19. In a further study, also from Europe, vitamin D deficiency was more common in hospitalized COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care than in those managed effectively in regular wards. Over in the U.S., researchers studying the health records of more than 4,000 COVID-19-positive patients discovered that those who lacked vitamin D were 77% more likely to be infected with the virus.

That said, it’s hard to single out vitamin D as the source of these benefits. As medical experts have pointed out, vitamin D levels are often lower in people with health conditions that increase the risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. What’s more, many studies of vitamin D supplementation as COVID-19 protection haven’t panned out. Even so, many experts suggest that we pay extra attention to our vitamin D levels as we wait for further evidence to roll in.

Into the D zone

If you’re Canadian, there’s a good chance that you’re low on vitamin D. To begin with, vitamin D deficiency occurs more often in countries at northern latitudes, such as Canada, especially during the winter months when people spend less time outdoors. This year, the COVID-19 crisis has kept people away from the sun longer than usual, which could result in a clinical deficit.

To prevent or correct a vitamin D deficit, aim for 600 international units (IU) every day − make that 800, if you’re over 70. In the Canadian food supply, you have only two choices of natural vitamin D sources: fatty fish and egg yolks. That said, you can find many foods and beverages fortified with vitamin D − and it’s mandatory for cow’s milk and margarine. Once you’ve passed age 50, Health Canada recommends that you buttress your food sources with a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU. That’s because age can interfere with your appetite and reduce your body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D from the sun.

So crack open those eggs, indulge in that cappuccino and grab a bottle of vitamin D tablets on your way out of the drugstore. And keep washing your hands.

 

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