What’s all the fuss about vitamin D?
There’s been lots of chatter in the media recently about a potential new weapon in the war against COVID-19: vitamin D. While the scientific data is still sketchy, there’s a growing school of thought among researchers that vitamin D supplementation not only improves our overall health but it may help our immune system defend against coronavirus.
In fact, a recent US study has suggested that patients with sufficient levels of vitamin D are less likely to be infected, experience complications and die from COVID-19.
Prof Jon Rhodes, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Liverpool, says vitamin D has anti-inflammatory effects, and some research suggests it may dampen down the body’s immune response to viruses. This could be relevant in very ill coronavirus patients, where severe lung damage can result from an inflammatory “cytokine storm” in response to the virus, he says, although much more research is needed.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin – it’s a hormone produced by the kidneys and is essential for regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in the body which is important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
Why is vitamin D important?
A lack of vitamin D can cause bone deficiencies such as rickets in children and osteomalacia (where the bones soften) in adults.
While there is no evidence to suggest that vitamin D boosts your immune system, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have identified that vitamin D may help regulate it. The study investigated how vitamin D affects the immune system and the ability of dendritic cells to activate T cells which are important in fighting infection. Another study found that vitamin D reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infection among all participants.
Furthermore, after lockdown, Public Health England’s (PHE) chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone recommended that everyone take a vitamin D supplement due to spending so much time indoors.
How can I increase my levels?
There are three ways to get vitamin D: sunshine, supplements and diet.
The sun’s energy turns a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, which is carried to your liver and then your kidneys to transform it to active vitamin D. Biological alchemy, if you will.
But in the northern hemisphere, between the months of October and March, we simply cannot get sufficient levels of vitamin D from the sun alone – the days are short, grey and wet and we tend to spend more time indoors. During summer, it’s important to expose bare skin – chest and forearms are fine – for periods of time. Don’t overdo it though – be sensible, use SPF and seek shade when the weather heats up.
Where can I buy vitamin D?
Everyone in the UK is recommended to take a vitamin D supplement through autumn and winter- babies, children, breastfeeding mothers and the elderly. However, at the time of typing, there’s a bit of uncertainty around recommended daily levels of vitamin D. The official advice is for adults to take 10 micrograms (400 IU) daily. But a team of researchers and doctors have recently formed an alliance encouraging governments to increase recommendations to 100 micrograms (4,000 IU) daily*.
You can purchase vitamin D supplements cheaply from pharmacies, health stores and supermarkets. But, rather like toilet paper, please don’t buy more than you need – there’s enough to go around.
*Balance Box suggests sticking with the NHS official guidelines of 10 micrograms a day unless a change in recommendation becomes official. A doctor may recommend higher doses to those with a proven vitamin D deficiency. Always consult medical advice if you’re thinking of upping your intake.
Vitamin D is hard to get through food alone and if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, near impossible. Sources include oily fish such as wild caught salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified cereals. In light of the latest scientific speculation around vitamin D and COVID, a recent rush on mushrooms at supermarkets has been reported. Although fungi don’t naturally provide high levels of vitamin D, some are treated with UV light to boost their nutritional content.
In short, if you’re not doing so already, start taking a daily vitamin D supplement today. If you have a family, encourage them to take it too. Although the evidence around vitamin D and coronavirus is being debated, the overall health benefits to your bones and muscles are scientifically proven.
It’s especially important for babies, young children and people who are black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) to increase their levels. People in the BAME community are twice as likely to get really sick from coronavirus and typically have lower level of vitamin D.
At Balance Box, we create delicious meals delivered to your door using only the freshest ingredients.
It’s really important to eat healthy, seasonal food through the winter as it can improve your overall health and wellbeing. If you have any particular health concerns, or are interested in improving your diet, get in touch – food is our favourite topic of conversation.