Updated: Mar 10, 2020
At this point we don’t have the data for specific measures other than general hygiene. We have no randomised control trials for coronavirus COVID-19 treatments or preventions. They have not been performed. So what can we do other than a “healthy” diet and plenty of sleep to maintain a healthy immune system?
Vitamin D is one of those things we don’t have any randomised control trials for, but has been shown to have enormous effects on the immune system and how we deal with respiratory viruses.
Influenza and cold viruses are notoriously seasonal. Is this heat and humidity versus dryness and virus survival? Is the susceptibility of the elderly age related or is it Vit D related? People in winter and the elderly get less sun and the sun is essential for Vit D production. Is vitamin D a “seasonal stimulus” as defined by our immune system and will it be proven as a crucial and cheap prophylaxis and support therapy for this emerging respiratory infection.
Vitamin D is only available in our body through production in the skin. UV sunlight changes a fatty precursor into Vit D3 and it is further metabolised to an active form in the body. Oral supplementation is the other main source. Some foods like fatty fish have high natural Vit D levels and some foods have added Vit D like some milk and margarines. It is a fat soluble vitamin so it is possible (but pretty difficult) to overdose on vitamin D.
Vitamin D is critically important for the immune system fighting respiratory infections but it also has suppressive, anti-inflammatory processes. Vitamin D can turn things on and can turn things off. This could be very important for the immune response that we see in COVID-19. It is the immune system that is going to suppress and fight off the virus which is good. The immune system can also cause a storm of inflammatory cytokines that put your lungs into Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), the main reason for hospitalisation from COVID-19 and potentially kill people. We want a smart immune system that takes care of the virus but doesn’t put us into an inflammatory cascade that could put us on a ventilator or heart/lung bypass... if there are enough hospital resources available.
So is Vitamin D the answer? It isn’t going to banish Coronavirus from the world. But, the Harvard Gazette looked at a collaborative study that confirmed that Vitamin D supplementation can help protect against acute Viral Respiratory Tracts Infection (VRTI) Study confirms vitamin D protects against colds and flu.
The study is a meta-analysis study that looks at a whole bunch of other studies, breaks down the components and makes a super study out of it. The researcher took 25 randomised control trials with 11,000 total participants (a lot of people!). Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data Several observational studies which tracked participants over time without assessing the specific treatment have associated low vitamin D levels with greater susceptibility to VRTI. Daily supplementation, not huge doses of vitamin D if you got sick, work best. This makes sense. People of the lowest levels are going to have the best effect from supplementation and it cuts the risk of infection in HALF. That is a significant number!
This is from the British Medical Journal, a very prestigious publication. Their conclusion was Vitamin D supplementation was safe and protected against acute VRTI. Overall patients who are vitamin D deficient benefited the most from 25Ug(1000iu) as a daily supplement. Bolus massive doses once infected didn’t help.
You can get your Vit D levels checked with blood tests too. Doctors surgeries may not be the best places to hang out at the moment though.
Summary: 25ug (1000IU) Vitamin D3 once daily is very unlikely to cause adverse effects and could decrease VRTI by up to 50%. Coronavirus is a serious potential infection particularly for the elderly or immune suppressed and this seems like a cheap and useful help for the immune system.
Yes wash your hands PROPERLY. Don’t cough or sneeze with an uncovered face. Get at least 7.5hr sleep (actual SLEEP) a night. Eat a healthy balanced diet. Don’t go to work or public places if you are sick. Don’t visit old or sick friends or relatives if you are sick. And maybe take a Vitamin D supplement daily.
Another great summary article.