The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the importance of Vitamin D. As the pandemic has progressed, a notable correlation between vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 infection has emerged. It is estimated that one billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of a myriad of health conditions including heart disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and the following types of cancer: colorectal, breast, prostate, lung, and skin.
In regard to the recent pandemic, studies show that Vitamin D deficiency not only increased the risk of COVID-19 infection, but it also significantly increased the risk of death due to COVID-19. There is no mistaking that vitamin D deficiency can lead to a variety of health problems and make you more likely to get sick in the first place. Luckily, fixing a vitamin D deficiency can be as simple as taking a supplement.
The term Vitamin D is somewhat misleading because vitamin D is technically a prohormone with a steroid structure. The most common forms of Vitamin D are Vitamin D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is also known as ergocalciferol and this form of vitamin D is predominately found in food. Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is the form of Vitamin D produced by the body when skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UVB) from the sun. Because of this, vitamin D deficiency is more common during the winter months and also among people living at higher latitudes.
Previous research has demonstrated a reduced risk of acute respiratory tract infections in adults with sufficient levels of vitamin D. This is because Vitamin D helps to regulate a substance called antimicrobial peptide (AMP) leading to the upregulation of the gene expression for the polypeptide cathelicidin. In response to vitamin D, cathelicidin is released into the lining of the respiratory tract and functions by reducing a virus’s ability to replicate. Studies have shown that cathelicidin expression is downregulated in people who are vitamin D deficient (a serum Vitamin D level of 20ng/mL or below). Furthering this evidence, a study published in 2013 demonstrated that as the level of cathelicidin in the respiratory tract increased, the number of cells infected by a common virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) decreased.
Vitamin D also causes expression of the TLR co-receptor CD14. CD14 is an important gateway of the innate immune system. It activates multiple signaling pathways when an infectious agent is detected by the body.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that healthy adults take 600 international units (IU) of Vitamin D daily with the maximum recommended daily dose of 4,000 IU daily. Normal serum levels of vitamin D are 20 ng/mL or higher with profound Vitamin D deficiency characterized as a level less than 10 ng/mL. Observational studies have recommended a target Vitamin D level of at least 40-50 ng/mL to gain the health benefits of this supplement. The recommended upper limit of normal is a serum Vitamin D level of 100 ng/mL.
Vitamin D testing can be efficacious in individuals who have profound vitamin D deficiency. These individuals typically benefit from higher, prescription doses of vitamin D to get their levels back in the normal range.
However, for the cost of a vitamin D blood test, you could likely buy a year’s supply of Vitamin D. We know that vitamin D supplementation at recommended levels is considered very safe and vitamin D toxicity is rare, and the only documented accounts of toxicity have occurred in individuals with a serum level over 150 ng/mL.
Given the amount of evidence surrounding the health benefits of having a sufficient vitamin D level, it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement at recommended doses even if you haven’t had your vitamin D levels tested. Not only can this supplement benefit your long-term health in many ways, it can also reduce your acute risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.
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