College of DuPage Nursing Student Moriah Meyer shared with Healthy Lombard that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is produced by your body when UV rays from the sun hit your skin. One of the main roles of Vitamin D is calcium absorption. Without it, bones can become very brittle. Aside from its impact on calcium though, Vitamin D helps to reduce inflammation, metabolize sugar, and has an immense impact on immune function. Vitamin D enhances innate immunity and protects against cancer, autoimmune diseases, and infections (Aponte & Palacios, 2017). According to Zitterman and colleagues (2011), maintaining adequate Vitamin D levels results in a 31% reduction in the risk of mortality.
Despite its many benefits, about 50% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2012). This is because most people do not get enough Vitamin D from the sun alone. This may be due to either a lack of time spent outdoors or that they have darker skin pigmentation which makes it more difficult for them to absorb Vitamin D (CDC). With being stuck inside most of this year due to social distancing, the risk for even less sunlight exposure than usual exists. During a time when we need our immune systems to be their strongest, this can be detrimental.
In a recent study by Hernández et al., (2020), Vitamin D deficiency was found in 82.2% of COVID-19 patients. Research has also demonstrated that those who are Vitamin D deficient have longer hospital stays and higher ICU admission rates. Currently, there is inadequate evidence to support the use of Vitamin D as a method of treatment, however, given the relationship between Vitamin D and influenza and hepatitis C, growing interest exists regarding its benefit in COVID-19. The use of Vitamin D and how to maintain adequate levels to improve COVID-19 outcomes and reduce the risk of contracting it are under investigation.
How can you increase Vitamin D levels?
Spending time outside during the summer is a good place to start. However, during the winter months, there are few hours of sunlight. While quarantining, it is recommended to incorporate alternative sources. The daily recommended dietary allowance for adults is 600 IUs which can be safely taken through fortified foods, supplements, or a multivitamin. Certain types of fish, like trout and salmon, are natural sources of Vitamin D and provide 500-700 IUs per serving (National Institute of Health, 2020). Vitamin D may also be found in fortified milk and eggs. It is important to monitor the Vitamin D level by a lab test and follow up with a healthcare provider to monitor Vitamin D levels.
While adequate Vitamin D levels are important for good health, the benefit of Vitamin D on the immune system is more important now than ever. Important lifestyle behaviors to consider, such as, time exposed to the sun, Vitamin D dietary fortified foods, taking a multivitamin Vitamin D supplement, or talking to a healthcare provider to Vitamin D levels are important steps toward better health from adequate Vitamin D.