Study finds vitamin D likely to reduce serious coronavirus complications

By Cate McCurry, PA

Researchers are calling on the Irish Government to change recommendations for vitamin D supplements after a study revealed it is likely to reduce serious coronavirus complications.

A new publication from Trinity College Dublin highlights the association between vitamin D levels and mortality from Covid-19.

Dr Eamon Laird and Professor Rose Anne Kenny from the university's School of Medicine carried out the work with the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), in collaboration with Professor Jon Rhodes at the University of Liverpool.

The authors analysed all European adult population studies, completed since 1999, which measured vitamin D and compared vitamin D and death rates from Covid-19.

Vitamin D is produced in the skin from UVB sunlight exposure and is transported to the liver and then the kidney where it is changed into an active hormone that increases calcium transport from food in the gut and ensures calcium is adequate to keep the skeleton strong and free of osteoporosis.

The study found that vitamin D can also support the immune system through a number of immune pathways involved in fighting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

The study shows that countries at lower latitude and typically sunny countries, such as Spain and northern Italy, had low concentrations of vitamin D and high rates of vitamin D deficiency.

These countries also experienced the highest infection and death rates in Europe.

The northern latitude countries of Norway, Finland and Sweden, have higher vitamin D levels despite less UVB sunlight exposure, because supplementation and fortification of foods is more common.

These Nordic countries have lower Covid-19 infection and death rates.

The authors of the report said that the correlation between low vitamin D levels and death from Covid-19 is "statistically significant".

The authors said the data suggests it is likely to reduce serious Covid-19 complications.

Professor Kenny said: "In England, Scotland and Wales, public health bodies have revised recommendations since the Covid-19 outbreak.

"Recommendations now state that all adults should take at least 400 IU (international units) vitamin D daily.

"Whereas there are currently no results from randomised controlled trials to conclusively prove that vitamin D beneficially affects Covid-19 outcomes, there is strong circumstantial evidence of associations between vitamin D and the severity of Covid-19 responses, including death.

"We call on the Irish Government to update guidelines as a matter of urgency and encourage all adults to take supplements during the Covid-19 crisis.

"Deficiency is frequent in Ireland. Deficiency is most prevalent with age, obesity, in men, in ethnic minorities, in people with diabetes, hypertension and in nursing homes."

Dr Laird added: "Here we see observational evidence of a link of vitamin D with mortality.

"Optimising vitamin D intake to public health guidelines will certainly have benefits for overall health and support immune function. Research like this is still exploratory and we need further trials to have concrete evidence on the level of vitamin D that is needed for optimal immune function."

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

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