The importance of this vitamin during the pandemic cannot be understated. According to Statistics Canada, just under a third of Canadians are below the cut off for adequate maintenance of health. In the winter, about 40 percent of Canadians were shown to be below the recommended level of Vitamin D. Now, with Canadians spending less time outdoors due to new self-isolation practices, those statistics are likely higher.
Often in practice, I refer patients for testing of Vitamin D even when they report self-prescribing of this supplement. I test for 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] concentrations that reflect the number of molecules per litre of blood. The concentration of 25(OH)D reflects vitamin D levels in the blood from food, supplements, and sun exposure. I am often surprised to find lower levels of vitamin D even with supplementation. This may be explained by the form of Vitamin D, regular intake and dosage.
In addition to its known benefits for decreasing osteoporosis and severity of upper respiratory infections, Vitamin D is showing its value during the pandemic. Many research articles have demonstrated the immune response potential of this vitamin. If you are into scientific literature like me, I invite you to read the articles below:
The reports show that a higher mortality due to COVID-19 coincides with groups that have a higher incidence of Vitamin D deficiency. Higher risk groups include smokers, the elderly, obese patients, diabetics and those with hypertension and various GI disorders. Also, severity of symptoms and hospitalizations were linked to Vitamin D deficiency.
Did you know that there are currently more than 40 patient studies that show evidence mitigation of COVID-19 infectivity and/or severity by Vitamin D? Many scientists are urging health leaders around the world to administer Vitamin D to their vulnerable populations. Studies have been conducted in the US, UK, Spain, Israel, Iran, Germany, France, Brazil and there are many more that are currently underway. With the mounting evidence for use, one article summarizes:
Vitamin D supplementation could thus be a most cost-effective, readily available tool that could potentially prevent millions of COVID-19 infections and tens if not hundreds of thousands COVID-19 deaths, and at the same time, prevent overstretching of health care systems, beyond its established beneficial effects on other health outcomes.
In early April, Ireland’s Health Committee released a report that outlines the measures needed to raise Vitamin D levels in its population. These include reducing the cost of Vitamin D supplementation, and that supplements be given to all vulnerable groups including those attending COVID-19 test centres. For another interesting read, see below:
The UK, US and EU European Food Safety Agency recommend that vitamin D intake (total from both foods and dietary supplements) should be limited to 4000 IU/day (100 µg/day) for adults.
In May of 2019, Health Canada announced a “Notice of Consultation on the Prescription Drug List: Vitamin D”. This notice announced a proposal to amend the Prescription Drug List qualifier for Vitamin D to allow non-prescription status to products containing up to 2,500 International Units (IU)/day for oral use. Previously the original non-prescription status was 1000 IU/day. The amendment was made on February 24, 2021. This will translate to greater dosages becoming available in supplement form.
It is important to note that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and thus higher levels of Vitamin D intake need to be monitored. Excess levels can cause a build-up of calcium in the blood with the potential for kidney problems.
Before supplementation, consult with your healthcare provider to ensure the appropriate dosage. Varying forms and dosages are available for all ages from newborns to the elderly. Vitamin D supplementation should complement and not replace other efforts to cope with the pandemic. Continuance with public health measures are encouraged.