Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced in your skin in response to sunlight. You can also get it through certain foods such as oily fish, red meat and egg yolks. It is vital in regulating the absorption  of calcium and phosphorus as well as maintaining a normal immune system. In addition to its primary benefits, vitamin D may also play a role in reducing your risk of multiple sclerosis, heart disease and your likelihood of developing the flu.

Could having a healthy blood level of vitamin D help you avoid the intensive care unit and death if you become effected with COVID-19? According to WebMd’s article regarding vitamin D, it very likely could!

Experts say that healthy blood levels of vitamin D, which regulates the immune system, including its ability to suppress dangerous cytokine production, is well known.  Which in turn may give a survival advantage by helping people with  COVID-19 avoid a cytokines storm, when the immune systems overreacts and begins attacking your body’s own cells and tissues. Experts also believe that there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and C-reactive protein, or CRP, a surrogate marker for severe COVID-19. These are proteins produced by the liver in response to inflammation to lessen the damage from infection. Also, sunlight and vitamin D had been linked with lowering the death rate in the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. Patients with health vitamin D levels during that pandemic were less likely to die.

The research linking vitamin D levels and COVID-19’s cytokine storm is in its early stages but not surprising, says Bart Roep, PhD, chair of the department of diabetes immunology at City of Hope, a cancer center in Duarte, CA. Vitamin D, he says, is ”the negotiator” because “it doesn’t suppress the immune system, it modulates it. Vitamin D makes the immune cells less inflammatory.”

While more studies are needed to confirm these findings, there has been some promising research.

Among the newest studies:

  • More than 80% of 200 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had vitamin D deficiency. Patients  with lower vitamin D levels also had higher blood levels of inflammatory markers. But the researchers found no link between low D levels and how severe the disease was.
  • Spanish researchers tested how prescription vitamin D could affect people hospitalized with COVID. Of the 50 who received it, only one needed the intensive care unit (ICU), and none died. Among 26 patients who did not receive the vitamin, 13 needed ICU care and two died.
  • U.S. researchers evaluated blood samples from 235 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID and then followed them to see how they fared. Patients who had adequate vitamin D levels were less likely to become unconscious or die from COVID. (After the study was published, the journal editors published an ”expression of concern,” questioning whether the sample size was large enough and how the data was analyzed. The study’s author, Michael Holick, MD, a vitamin D researcher at Boston University known for promoting the vitamin, confirmed that a larger study is needed.)   

More studies are coming. Researchers from Queen Mary University of London are launching Coronavit, a 6-month study that will enroll 5,000 people to see if high-dose vitamin D can reduce winter respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

And 31 other studies are listed at Clinical Trials.gov. Not all are recruiting yet.

To maintain a healthy blood level of vitamin D, the Institute of Medicine recommends children under age 1 year take in 400 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily, and people ages 1 to 70 years old take in 600 IUs. People over age 70 should get 800 IUs a day.

But during the pandemic, it may be wise to take more, says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D is 600-800 IU/daily, but during this period, a multivitamin or supplement containing 1,000-2,000 IU/daily of vitamin D would be reasonable,” she told Medscape earlier this year.

Waiting for the studies to be complete may be too late. We already need it for bone health and a healthy immune system, so grab a good a bottle of D3 supplement, go ahead and grab some Vitamin C and Zinc while you’re there. Let’s all boost our immune systems!