Why Doctors are waking up to Vitamin D supplementation for Covid-19
Nutritionists have been saying for years to supplement Vitamin D for immune health and the NHS is finally in agreement. In fact it’s now offering free supplements to those in high risk categories.
What is Vitamin D’s significance to immunity and respiratory infections?
For years the medical establishment had not considered vitamin D to be that relevant beyond bone health. But it is well known by those who study it, that it has an important role across the immune system supporting different immune cells. In particular it plays an active role in what is known as the innate immune system. This is what jumps into action instantly at the first sign of a foreign invader to gobble up and destroy it. Low levels of vitamin D have been shown to enhance susceptibility to infections. Vitamin D also helps to modulate your immune response (meaning it is neither too weak nor too strong).
One report that studied almost 19,000 individuals between 1988 and 1994 found that those with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to self-report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels.
Further research has demonstrated how vitamin D protects against colds and flu.
Whilst there has been some guidance from the NHS to supplement Vitamin D through the Winter months, it is only now (after a terrible year of fatalities following Covid-19 infection) that this has gained traction and it is offering high risk individuals free supplementation.
Why is Vitamin D Supplementation so important?
Vitamin D (actually a hormone) is activated from sunlight coming into direct contact with the skin. This means exposure of skin with no suntan lotion to sunlight (not midday) that turns the skin very slightly pink (not burnt). Twenty minutes is usually ideal for most people.
However in the Winter in the Northern hemisphere the sun has too little UVB to provide sufficient vitamin D. And due to the cold our bodies are covered in clothing. As we head into Winter, levels of vitamin D start to decline. By the depths of Winter levels of vitamin D could be deficient and not enabling your body to mount a strong immune defence. It is little surprise that colds and flu are at their peak during these long winter days.
Certain foods do provide some vitamin D (oily fish, eggs, butter and cheese) but levels are very low and not sufficient compared to the amount we obtain from sunlight.
Is skin colour relevant?
Most definitely. The average white person would obtain around 20,000iu of D3 after an hour of sunbathing. A person with dark skin would only obtain around 10,000iu. Aggregate this over the entire summer, by Winter fat stores would have far lower levels of this fat soluble vitamin to keep us going through the long winter months.
What can I do?
I believe it is a priority to take responsibility and check your Vitamin D levels.
I recommend self testing (such as www.vitamindtest.org.uk) to determine your base level at the start of Winter, but this can be done at any time throughout the year.
As a minimum during the Winter months supplement 1000iu of vitamin D3 (it is this formulation not D2 that is absorbed). Ideally choose a droplet or spray formula for better absorption. Tablets can be poorly absorbed through the gut. NHS Choices recommends 400iu but this is unlikely to deliver an optimum amount. However check your suitability with your GP or pharmacist, as in a very few circumstances some people should not take a supplement.
What else is Vitamin D used for?
The benefits of Vitamin D extend well beyond bone health and immunity. It is probably one of the most overlooked nutrients. Scientists are calling on governments to increase supplementation to much higher levels due to its role in so many body processes.
It has a role to play in osteoporosis, cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, auto-immune conditions, cholesterol health, skin health, brain health and much more.
Don’t wait for the warm summer sun to shine again and think you’ll be OK. Take action now at a time when you need it more than ever.
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