Coronavirus: millions of Britons should be taking ‘sunshine nutrient’ vitamin D

Millions of Britons should be encouraged to take vitamin D supplements this winter because they could help fight the coronavirus, according to a report commissioned by the government’s chief scientific adviser.

Andrew Gregory, Health Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 
In the review, ordered by Sir Patrick Vallance on how to stop hospitals being overwhelmed, the Academy of Medical Scientists urges ministers to bolster public health messages on vitamin D, known as the “sunshine” nutrient.More than one in five Britons do not have enough in their bodies. With lockdown depriving many of sunlight — the main source of the vitamin, which is produced in skin exposed to the sun’s rays — levels are feared to have plunged even lower. The NHS says people should consider taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day during the pandemic.

The scientists’ report said: “It has been suggested that low levels of vitamin D — endemic within the UK, exacerbated by lockdown and which worsen over winter — may contribute to susceptibility to Covid-19 . . . Given the protective effects of vitamin D against respiratory tract infections and wider health benefits, the government should consider how to encourage the use of vitamin D this winter, particularly in vulnerable and low socioeconomic groups.”

Vitamin D deficiency in the UK, at 22%, is higher than in many other European countries and compares with 13.8% in Germany and 12.4% in Ireland. Some Nordic countries, including Sweden and Finland, fortify food such as bread and flour with vitamin D. In America, it has been added to cow’s milk for decades.

Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system. People usually make enough of it during summer by being exposed to sunlight. The process takes longer in those with darker skin, which blocks more ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In winter, vitamin D has to come from food, such as eggs, oily fish and mushrooms. It is difficult to eat enough to ingest the recommended dose.

A study cited by the Academy of Medical Sciences, which was published in the British Medical Journal in 2017 and reviewed data from 25 trials, showed vitamin D can help prevent acute respiratory infections, particularly in those with a deficiency.

Adrian Martineau — professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, who led the study — is investigating whether vitamin D could protect against the coronavirus via the national Covidence UK study. In the meantime, its indirect effects will help protect Britons and the NHS. He said: “Anything that is going to stop somebody coming into hospital is going to reduce their risk of catching Covid-19 because we know that’s a potential site of transmission. There’s [also] a chance there could be benefit in terms of immune function, so it’s really a no-brainer to say that this is something that should be promoted.”

Charles Bangham, professor of immunology at Imperial College London and one of the authors of a Royal Society report on the coronavirus and vitamin D, said: “Our work has shown how vitamin D deficiency is more common in several groups most at risk of severe Covid-19, such as the elderly and people from [black and minority ethnic] groups, and has recommended stronger public guidance from the government on preventing deficiency. Preventing vitamin D deficiency may help to prevent severe Covid-19, but the most effective preventive measures are still physical distancing, face coverings and handwashing.”

Public Health England recommends vitamin D pills for those rarely outdoors, living in a care home or wearing clothes covering up most of their skin. People with dark skin should also consider taking supplements frequently.

One thought on “Coronavirus: millions of Britons should be taking ‘sunshine nutrient’ vitamin D

  1. The mean/average 25(OH)D level in the UK is 48.9 nmol/l less than the 50nmol/l 20ng/ml definition of vitamin d deficiency.
    Evaluation of vitamin D3 intakes up to 15,000 international units/day and serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations up to 300 nmol/L https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28458767/ shows it takes 6000-8000 iu daily vitamin d3 to raise vitamin d levels over the 100nmol/l 40ng/ml threshold that allows the basic form of vitamin d3 cholecalciferol to remain in serum to stabilise the endothelium and inhibit inflammation both of which are essential to reduce the severity of covid -19.
    The NHS recomendation 10mcg =400 iu is about as good as placebo and will not make a significant difference to anyone. 5000 iu vit d3 softgels are readily and cheaply available from online suppliers and initially most people can safely take 2 x 5000iu daily (10,000iu) for 3 months to ensure vitamin d level ends up between 100 and 150nmol/l 40-60ng/ml. Online 25(OH)D finger pric tests are also available online around £30. After a level around 50ng/ml 125nmol/l is attained it can be maintained with around 5000iu daily. The retention and activation of vitamin d3 requires the presence of magnesium. Industrially produced/processed foods contain less magnesium than previously. Taking 200mg elemental magnesium twice daily increases 25(OH)D as does daily vitmamin k.

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