Researchers are learning more about how vitamin D deficiency could play a role in COVID infections. A recent study came out showing that people with severe complications from COVID and low vitamin D levels. Normal vitamin D levels should be around 30 and these people had levels below 20. The study found when people had their vitamin D supplemented, and it’s very easy to supplement, they had a better results when infected by COVID-19.
Several studies have shown that COVID-19 patients who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to experience serious illness, severe complications and increased risk of death. And one study showed that when hospitalized COVID-19 patients took oral vitamin D supplements as part of their treatment, they were significantly less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit than COVID-19 patients who didn’t receive vitamin D supplements. Though we are still learning a lot about the novel coronavirus as it moves through our communities, but it does appear that having sufficient levels of vitamin D in your system may offer some protection from the worst that COVID-19 has to offer.
Why vitamin D helps and where to find it
Vitamin D helps the immune system function smoothly, so having sufficient levels in your body may help you fight COVID-19 if you get sick.
Your skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed directly to sunlight. If you spend the bulk of your time indoors, you may not produce much vitamin D on your own. It is difficult to get vitamin D from your diet, there are not many foods that are rich in vitamin D.
Common sources of vitamin D include:
- fatty fish, like salmon
- egg yolks
- fortified dairy products, like milk and yogurt
- fortified non-dairy milk products, including almond, soy and oat milk
- fortified orange juice
- fortified breakfast cereals
- dietary supplements
How to determine if you’re deficient in vitamin D
About 40 percent of Americans are believed to have lower-than-recommended levels. You can learn your vitamin D status if your doctor orders a blood test to check your levels.
Some people are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency than others. Americans with darker-colored skin are less efficient at producing their own vitamin D. Older adults may experience deficiency, because their skin may not make vitamin D as well as it did years earlier and they may not get outdoors as often.
How to supplement with vitamin D
If you learn that you’re vitamin-D deficient, ask your doctor how to safely increase your levels. Your doctor may recommend any or all of the following:
- spending more time outdoors in sunlight
- eating foods that are rich in vitamin D
- taking vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D3 supplements may be easier for your body to absorb than D2 supplements. If you’re 65 or under, your doctor may recommend 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D3 daily. If you’re older than 65, you may need 800 IU daily.
For a severe deficiency, your doctor may suggest a higher dosage. Too much vitamin D can lead to health problems, including nausea, vomiting or kidney stones, so don’t supplement unnecessarily.
What if I take to much?
The main consequence of vitamin D toxicity is a buildup of calcium in the blood, called hypercalcemia. Early symptoms of hypercalcemia include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and weakness. Excessive thirst, an altered level of consciousness, high blood pressure, calcification in the kidney tubes, kidney failure or hearing loss may also develop.
Hypercalcemia caused by regularly taking high amounts of vitamin D supplements may take a few months to resolve. This is because vitamin D accumulates in body fat and is released into the blood slowly.
If you are supplementing with vitamin D, then it may be important to also ensure sufficient intake of vitamin A, vitamin K and magnesium. These may reduce the risk of adverse effects from a higher vitamin D intake. An occasional high dose of vitamin D is sometimes used to treat a deficiency, but always consult with your doctor or dietitian before taking a large dose.
As with many other things in nutrition, more does not always equal better.