New study debunks this common COVID-19 treatment

Nothing is more illustrative of how little we know about the virus at the center of our COVID-19 pandemic than the rotating miracle substances purported to destroy it.  

While promising drugs like Remdesivir continue to undergo preclinical trials, a new study published in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health has debunked the protective properties of excessive Vitamin D consumption.

The paper,  authored by a team of researchers from the U.S. the UK, and Europe; challenges the inconsistent evidence supporting Vitamin D as a defense against SARS-CoV-2 infection specifically, even if its general health benefits have long since been established.  

“An adequate level of Vitamin D in the body is crucial to our overall health, too little can lead to rickets or the development of osteoporosis but too much can lead to an increase in calcium levels in the blood which could be particularly harmful,” explained the study’s lead author Professor Sue Lanham-New, Head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Surrey, in a release. “The spread of novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the disease COVID-19 that is caused by SARS-CoV-2, continues apace. Saving lives and slowing the worldwide pandemic remain of utmost importance to everyone: the public, healthcare professionals, scientists, industry, and governments.”

Initial reports established a correlation between COVID-19 deaths and Vitamin D insufficiency based on laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases.

According to collective analysis, the vast majority of Vitamin D deficient/insufficient patients admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 treatment ultimately succumbed to the respiratory disease.  

Additionally, patients with preexisting conditions, men and the elderly were found to be uniquely aided and debilitated by vitamin D levels during the recovery process.

The problem is these studies focused on identifying patterns of mortality outcomes among patients infected with COVID-19 and the association between serum 25(OH)D (vitamin D) levels and these mortality outcomes. It’s reasonable to assume that severe disease cases compounded by deficiencies must in turn be mitigated by surpluses, but this isn’t always the case. In respect to SARS-CoV-2, new data might actually suggest the contrary.  

“Most of our vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight, however for many people, particularly those who are self-isolating with limited access to sunlight during the current pandemic, getting enough vitamin D may be a real challenge. Supplementing with vitamin D is recommended but should be done under the current UK guidance,” added co-author Professor Carolyn Greig of Birmingham University. “Although there is some evidence that low vitamin D is associated with acute respiratory tract infections, there is currently insufficient evidence for vitamin D as a treatment for COVID-19 and over-supplementing must be avoided as it could be harmful.”

Moreover, a significant portion of literature connecting Vitamin D deficiency and critical illness was conducted in underdeveloped nations where a lot of other relevant factors were likely influencing data sets. 

Rejecting the temptation to accept simple cure-alls during the worst pandemic is not an easy task. 

Sadly, ephemeral signs of complete COVID-19 suppression will likely come and go until a vaccine is approved by officials, and the public exercise the protective measures offered by medical experts.  Of course, misinformation is more than capable of decelerating any favorable upshot. 

“It is absolutely essential that advice given to the public is evidence-based, accurate, and timely; anything less would mislead and has the potential to cause harm. Popular information channels, such as social media platforms, have been rife with misinformation that has been perpetuated by fear and uncertainty,” the authors write.  “This has been the case, particularly for diet and lifestyle advice. There are recommendations for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 from the WHO, the UK, Iris and USA governments, and the European Commission, as well as public health and healthcare agencies, including key direction on self-isolation.

Vitamin D remains an important part of healthy development. It improves our ability to absorb calcium, preventing diseases like osteoporosis later in life and even many forms of cancer.

Children are advised to achieve between 400 and 800 IU a day (or 10–20 micrograms), and individuals aged 71 and older are advised to increase this value to 800 IU. As of May 2020, more than 40% of the US population can be medically defined as Vitamin D deficient. 

“In line with the latest Public Health England guidance on vitamin D, we recommend that people consider taking a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms a day during the winter months (from October to March), and all year round if their time outside is limited,” concludes co-author Professor Judy Buttriss, Director General of the British Nutrition Foundation. “Levels of the vitamin in the body can also be supplemented through a nutritionally balanced diet including foods that provide the vitamin, such as oily fish, red meat, egg yolk, and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, and safe sunlight exposure to boost vitamin D status.”

CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com