JAN 14, 2021 6:00 AM PST

Sunshine Vitamin Lowers COVID Mortality

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez


Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s synthesized in the skin after exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. A recent study showed that vitamin D could lower the risk of severe illness and even death due to COVID-19 infections. With global cases surpassing 90 million, researchers continue hunting for ways to lower the pandemic’s death toll.

The role of vitamin D in promoting calcium absorption for bone health has been well established. Interestingly, vitamin D receptors are also expressed on a variety of immune cell types: B cells, T cells, and antigen-presenting cells. Indeed, previous studies have uncovered how this vitamin has the ability to modulate both innate and adaptive immune responses.

The link between vitamin D supplementation and respiratory disease management is not a new one. Long before antibiotics were discovered, tuberculosis patients were prescribed sunbathing sessions with sunlight thought to kill the disease-causing pathogens directly. Additionally, patients were given cod liver oil (a rich natural source of vitamin D) to treat their symptoms and protect them from future infections.

More recently, cross-sectional studies have associated lower vitamin D levels with an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections. Though the underlying mechanisms of this association have yet to be fully understood, it is thought that vitamin D may enhance the innate antimicrobial response, improving the recognition and destruction of microbes by immune cells.

Now, researchers surveying global health data have highlighted that COVID-19 clinical outcomes were significantly better for patients receiving vitamin D supplements. There was a lower mortality rate, fewer cases requiring intensive care unit admissions, and a dramatic decrease in the circulating levels of fibrinogen—a protein responsible for inflammation and tissue damage.

“Vitamin D supplementation seems to decrease the mortality rate, the severity of the disease, and the inflammatory markers' levels among the COVID-19 infected patients, leading to a better prognosis and increased survival,” wrote the authors.

The authors call for follow-on studies to determine how vitamin D can be used effectively as a preventative measure against COVID-19 infection. As explained in the study: “More studies should be conducted to determine the optimum dosage and route of vitamin D supplementation and further investigate the potential prophylactic effects.”

 

Sources: medRxiv pre-print, News Medical


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
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