Vitamin D is once more being championed as the latest hope in the fight against Long-Covid.
Last Sunday (1st Nov.20), scientists called for fortification of food with vitamin D, asking ministers to quickly implement such in products such as bread, orange juice, and milk. The move came after a study of 216 patients at the Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital in Spain concluded that the worst-suffering Covid-19 patients were those with vitamin D deficiency, 82% of all 216 participants exhibiting insufficient levels.
Currently, Britain does not fortify foods with vitamin D as a matter of course. Indeed, as The Guardian reports, Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care have actually rejected calls over the past decade for its widespread fortification in common foodstuffs. Conversely, it is common practice in countries such as Finland, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and even the US. Meanwhile, a 2019 study by researchers at the University of Birmingham had estimated that there would be a reduction of up to a quarter of cases of vitamin D deficiency within the next 90 years if, for instance, flour was to be fortified as a general rule.
If our food is not being fortified and we are not purposefully supplementing vitamin D, then what we eat should contain natural sources of the vitamin. For the majority that means oily fish and eggs. However, veganism – the plant-based lifestyle that has grown in popularity in response to the pandemic – requires supplementation.
Just Natural wrote back in April about a study published in the Irish Medical Journal which proposed high-dose vitamin D as a method of fighting COVID-19. Soon after, though, many disparaged the findings of the researchers at the Technological University Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. Although they had claimed that a reversal of vitamin D deficiency through high-dose supplementation could suppress CD26 – the molecule responsible for permitting SARS-CoV-2 invasion – the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence later concluded that there was insufficient evidence.
Now, as The Times reports, it is revealed that the Prime Minister himself has used the vitamin in his own battle with the virus. David Davis, former Tory cabinet minister, revealed that “a number of eminent scientists called on the government to try to resolve the vitamin D deficiency issues in the UK to reduce the severity of the pandemic”. Furthermore, with up to 50% of the UK population alone thought to be deficient, even the NHS advises people to supplement during autumn and winter, a notorious time for seasonal flu and feared to be a perfect seasonal storm for the coronavirus this year due to the extra hours spent indoors without natural sunlight during not one but two lockdowns.
Vitamin D is known to influence the production of cytokines, regulators of inflammatory response. The theory is that vitamin D helps prevent a “cytokine storm”, where a massive pro-inflammatory response takes place, as observed in those infected by Covid-19 and resulting in acute respiratory distress syndrome. According to a paper in the British Journal of Family Medicine, up to 40% of us become deficient in vitamin D during the winter, whereas during the summer only 8% of us are. As The Guardian noted, deficiency can lead to childhood rickets and hypocalcaemia (which if acute can lead to seizures and heart failure), as well as osteomalacia (or soft bones) in adults. It is thought that one reason older people, those who are overweight, and those of BAME descent have seemed to be at notably high risk from Covid-19 is due to these groups being the most common to suffer from vitamin D deficiency.
According to Sky News, the patients in the Spanish study also had “increased serum levels of inflammatory markers such as ferritin and D-dimer” and that more men than women were found to be vitamin D-deficient. Even 47% of the control group of non-Covid patients had insufficient levels of the vitamin. The research has been published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Since the call for fortification last weekend, scientists at Queen Mary University of London have begun a 6-month clinical trial (The Coronavit Study) which will test high-doses vitamin D on over 5,000 people to see whether it reduces either the risk of infection from Covid-19 or its severity. The study is funded by the Barts Charity, the Fischer Family Trust, and the AIM Foundation.