Like many other modern-day ailments, coronavirus might have a correlation with Vitamin D deficiency. A research team, led by Northwestern University, United States has noted that patients from countries with high COVID-19 mortality rates, such as Italy, Spain and the UK, had lower levels of Vitamin D compared to patients in countries that were not as severely affected.
The team conducted a statistical analysis of data from hospitals and clinics across China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States to establish this.
Don’t press the panic button
However, researchers warn that this does not mean that those without a known deficiency need to start hoarding supplements.
“While I think it is important for people to know that Vitamin D deficiency might play a role in mortality, we don’t need to push it on everybody,” said Northwestern’s Vadim Backman, who led the research, on the university’s website. “This needs further study, and I hope our work will stimulate interest in this area. The data also may illuminate the mechanism of mortality, which, if proven, could lead to new therapeutic targets.”
What led the team to the study?
Backman and his team noticed unexplained differences in COVID-19 mortality rates from country to country. Despite the hypothesis that differences in healthcare quality, age distributions in population, testing rates or different strains of the coronavirus might be responsible for such differences, Backman remained skeptical.
“None of these factors appears to play a significant role,” Backman said. “The healthcare system in northern Italy is one of the best in the world. Differences in mortality exist even if one looks across the same age group. While the restrictions on testing do indeed vary, the disparities in mortality still exist even when we looked at countries or populations for which similar testing rates apply. Instead, we saw a significant correlation with Vitamin D deficiency,” he said.
But why is Vitamin D important?
Apart from enhancing our innate immune systems, it also prevents them from becoming dangerously overactive, said Backman. This means that having healthy levels of Vitamin D could protect patients against severe complications, including death from COVID-19.
“Our analysis shows that it might be as high as cutting the mortality rate in half,” Backman said. “It will not prevent a patient from contracting the virus, but it may reduce complications and prevent death in those who are infected.”
Backman said this correlation might help explain the many mysteries surrounding COVID-19, such as why children are less likely to die. Children do not yet have a fully developed acquired immune system, which is the immune system’s second line of defense and more likely to overreact.
“Children primarily rely on their innate immune system,” Backman said. “This may explain why their mortality rate is lower.”
According to Backman, people should not take excessive doses of Vitamin D, which might come with negative side effects. He said the subject needs much more research.
“It is hard to say which dose is most beneficial for COVID-19,” Backman said. “However, it is clear that Vitamin D deficiency is harmful, and it can be easily addressed with appropriate supplementation. This might be another key to helping protect vulnerable populations, such as African-American and elderly patients, who have a prevalence of vitamin D deficiency.”