COVID-19 and vitamin D: myth or miracle remedy?

Vitamin D plays a role in almost every process in our body. Now, a recent study argues that a deficiency of this vitamin can worsen the course of a COVID-19 disease. It is true?

A severe deficiency of vitamin D, that is, 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, can lead to severe and painful deformations of the bones, a disease known as rickets in infants and young children, and osteomalacia in adults.

Vitamin D level is highly dependent on sunlight. When the skin receives enough ultraviolet rays, the body itself can produce the vitamin. It is estimated that only between 10 and 20 percent of the demand is satisfied through food.

Vitamin D, which we synthesize through sunlight or diet, is not biologically active. In order for the kidneys to produce the active form of this vitamin, the so-called calcitriol, some metabolic processes must first take place. From the kidneys, the active form passes into the blood. Although the kidneys are the main conversion site for calcitriol, many other organs can also produce it.

The biologically active form of vitamin D regulates, for example, the distribution of insulin, inhibits tumor growth, stimulates the formation of red blood cells and guarantees the survival of macrophages, essential for the immune system.

Little vitamin D = serious evolution of COVID-19?

According to an analysis by the University of Hohenheim, there is a relationship between a vitamin D deficiency, certain previous pathologies and a serious evolution of COVID-19.

The document indicates: "There are numerous indications that different non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with a low plasma concentration of vitamin D. This comorbidity, together with a frequent deficiency of vitamin D, increases the risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19. "

For Martin Fassnacht, director of the department of endocrinology at the Wurzburg University Clinic, this statement is correct. However, he stresses that it is a mere association, "that is, the simple observation that these events occur together."

Although the endocrinologist recognizes the functions of vitamin D, he notes that its supposed healing qualities have not been proven.

Good health indicator

Fassnacht explains that many vitamin studies are just observational studies, also called association studies. "By definition, these studies cannot verify a causal relationship, they only indicate a simple correlation," he says.

The doctor gives an example: "Imagine two groups of people over 80 years old. One of the groups is vigorous, active and plays sports. If you compare your members with the other group in a nursing home, then the differences in vitamin levels D. They are going to be dramatic. Life expectancy would also differ extremely. "

However, it would not be correct to want to explain the different levels of fitness only because of the level of vitamin D, says Fassnacht, adding: "The level of vitamin D is a good indicator of a person's health, but not more. "

Useful studies

The endocrinologist says that, at the moment, studies are being carried out to check if the supply of vitamin D helps against an infection with COVID-19. Although the doctor doubts that this is the case, he does not rule out that these types of studies are useful.

In view of the results of the latest studies, Fassnacht does not believe that it is necessary to recommend the supply of vitamin D substitutes as a preventive measure against COVID-19. "I doubt that the vitamin helps much, but I can also be wrong," he concludes.

Source: Julia Vergin for DW

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