Taking vitamin D supplements WON’T cut your risk of getting seriously ill with Covid-19, health chiefs rule
- National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published review today
- It found no evidence to support vitamin D supplements protecting from Covid-19
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has come to the same conclusion
- Scientists have urged officials to tell people to take supplements anyway
There is no evidence taking vitamin D supplements will protect people from Covid-19, according to British health officials.
NHS regulator the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) reviewed five past studies on the subject to work out if the vitamin could help.
An array of research has found people deficient in the vitamin are more likely to die if they got severely ill with the coronavirus.
One shocking Indonesian study claimed to find 99 per cent of vitamin D-deficient patients in one hospital had died, compared to just four per cent of those who had healthy levels.
But NICE ruled there is not enough good evidence on the subject to say there is a definite link between vitamin D and the severity of coronavirus.
Health officials in the UK recommend that everyone take supplements in the winter, when there is not enough sunlight for people to produce their own, and that black people consider taking them year-round because they do not produce it as quickly.
Some scientists have suggested one reason darker-skinned people are more likely to die of Covid-19 is that they’re more likely to be vitamin D deficient.
However, taking extra vitamin D above the recommended amount would not make people any less likely to die of Covid-19, NICE concluded.
The main source of vitamin D for most people is daylight – the body can make its own supply of the nutrient when the skin is exposed to UV rays. But health officials in the UK advised people to start taking supplements during lockdown when they were spending a lot more time indoors (stock image)
Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at Nice, said: ‘While there are health benefits associated with vitamin D, our rapid evidence summary did not identify sufficient evidence to support the use of vitamin D supplements for the treatment or prevention of Covid-19.
‘We know that the research on this subject is ongoing, and NICE is continuing to monitor new published evidence.’
NICE’s review looked at five studies published before June 18, but none of them were clinical trials.
HOW VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY AFFECTS THE BODY
Vitamin D deficiency – when the level of vitamin D in your body is too low – can cause your bones to become thin, brittle or misshapen.
Vitamin D also appears to play a role in insulin resistance, high blood pressure and immune function – and this relates to heart disease and cancer – but this is still being investigated.
Low levels of the vitamin have also long been linked to an increased risk of multiple sclerosis.
Although the amount of vitamin D adults get from their diets is often less than what’s recommended, exposure to sunlight can make up for the difference.
For most adults, vitamin D deficiency is not a concern.
However, some groups – particularly people who are obese, who have dark skin and who are older than age 65 – may have lower levels of vitamin D due to their diets, little sun exposure or other factors.
Source: Mayo Clinic
It said the evidence in the papers was of low quality and at ‘high risk of bias’.
Vitamin D is produced mainly through exposure of the skin to UV rays in sunlight, and in summer short periods outdoors are enough for people to make it.
Everyone over the age of one should get at least 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day, the NHS says, and it can be found in oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, in red meat and in egg yolks.
The vitamin is vital for maintaining healthy muscles and bones and also boosts the ability of the immune system to fight off illness.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, reiterated advice for people to take supplements if they are stuck inside: ‘With many people spending more time indoors, particularly the more vulnerable groups and those “shielding”, there is a risk that some people may not be getting all the vitamin D they need from sunlight.
‘It’s important they consider taking a daily 10 micrograms vitamin D supplement to help protect bone and muscle health.’
Experts from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) have also found that there is no evidence to suggest vitamin D supplements are protective against infection.
They said that current evidence does not support the use of vitamin D supplements to prevent infections in the airways, lungs, throat or sinuses.
Despite the lack of solid proof that vitamin D supplements can protect against Covid-19, leading scientists in the UK today called for officials to remind people that taking them is good for their overall health.
The Royal Society found in its own research that people most at risk of dying of the coronavirus were also at most risk of having a vitamin D deficiency – those who were obese, old, or of black or Asian ethnicity.
It said that the UK has some of the highest vitamin D deficiency rates in Europe, and has also seen a Covid-19 death toll far larger than any neighbouring country.
Professor Charles Bangham, an immunologist at University College London, said: ‘It is possible that higher rates of Vitamin D deficiency could be one reason why people with darker skin are affected more seriously by the disease – but there are a lot of other factors as well so we need to collect this data’.
Darker pigment in the skin of non-white people means it takes them longer to produce vitamin D from sunlight, making them more likely to have low levels of it.
Over winter as many as a third of adults in the UK don’t get enough Vitamin D, and across a whole year it is around 22 per cent.
That compared to deficiency levels of around 13.8 per cent in Germany and 12.4 per cent in Ireland, Professor Bangham and colleagues said.
‘We’re not telling people to go straight to the pharmacy for Vitamin D,’ he added.
‘Most people who are healthy and eat a varied diet are unlikely to be deficient – and taking too much Vitamin D can be harmful.
‘But we need to remind people – particularly those groups at higher risk of being deficient – of the existing NICE recommendations [to consider taking supplements].’
Scientists began to think that vitamin D could play a role in the severity of Covid-19 when studies started to emerge showing many critically ill patients did not have enough in their bodies.
One investigation – carried out by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge – found European countries with lower vitamin D levels, such as Spain, Italy, the UK and Belgium, have had significantly more pandemic casualties than others.
A correlation graph showing the relationship between levels of viamin D (bottom, measured in nmol/l) compared to infection numbers of coronavirus. Countries with low vitamin D levels tend to have the highest case rates per million
A graphic, pictured, shows how the Covid-19 death rate is affected by the level of Vitamin D
A study in Indonesia claimed that nearly 99 per cent of Covid-19 patients who are vitamin D deficient die.
Researchers analysed hospital records of 780 people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
Their results revealed 98.9 per cent of infected patients defined as vitamin D deficient — below 20ng/ml — died. Yet this fell to just 4.1 per cent for patients who had enough of the nutrient.
Researchers warned the study was not definitive, however, because the patients with high vitamin D levels were healthier and younger.
The Indonesian study was not associated with experts from any university, unlike most Covid-19 research, and had not been reviewed by other scientists, bringing its quality into question.
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