As we enter the season for cooler weather and health experts are warning about another wave of coronavirus this winter, many of us are looking for ways to strengthen our immune systems.
There have been multiple studies done on COVID-19 treatments since the pandemic spread globally earlier this year, and I wanted to share one very interesting research study that demonstrated the power of vitamin D.
Researchers at the Reina Sofía University Hospital in Córdoba, Spain published the first randomized controlled trial looking at the effectiveness of vitamin D against COVID-19. The trial compared the treatment of COVID-19 patients with vitamin D3 to see if it helped reduce ICU admission, and therefore potentially reduce the risk of death. All patients had already contracted COVID-19, had been diagnosed with pneumonia and were hospitalized when enrolled in the study.
Castillo et al. conducted the study on 76 patients(1). They received the same standard of care for 5 days, which at the time was a combination of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and antibiotics, if necessary. Patients were randomly assigned to receive or not receive high doses of Vitamin D (oral calcifediol, or 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which is the principle form of vitamin D circulating in the blood) in a 2:1 ratio, which resulted in 50 patients being in the vitamin D group and 26 patients in the control group. Researchers compared ICU admission and mortality rates between the 2 groups.
The Vitamin D treatment group was given 532 mcg (106,400 IU) of Vitamin D on the first day of admission, then 266 mcg (53,200 IU) on days 3 and 7, and 266 mcg once a week until discharge, ICU admission, or death.
Researchers found that only 2% of the vitamin D administered group had ICU admissions compared to 50% of the control group. None of the patients in the vitamin D group died, and ALL were discharged without complications. For the control group, 2 of the 13 ICU patients died and the remaining were discharged.
These numbers indicate that receiving vitamin D treatment reduced the odds of ICU admission by 98%, which is a pretty astonishing result.
This study aligns with other observational studies that have found that patients who had more severe cases of COVID-19 had low serum levels of vitamin D, as well as another that found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with a higher risk of being infected with COVID-19.(2,3)
Supplementing with Vitamin D
Considering the importance of vitamin D for our immune system and its role in lowering risks for respiratory tract infections, vitamin D supplementation seems to be one of many ways you can support and maintain a healthy immune system. Since the majority of the U.S. population is vitamin D deficient, especially during the fall and winter (which is also cold and flu season), it becomes even more crucial that you make sure that your vitamin D levels are at sufficient levels.
The best way to get your vitamin D levels checked is by asking your healthcare provider to perform a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test. It is recommended that levels should be at least 30ng/ml or 75nmol/l, and even higher for optimal levels.
Having said that, the likelihood that you are deficient in vitamin D is pretty high, with an estimated 95% of the US population testing below these numbers, myself included.
What else can we do?
While there is still so much to learn about COVID-19 treatments and risks of infection, supporting a strong immune system is a great way to stay healthy through these vulnerable times.
Here are a few things to keep in mind that can help support your overall health:
Address nutrient deficiencies through nutrient-rich foods and supplements
Maintain a healthy gut through eating fermented foods, collagen-rich foods, and taking probiotics
Reduce inflammation by reducing consumption of highly processed foods and eating healthy fats including omega 3’s.
Reduce your sugar intake, as sugar can paralyze the immune system cells that attack bacteria and viruses. This effect can lasts for at least a few hours after consuming higher quantities of sugar like candy, soft-drinks, desserts, and more.
Minimize stress by incorporating self-care routines, meditation, addressing mental health and taking adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha, which works by reducing the stress hormone cortisol.
Get enough sleep, we recommend between 7-8 hours per night
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1. Castillo ME, Costa LME, Barrios JMV, Díaz JFA, Miranda JL, Bouillon R, et al. “Effect of calcifediol treatment and best available therapy versus best available therapy on intensive care unit admission and mortality among patients hospitalized for COVID-19: A pilot randomized clinical study.” The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 2020;203:105751.
2. Meltzer DO, Best TJ, Zhang H, Vokes T, Arora V, Solway J. Association of Vitamin D Status and Other Clinical Characteristics With COVID-19 Test Results. JAMA Network Open. 2020;3.
3. Panagiotou G, Tee SA, Ihsan Y, Athar W, Marchitelli G, Kelly D, et al. Low serum 25‐hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) levels in patients hospitalized with COVID‐19 are associated with greater disease severity. Clinical Endocrinology. 2020;93:508–11.