Vitamin D and the Implications With COVID-19
If you’re like me, you may feel like you are reading something new everyday about how to support your immune system, what herb or supplement to take, ect. And if you're like me again, you want to trust the information and know that it comes from a science based resource. With regards to COVID-19, this is even more important. Today we’re looking at the role of vitamin D in the body and it’s rising level of value in minimizing the effects and duration of the virus in our bodies. There are numerous correlations between individuals that are most likely to be deficient in vitamin D and those that are considered most at risk for COVID-19 and it’s complications. (Benskin) I hope this to be a trusted source of information that will benefit you and your family’s health.
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s look at what vitamin D does in the body. Then we’ll explore the research that has been coming forward in the past few months, and finally, how you can ensure during the dark winter months you are safely getting enough of this “sunshine vitamin.”
How Vitamin D works in Your Body
The “sunshine vitamin” is so aptly named because we primarily get it from exposure to the UVB rays from the sun, and then it gets converted in the body two separate times before it becomes usable. When UVB rays from the sun meet the skin, this is where the first conversion happens using cholesterol and the liver. It’s at this stage that we are able to test the blood for vitamin D levels. The recommended level is found to be 30 ng/ml with 100 ng/ml or higher at risk for toxicity (Benskin). The second conversion happens in the kidneys and this is where it becomes calcitriol and is usable by the cells in our body. Vitamin D is utilized for many functions in the body. There is evidence of receptor sites on cells that support bones, muscles, intestines, the immune and cardiovascular systems, the pancreas, the uterus, and the brain (Nair).
That’s a lot for this little vitamin to do, and it must be pretty important if there are so many organs in our body that have receptor sites!
Who is at Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency?
It probably goes without saying that the less sun exposure you get, the less vitamin D you get. This is true for anyone who is home-bound, wearing sunscreen, clothing that blocks exposure, and living at a latitude above 37˚in the Northern Hemisphere (think Denver and above). Studies have also correlated air pollution and density of clouds to also decrease sun exposure. (Benskin)
Less intuitive though, is people with darker skin tones. Darker skin absorbs more melanin during exposure to UVB rays, which actually decreases their ability to convert the radiation to vitamin D (Nair).
Also, individuals who are overweight/obese have lower vitamin D levels due to how vitamin D is stored in subcutaneous fat and the ability for the body to release it is disrupted.
Lastly, a population dear to my heart, is during pregnancy and in young children. Studies show that the need for vitamin D increases when you are growing a little one, with deficiency rates as high as 20-40%. (Lee) Once born, breastfed babies are recommended to supplement vitamin D either directly or through mom’s breastmilk due to higher risk of deficiency.