Posted on Jul 28, 2020, 3 p.m.
A researcher says that vitamin D is like a steroid and is urging the public to spend some time outside soaking in the sunshine vitamin, while another urges caution saying that other factors may be at play.
Based on findings published in The FEBS Journal, Israeli researchers have concluded that good levels of vitamin D may help people to fight the coronavirus more effectively and quickly, as well as reducing the chances of hospitalization. While this comes as good news, and supports other research suggesting the same, still other researchers are cautioning broad conclusions saying that other factors may be involved.
This was a joint effort with Leumit Health Services to investigate whether there is a basis to suggestions of vitamin D being helpful in the current pandemic, and after publishing what she says may be the world’s largest population based study of its kind, Milana Frenkel-Morgenstern who is the head of Bar Ilan University’s Lab for the BioComputing of Complex Diseases, said that vitamin D is “like a steroid.” This study compared those with negative results, to those who tested positive and those who were hospitalized and reported significant differences in their vitamin D levels.
7,807 samples from Israelis who tested for coronavirus were studied, findings showed that the average vitamin D level for those who screened as being negative were within the internationally accepted adequate range levels, while those who were positive fell into the category of inadequate levels.
Levels of less than 20 nanograms per milliliter of blood are considered to be inadequate levels of vitamin D. According to the researchers those in the sampling who tested negative were on average within the adequate range with a mean vitamin D count of 21 nanograms per milliliter, while those who tested positive were on average within the inadequate range with a mean vitamin D count of 19 nanograms per milliliter; and those who went on to be hospitalized had a mean vitamin D count of 17 nanograms per milliliter.
In this study those who were aged 50+ were twice as likely to find themselves admitted to hospital with COVID-19 if they had low levels of vitamin D compared to those of a similar age who had adequate levels of vitamin D; and those aged 25-49 with low levels of vitamin D were 1.45 times more likely to be hospitalized than those with adequate levels, according to Frenkel-Morgenstern.
Frenkel-Morgenstern does not think that vitamin D will prevent people from catching coronavirus, rather she believes that it boosts the body’s ability to fight it off once infected. She suggests that these results reflect that vitamin D is helping some people to experience relatively light effects from the virus and to stay out of the hospital, while others are ridding themselves of the virus before getting tested. Based on her findings she is suggesting that it is urgent, even during mid-pandemic, that people get outside and boost their vitamin D levels, as the prevalence of low levels of vitamin D is widespread internationally.
Frenkel-Morgenstern also says that her findings should help to guide public policy as ironically the lockdowns and people avoiding outings are actually contributing to the low levels of vitamin D, and it is putting people at an increased risk, especially if they already had low levels.
“The problem now is people stay indoors or in cars all day, not going to beaches, do not have the sun exposure,” she said, adding that she believed the best action people can take is ensuring they are spending time outside.
Frenkel-Morgenstern argues that health officials and authorities need to factor in vitamin D requirements for the human body into future restrictions, and they should avoid closing public outdoor spaces such as nature reserves and beaches. “This is why it’s so important to not close the beaches in any future lockdown,” she said. “People should go to the sun, to the sea.”
Internationally there are increasing suggestions that good vitamin D levels, which have long been thought to have a range of health benefits, have helped people to deal with illness including coronavirus. Recently a German study concluded that “much more attention should be paid to the importance of vitamin D status for the development and course of the disease.”
This study involved 7,025 negative and 782 COVID-19 positive patients who were members of Leumit Health Services. The Israeli HMO was involved in the research process and said that these findings stand up to scrutiny “even after adjustment for age, gender, socio-economic status and chronic, mental and physical disorders.”
Still others such as Ella Sklan, who is head of a molecular virology lab at Tel Aviv University and is not connected to this study, thinks that people should keep the results of vitamin D research in perspective. She suggests that vitamin D is good for the immune system, but thinks that studies indicating benefits for coronavirus may be reflecting other variables such as levels of physical activity that may be impacting health.
“People want to find something magic that will change everyone’s life now, but I wouldn’t rely on this thinking,” Sklan said.
Still, Frenkel-Morgenstern is not suggesting this is a cure or will magically prevent anyone from becoming ill, she is suggesting that these findings indicate vitamin D may help to boost the immune system and improve the body’s ability to fight infection compared to those with inadequate levels.
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